Johnny Parke, the chef making a big noise in Oxfordshire at the moment, packing out The Back Lane Tavern in Woodstock with punters eager to try his celebrated menus.
To put it in context, The Back Lane was winner of the Best Newcomer 2021 award and Overall Winner at the Ox In A Box Food Awards 2022 in January.
I’d eat in a barn if Johnny was cooking
Why? Because it’s a fun, sociable, historic, community local with a wicked beer garden, a tasteful dining room, and Johnny in the kitchen. Simples. READ ABOUT IT HERE: https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/review-the-new-back-lane-tavern-in-woodstock-and-why-you-must-go-and-eat-there-the-new-contender/
Johnny’s food has also reset the gastropub perimeters with his distinctive ‘small plate’ menus which are inclusive, exciting, adventurous, communal and consistently delicious.
“I can’t remember a burger that good in a pub,” Mr Greedy proffered, eating with intent
News that he’s now executive chef at both The Back Lane and The Duke in Woodstock, and is currently bringing the kitchen team up to scratch in the latter, was music to my ears.
I was there before the next bus had arrived (the S3 stops outside The Duke), sitting expectantly in the calm dining room, the bar busy, the atmosphere less buzzing and rammed than its sister pub perhaps, but more comfortable and relaxed.
Besides, I’d have eaten in a barn if Johnny was cooking, so barely glimpsing at the menu we ordered almost everything and then sat back and waited with glee.
Some of Johnny’s staples and signature dishes such as the Korean chicken wings with a blue cheese dip (£8) were on the menu – and the courgette flower served with a sun dried tomato tapenade, aubergine and almond pesto (£9) were a must.
A portion of the duck liver parfait with apricot, brioche and chicken skin (£9), oh and the soft shell crab, mango, grape mustard and chutney, just to be getting on with.
The wings get you every time – something about that plump moist chicken, the thick Asian sauce and that deviant dip, the courgette flower an absolute gift, the parfait perfectly seasoned and the crab fragrant and summery.
We gorged and then moved on, something new to feast on always on the horizon.
The bone marrow Hereford cheese burger with confit onions, smoked bacon, miso and basil aioli (£13) was a revelation, new to the menu, and perfectly assembled. “I can’t remember a burger that good in a pub,” Mr Greedy proffered, eating with intent.
The truffle and herb gnocchi with wild mushrooms, spinach, parmesan and thyme crumb, fairly common on menus, but not to this level of perfection, emitted groans from the other side of the table, as texturally dextrous as it was luxuriant.
Fans of The Back Lane will know what’s in store, but those who fancy a more rarified country pub feel with some truly eye-opening food should make a bee-line to The Duke before word gets out
The green papaya and mooli salad with coriander chutney, roasted peanuts, coconut sugar and yuzu (£10) was fresh, zingy and exciting, while the Cotswold lamb tacos with green sauce, avocado, rose harissa creme fraiche (£12) were contentedly devoured.
But its the details that count, everything here is perfected, such as the sides – the buttered greens with confit garlic, the loaded nachos (just £5) the truffle and parmesan fries and my particular favourite – the baby gem with Caesar dressing that drove me to distraction. Holy Moly it was good.
Churros with chocolate cream aux, dulche de leche and hazelnuts elicited the same response and the poached rhubarb, tonka bean pan cotta and honeycomb polenta crumble was soft, wobbly and moreish.
Unsteadily we made our way back home and had to lie down in a dark room for a while, but it was worth every second of discomfort.
Fans of The Back Lane will know what a treat is in store, but those who fancy a more rarified country pub feel with some truly eye-opening food should make a bee-line to The Duke before word gets out.
Either way, Johnny will be moving between the two pubs in future, so you’re in for a treat.
The Duke is at Woodleys, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, OX20 1HT https://www.dukeofmarlborough.co.uk