Ask Mark Treasure what he has achieved since taking over the kitchen at the Feathers hotel in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, a little under a year ago, and he says he feels he has taken the 60-seat restaurant up a couple of notches. "We're right up there with London restaurants," he says. "And we've had write-ups in two national newspapers."
Coming from his first head chef position at Michael's Nook in Grasmere, Cumbria, where he was awarded four AA rosettes, Treasure's aim on joining the Feathers was to carry on from where he'd left off in the Lake District.
He describes his style of cooking as having a European influence but with a bit of a twist. "I like things to look as simple as possible on the plate," he says.
The à la carte menu changes every two to three months and offers six choices for each course. One of Treasure's personal favourites is a starter of seafood ravioli with fennel, rouille, olives and basil (£8.75), a colourful dish using the freshest fish available, and the deep-fried langoustine beignets with watercress, tomato fondue and hollandaise (£12) is particularly popular with customers.
According to Treasure, for a main course the baked sea bass scented with red mullet and saffron juices (£19.75) is "a real ladies' dish" while the more adventurous tend to try the pot-roasted squab pigeon with cäpes, caramelised shallots and buttered potato fondant (£20).
Of the six desserts, the almond and strawberry délice with marzipan tuiles (£6) is a frequent choice, and a separate menu offers the 10 best cheeses available from suppliers Paxton & Whitfield. Customers round off the meal with a selection of petits fours (£2) prepared by pastry chef Samantha Toogood.
In addition to the regular à la carte menu, Treasure has introduced a six-course "tasting menu" costing £44 per head excluding wine. Wines to accompany the menu are selected by restaurant manager Adam Rushton.
Designed to appeal to "foodies", this menu has proved very popular, with a take-up of 45%. Portions have been kept small so as not to bump up the price. "It's a real bargain as a treat or for a special occasion," says Treasure.
He is supported in the kitchen by a brigade of eight, including his sous chef from Michael's Nook, Dean Selby. The eight-strong front of house team, led by deputy general manager Louise Hill, serves between 12 and 35 covers at weekday lunchtimes (from a weekly changing lunch menu of four starters, four main courses and four desserts costing £17.50 for two courses and £21 for three). Evening covers are currently running at 25 to 40, rising to 50 at the weekend. Average spend is £35-£40 excluding wine.
The Feathers Hotel, Market Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1SX
Tel: 01993 812291