Johnny Parke

Massive congratulations to the boys at the Back Lane Tavern in Woodstock who opened this week. What a meal!

Yes, it boasts head chef Johnny Parke, and yes it’s a brand new revamp of a classic English pub, but to play devils advocate, the historic inn is set back off the main drag, offers a wine and sharing plate menu, and it’s not cheap. How will that go down with the locals and tourists?

Enormously well. In fact, it was one of the best meals I’ve enjoyed in a long time. Packed at the bar when we arrived, the dining area at the back is ample and more relaxed.

The menu too is equally attractive. So much to choose from, the sections divided into The Sea, The Field and The Farm.

“we all agreed we would eat the whole menu again, it was that good”

Stylish without being pretentious, nibbles were being ordered from the bar where people sat with their pints or glasses of wine.

anchovies with harissa

But the food emphasis is in the restaurant itself, which is beautifully decorated, by the way.

Johnny Parke is a genius addition, hardly surprising considering he opened the Unicorn in Deddington with his best mate Chris Brewster the new landlord, before moving onto The Mole in Toot Baldon where they won our Best Newcomer Award at 2019’s Ox In A Box Food Awards.


From the beef butter that came with the bread, the tiny cubes of bone marrow in the steak sauce, the truffled celeriac puree with the pork belly, to the ranch dressing with the Korean chicken wings, the delight was in the details, all the ingredients working together to enhance each, perfectly formed dish.

Korean chicken wings

The refreshing thing about a sharing menu is that its fits around you. If you want a traditional starter, main, pudding format, go ahead, or you can just order what you like and eat it as it comes.

“What a meal. We stumbled out sightly in awe off what had just taken place. Seriously good guys. Really!”

It might be easier to list the highlights, such was our gorging, ordering pretty much everything on the menu between the four of us.

Take the “insanely awesome” quote, unquote, chargrilled octopus with pori, sea beets, Morcilla (a blood sausage) and lovage aioli (£11) – the octopus so tender.

The octopus

Or the delectable Sandy Lane courgette flower stuffed with ricotta, pine nuts, sun blushed tomatoes and smoked aubergine (£8) which was unashamedly crisp on the outside, but soft and delectable inside, a real revelation.

The Cornish scallops with roasted cauliflower puree, charred sweetcorn and chorizo picante (£13) was devoured in seconds, as was the free range Middle White pork belly with truffled celeriac puree and crackllng (£16) – the pork soft, chewy and juicy with a strident top, set against the rooty softness of the mash and the crunch of the crackling. £16

The pork belly

How to differentiate between the chargrilled Oxfordshire 42-day aged Shorthorn beef with bone marrow sauce (£21) and its wonderful little soft succulent nuggets and chimichurri, or the see-through Vietnamese rolls with peanut sauce, white miso dressing, and crispy shallots (£8)? We had two of each.

The tartar of tuna with avocado, black garlic, ponzu, red miso and sourdough (£12) deserves a mention. But by then we were lost in a world of sharing, eating and revelling in the flavours, textures and the extreme dexterity and imagination Jonny puts into each and every component of his dishes.

raspberry sorbet cone

If I had to find fault, the summer beans with hazelnuts and caraway butter were a bit of a mystery and the chicken liver parfait needed more seasoning, but we all agreed we would eat the whole menu again, it was that good.

Dessert seemed innocuous after such a feast, but when the 70% dark chocolate fondant with kirsch soaked cherries and marmalade ice cream arrived (£8), we were rewarded for our perseverance. A decadent, moreish and splendid dish – the chocolate oozing, the cherries boozy and plump, the ice cream a gift.

The 70% chocolate parfait

The others preferred, if that’s possible, the more modest summer rhubarb, tonka bean, set cream, ginger and polenta hazelnut crumble (£8), while the raspberry sorbet (seriously it has to be tasted to be believed) cone with Valrhona chocolate mousse and dolce de leche (£8), was fiercely fought over.

What a meal. We stumbled out sightly in awe off what had just taken place. Seriously good guys. Really! Our new local!

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