When Nat Berney left Le Manoir a few months ago he was unsure of his next move. Even though he loved his time there, after four years in Raymond Blanc’s Michelin starred kitchen he wanted a change, to cook something different.
But where? As it happened, his local pub The Lamb at Little Milton was looking for a new chef, having reopened last year. READ ABOUT IT HERE
Landlords Ben and Charmaine Tavassoly-Moss had great plans for the food there, but hadn’t found the right person for the job. Call it serendipity but that’s where this beautiful relationship began.
Which is why we enjoyed such a memorable meal there last weekend. It’s a sweet little pub, regulars sitting at the bar having a drink and catching up, many of the tables on their second sitting of a Saturday night.
In short, The Lamb is doing a roaring trade, Nat having free rein in the kitchen while sticking to pub food, the customers reaping the rewards.
But there are some interesting additions. Take the crispy aromatic pork belly with a miso mayonnaise, garlic and Furikake seasoning (£9.50) which stole the show amidst some stiff competition. The meat so rich and tender, the perky sauce and oriental mayo with its hint of dried seaweed, toasted sesame seeds, salt, and spices, elevating the taste further.
We also tried the radicchio, pear, hazelnut and aged Montgomery cheddar salad (£13), the usual blue cheese swapped out here for something a bit different. Paired with a roasted hazelnut dressing, it was crisp, textured, fresh and pert. The dressing was something else.
The pan roasted Orkney scallop (£11) with a cauliflower puree, caper and ribbed almond butter was equally high end, the shellfish delivered fresh, early every morning.
As for the ordinary sounding charcuterie board for two or four people (£14/£19), it surprised us all, the quality of the sliced meats, salamis and ham speaking for themselves, served with beautiful sweet pickled onions and sourdough baguette.
Our appetites awake, we eagerly awaited the mains. A huge pork tomahawk served with fried quail egg, winter slaw and julienne fries (£27), was juicy, succulent and sweet, as well as being the envy of the table.
The butchers Calnan Brothers in Watlington needs a special mention because the wood-fired rib eye (£32) followed suit; beautiful cooked, the knife sliding through the steak, accompanied by some top notch, hot, crispy julienne fries and a lovely, creamy peppercorn sauce.
Next up the house burger oozing with cheese, juices and an incredible homemade burger sauce (£19.50) as well as all the usual accruements – heritage tomato, shredded gem lettuce, and aged cheddar. Rich, juicy and tasty it hit the mark.
The vegetable option was a spiced red lentil curry with wood fired paneer and crispy onions, chilli and spring onions, and while delicious, it was so mild it was hardly a curry at all.
The deconstructed banoffee pie (£11) was the perfect finale. Oh my! A beautiful, hard biscuity base, dusted, caramelised bananas on the top and soft fluffy pie filling. It ticked all the right boxes and we fought over every mouthful with our four spoons.
Is it Le Manoir style food? No. Is it a gastro pub. No! Is it some of the best pub food you’ll find in Oxfordshire? Yes! And that’s exactly what Ben and Nat aimed for – generous portions, recognisable classics cooked brilliantly and that’s exactly what you get.
We were hugely impressed. My husband is desperate to go back and try everything else on the menu, and enjoyed his non-alcoholic Estrella beer, a necessity for a destination pub. The wine list is equally as stirring.
The locals must be laughing themselves to sleep and as we finished up we spotted lots of Le Manoir staff enjoying a post work drink.
Will Nat stick around? We hope so, but if I were you I would get down to the historic pub quick because word about the Lamb in Little Milton is spreading fast.
The Lamb Inn, Little Milton https://lambinnlittlemilton.co.uk