Our Jack heads up to Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, and the little town of Kingham – to see The Kingham Plough, and what all the fuss is about…
In A Word
Gastro tourists and pilgrims specifically coming to Kingham for high end British style food, and scenery (…apparently a big hit with the Norwegians). Lodgings are available – so why not have kedgeree for breakfast too?
People who want a ‘gastropub experience’ – (as in, like the conventional pub one level up). Want to convert a series of bar snacks into an extremely huge lunch over the course of a few hours and maybe drink some Port from 1977? It’s Wednesday – fkn do it already.
Hail To The Kingham, Baby…
Ever heard of The Kingham Plough? It’s kinda a big thing. In fact, I’ve come all the way from sunny Croydon to see it.
I am apparently following in the footsteps of The Hairy Bikers and Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food (neither of which, presumably, travelled from Croydon). Located in the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Kingham, The Kingham Plough has been under the auspices of Chef Emily Watkins and her husband Miles since 2007. And they’ve been doing alright since then…
The Plough’s more recent awards include (but are not limited to) 2 AA Rosettes, 15th in the Top 50 Gastropubs 2015, Cotswold Food Hero 2014 and Oxfordshire Dining Pub of the Year 2015. I learn all of this later, having done next to no research beforehand 😀
That said, it’s super quiet when I show at 1630ish on radiant Wednesday afternoon in June. Sat at the bar, staff and regulars are almost impossible to tell apart (I think they’re actually sitting side by side). It would be silent in here if not for their spirited conversation and the low, quiet thrumming of something mechanical.
First impression? Proper ‘country pub’, but not ‘country old man pub’. Splendid. Like a pub it does ‘pub stuff’ like quizzes on alternate Sunday evenings and has local breweries on cask. But it’s only a pub in the way that, say, a Monet is ‘only’ art – there’s more to it than that and calling it a pub would be a simplification.
I later overhear some conversations – these include thoughts about Knightsbridge (because apparently people in Oxford know about the expensive bits in West London) and the ‘efficacy of throw rugs’. What the fuck.
But yeah – I came here to eat food and write about food. And I’m all out of food….
(…fast forward a few hours to dinner time)
The Food And Drink
How about that food then? Head chef Emily’s got a exciting portfolio that involves time at The Fat Duck, as a private chef in London and working at a restaurant in Florence, Italy. All of this has presumably come together in the experience you are now reading about.
The Plough’s A La Carte Menu is pretty small – 5 mains, 4 starters, 4(?) desserts with a focus on English cuisine. It changes every month and, like many good restaurants, they source as much stuff locally as they can. Seasonality and rapid change are the themes.
Emily is friendly enough and rather distracted. She’s currently got her fourth child in the way (impressive) and has actual work to do here. So I try not to distract her too much with inane questions about living on a milk farm, or what it’s like having Sipsmith‘s Master Distiller as a neighbour (the distiller’s wife will later come in to deliver quail eggs, I shit you not)
Asides from that, the Bar Snacks Menu changes daily and is pretty extensive. It contains burgers, steak and ale pies and the like – perhaps making it more a ‘bar lunch menu’? Unless people round here snack on burgers.
There’s also a tiny Children’s Menu. Does ‘children’s food’ translate to ‘boring food’? Because it looks like it. Are children boring? *ponders* Oh, another thing – Later in the evening they’ll send me out an Amuse Bouche (and how often do you see THAT these days?)
On a related note Emily has started selling ice cream. And you know it’s her who’s selling it because it’s uh…called Emily’s Ice Cream. I don’t get to try any but I later hear people at the bar complimenting her on it (“how do you do the rhubarb?”)
Said ice cream can only be purchased here or at Burford Garden Centre. It’s made to an old Kingham Plough recipe and people kept asking if they could take said ice cream home. Eventually she decided to try retailing it and, by all accounts, it’s been working so far.
And the drink?
Don’t you worry, lots and varied drinking opportunities here. A great selection of wines – tons of reds and whites and a separate section for Bordeaux. The wine menu is detachable so I assume it changes regularly.
The wines are chosen by Sylwia, The Kingham Plough’s ‘Operations Manager’ (which sounds kinda militant but she’s actually super chill). Sylwia has an eastern European accent, a blue shirt and is also knowledgeable about the food.
The Plough sure love them French wines – and I later find out that this is part of their policy of keeping things as local as possible (i.e ‘though we can’t stock the menu with English wines, we won’t use New World wines because they come from far away’).
Yeah, their cellar is pretty huge. Big enough also for a selection of magnums AND champagne magnums (these all above the £100 mark – sorry no pix). Actually, there is some pretty sophisticated booze on this menu. For example, a 1981 Armangac at £195 a bottle. Plus a reasonable selection of sweet and fortified wines including a Warres 1977 Port at £150 a bottle. And more – Calvados!
So if you’re in Kingham and you just wanna slam excellent alcohol, these guys have your back. Unless you’re looking for high end rum, tequila or substantial choice in the kind of drinks that originate from outside of Western Europe. Then perhaps not.
There is also a constantly shifting menu of respectable whiskies (the menu refers to them as ‘malts’). Including a Springbank! Nothing too pricey here though
Anyway, enough about the bar (and a fine bar it is) – here’s some of the food and pictures of some of the food:
The quail egg/scotch egg is softboiled on inside – ITS MAGIC. This will never cease to amaze me. The Quail leg seems superfluous but is also delicious and tiny. The mayo reminds me some kind of potato and egg salad that you’d get at a business function or something… but with a far better component/vegetable selection.
If there where more of it it would be moreish. But there isn’t very much – does that make it ‘lessish’? *scratches chin*
The fish itself is firm and satisfying. The all pervasive theme here is hollandaise – the fish is no happier than when floating on a lake of hollandaise and chives. It is difficult to skewer said chives and we can instead use the sauce as glue (yup). The side of thin chips it comes with are a dead ringer for McDonalds fries (in both taste and appearance)
The curly kale is somewhat buttery but not to the point of being too much. This takes most of the bitterness out of it but retains a little sharpness – stopping it from becoming ‘green butter leaves’ – which are a thing, particularly at steakhouses it seems?
Seasonal Green Salad
This salad is vehicle for some kind of amazing dressing which might just be olive oil. It entirely underdelivers on the promise of tomatoes and colour asides from variations on dark green leaves but I am fully distracted by said dressing so this is OK.
Tea for dessert. This comes in the form of lapsang souchong from locals Sherston Tea Company. It smells like a Manx smokehouse, rhubarb or Bonfire Night 2004 and is delicious.
Prices relative to area? I’m not sure (I don’t go here much!). I’m going to bet it’s somewhat pricey but nothing too ridiculous.
As for food? The seasonality is great but maybe needs more choices on the menu.
As for drink? The wine selection is extensive and uh… principled. The spirits are somewhat limited to the more ‘traditional’ (though within these categories there is some good selection). Remember – this is a PUB not a BAR – and living in a city you can sometimes forget the distinction between the two.
A good place to go for a proper countryside excursion. I was not blown away by the food and drink but this is a lovely place, in a lovely place, full of lovely people – I find it hard to imagine that anyone could be disappointed by an experience here.
The Green, Kingham, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire OX7 6YD