Landlord Johnny at The White House Bladon

It was the first spoonful of soup that clinched the deal. Served in an ornate teacup with a few slices of toasted sourdough, the roasted cauliflower soup of the day was quite simply magnificent.

We both stopped, spoons hovering in the air above our table, eyes meeting in acknowledgment. This was the real deal. Only a properly trained and passionate chef could produce something of this calibre.

Ben Bullen and Johnny Roberts

But even though this is the new menu from recently appointed Ben Bullen, he of Masterchef the Professionals fame , I was surprised. Not because I’m not a big fan of Ben’s cooking either at Sudbury House or The Feathers in Woodstock, but because I’d looked at the menu before I arrived at The White House in Bladon and have to admit I found it rather underwhelming. Pub food done well. Ho hum. Soup of the day, calamari, fish balls, burgers, pizzas, steak – nothing new there. Or so I thought……..

I’d fallen into Ben Bullen’s trap. He wants you to be apathetic, and then wow you with his food. And that he certainly did. Every morsel of it actually

And then I realised I’d fallen into new head chef Ben Bullen‘s trap. He wants you to be apathetic, and then wow you with his food. And that he certainly did. Every morsel of it actually.

It’s a lovely pub – community owned and only opened last year and run by the young, enthusiastic and welcoming landlord Johnny Roberts https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/locals-celebrate-successful-bid-to-buy-the-white-horse-in-bladon-the-pub-where-churchill-learnt-to-drink-after-global-fund-raising-success/

The roasted cauliflower soup of the day

Dealing with lockdown, Covid and staff shortages and extensive building and landscape works including the flaming new loos, to cope with, The White House has done incredibly well to survive, but with Ben at the helm, it now looks set to thrive.

The pub quiz was on when we visited on a Wednesday night, and were nearly co-erced into joining in, except we were eating too hard and fast to concentrate on anything else.

The White House in Bladon is finally back on the culinary map without losing any of its honest village pub vibe

So back to the food. After the soup we ordered a little bit of everything from the starter menus, which Ben sent out on a sharing board. Just reliving that wonderful, generous, skilful, euphoric taste sensation is a treat.

The starters and the amazing fish croquettes

Let’s start with the salted fish croquettes with caper mayonnaise (£4). It’s hard to even find the words. So innocuous sounding but filled with gentle potato, fish, herbs and an insolent sauce reminiscent of a tartare, we realised that everything here is not only homemade but quite, quite delicious. And for £4 I was breathless. How?

The crispy calamari, harissa mayonnaise (£4.50) was declared the best my dining companion had ever had. Why? “Light batter, no il, crisp and the squid itself wasn’t at all chewy due to its freshness.

We even tried the truffle & honey popcorn (£2.50), not something I’d have even looked at, being so faddish and horrible, but here the flavours spoke for themselves, warm, pungent and oily. The Home roasted curried nuts (£2) received similar praise.

Pizza at The White House

Pizzas and burgers next. The unassuming sounding White House burger was of course far superior to it’s description – the char-grilled brioche bun not only roasting a beautifully seasoned and cooked patty but Ben’s own hand-made burger sauce, as well as the usual accruements and some stunning triple cooked chips. (£13.50)

The pizza is perhaps the only expected thing on the menu – yes the chorizo & roasted red pepper was nice, but it lacked that flaming pizza-oven pizzaz and puffiness, simply because Ben doesn’t have the right equipment for that yet, but knowing The White House it won’t be long.

We also ordered the butternut squash fregola, goats cheese, crispy sage, pine nuts (£14) just to see what the veggie option was like and it took our breath away. So accomplished, you’d be impressed with this in any fine dining restaurant, it was cleverly balanced, its textures and contrasting tastes giving you a little autumnal hug.

The butternut squash fregola, goats cheese, crispy sage, pine nuts

While around us the pub quiz had moved on to it’s music round, we still weren’t distracted enough to veer away from our sticky toffee pudding, toffee sauce, vanilla ice cream for £6.50 (I mean really they could charge twice these prices and you’d still feel it was value for money) and The White House, UE coffee tiramisu.

Brilliant from start to finish

Apparently Ben has been finessing the tiramisu for a week, and while rather unorthodox, you’d still have to challenge me to a duel to get a look in. Served in a little glass the coffee soaked sponge is topped with an addictive chocolate mousse and. crunchy, salty topping, so that you have to dive right to the bottom to get all three tastes on one spoon. Complex, clever and beautifully executed.

Desserts at The White House

As for the sticky toffee pudding – it was as dark, dense and enveloping as you could hope for and a generous portion.

Slotting Ben into this village pub and giving him the freedom to cook what he wants while enabling him to have the right work/life balance that all chefs quite rightly deserve is already paying off in droves. A genius placement. https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/dream-team-masterchefs-ben-bullen-on-leaving-the-feathers-to-join-bladon-community-pub-the-white-house-and-what-to-expect/

As for going back, they are going to find it hard to get rid of me. The White House in Bladon is finally back on the culinary map without losing any of its honest village pub vibe. Brilliant from start to finish.

The White House, Bladon, The White House, Grove Road, Bladon, OX20 1RQ

The kitchen is closed on Monday and Tuesday,

Wednesday/Thursday/Friday – 12:00-2pm/ 6-9pm

Saturday – 12:00 – 8pm

Sunday – 12:00-4pm

https://www.bladonwhitehouse.co.uk

KATHERINE MACALISTER