The Horseshoes in Witney

“Can we put a deposit down on the dishes?” my husband asked as the pigs head fritters he had his eye on sold out.

It wasn’t a surprise, packed with jolly diners and drinkers alike sharing the extensive space, The Horseshoes in Witney was heaving when we arrived.

This is largely due to news of their new head chef Matt Laughton former head chef at Swan at Swinbrook, who is already making great inroads in the kitchen, as faithful regulars and locals gathered at the bar or sat in the dining area.

Horseshoes head chef Matt Laughton

The wonderful mix of antique and contemporary furnishings, a huge fireplace and the wooden bar gives it a more traditional vibe than its sister pub The Hollybush over the road, which, with winter drawing in, is increasingly appealing.

We’d been for a stupendous Sunday lunch under the previous chef ( but were excited about trying Matt’s food, if we could get our hands on it!

GM Tom Higgs

Food wise, the menu is endearingly British so we waded in, starting with the house speciality from the ‘nibbles’ menu – their home-made Scotch egg with mushroom ketchup which delivered on all fronts, still warm, crunchy outside, soft meat, bright yellow yolk, job done.

The creamed mushroom on toasted brioche (£7) was soft and earthy, the juices dribbling down to soak the toast beneath – seasonal and tasty.

Confit carrot soup

But the confit carrot soup won the day, however unlikely that sounds. I didn’t even know what confit carrot was when I ordered the soup of the day (£8) but my-oh-my it delivered on taste; warm, slightly sweet, clean with a depth of flavour that’s hard to compute.

And as I consumed it with my eyes closed, the potted ham hock and pickles on toast (£7) was devoured with equal abandon on the other side of the table.

We were on to a good thing, and as our attention focused on the food rather than catching up, we wondered what would come next?

The venison

Braised venison haunch with sweet potato puree (the latter I ate with a spoon), pickled carrot and chilli jus from the specials menu (£18.50). Tantalisingly dark, sultry, with that slight sheen, beautifully seasonal and perfectly cooked it was quite something.

The sea trout with samphire, a caper beurre blanc sauce and new potatoes, which came under the ‘Cornish Catch of the Day’, was another immediate hit. The fish was delicate, moist, and a generous portion – it accruements balancing the dish perfectly.

The sea trout

Unsurprisingly the choux bun with Guinness ice cream, cocoa cream, pistachios and clotted cream (£8) which we reserved at the word go, was a revelation, and we also dived into a portion of the Corn Street crumble (£9.50) – thick with fruit and custard.

Throw in a ‘Selection of Cotswold Cheeses’ served with red onion chutney, Cotswold set honey, celery and crackers, which included Alex James Blue Monday and a cracking Jonathan Crump’s Double Gloucester and it was a fitting finale to a superb meal.

The entire experience was enhanced by our lovely waitress Hannah, but all the staff here are topnotch, a real team that GM Tom Higgs can be proud of.

A dog in the bar at The Horseshoes

As we left our friends paused and said: “That was the best meal we’ve had in a very long time.” Praise indeed, and well earned. Autumnal dining at its best.

So, as the nights draw in, if you fancy dining somewhere cosy and comforting, I’d head off to The Horseshoes in Witney. You won’t be disappointed.

Katherine MacAlister

The Horseshoes, 78 Corn Street, Witney. OX28 6BS