Lush local produce and an area rich in the bounties of foraging make the menu at the Fuzzy Duck near Stratford-upon-Avon one that sings of the flavours of the countryside. Janet Harmer reports
Set in the heart of the Warwickshire countryside, 10 miles outside Stratford- upon-Avon, the Fuzzy Duck in Armscote is the ideal location to enjoy the local game and the plentiful wild produce that can be foraged nearby.
Once the village blacksmith, and more recently the Fox & Goose pub, the 18th century property has recently been given a new lease of life by siblings Tania Fossey and Adrian Slater, whose parents created Baylis & Harding beauty products, which are offered in the four boutique bedrooms above the very chic pub.
Having grown up in nearby Chipping Campden and spent most of his professional career in the area - apart from a stint atâ¨Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek, South Africa - Craven draws on the local area for inspiration and ingredients.
The menu usually features a choice of seven or eight starters and main courses, which range â¨in price from £5.50 to £12 and £12.50 to £25 respectively, â¨followed by four desserts (£5-£7.50) and a selection of British cheeses (£7 for a choice of three, £11 for five and £15 for eight).
A big hit among the starters has been the wild rabbit ravioli with baby spinach and sweet cicely hollandaise (£7), which the kitchen porter, Damian Malanka, prepares on a daily basis.
"One of the key aspects of working at Le Quartier Francais I brought back with me was the trust that the head chef, Margot Janse, instilled in her staff," said Craven. "I could see that Damian had a real knack with butchery and he now prepares the whole dish, which involves confiting the rabbit legs and cooking the loins and offal using sous vide. The two are then combined with some rabbit stock, mustard and sweet cicely to create the filling for the pasta."
Alongside rabbit, game is currently in abundance in the area and frequently features among the main courses. Venison is the biggest seller, and has proven even more popular than steak. Fallow, roe and muntjak have all featured at some point, with red stag, served with parsnip purée, roasted parsnips, bitter chocolate and purple sprouting broccoli (£19), being a new addition.
When it comes to desserts, the surrounding countryside continues to inspire, with foraged fruits such as sloes, damsons, bullace (wild plums) and elderberries all appearing when in season.
Tarts are a particular speciality of pastry chef David Stagg, who likes to introduce new seasonal fillings. Hence, a lemon tart with raspberries, basil and meringue (£6.50) has been replaced by a hedgerow sloe and garden apple tart with juniper sherbet (£7).
The locality is packed with top-quality artisan cheesemakersâ¨and Craven ensures that a goodâ¨selection of cheeses is always â¨available. The likes of Oxford Isis (semi-soft and washed in honey mead), Berkswell from Warwickshire (hard, made from ewes' milk) and St Egwin from Worcestershire (an organic hard cheese) are served with home-made â¨biscuits and walnut bread.
The average spend at the â¨Fuzzy Duck, where Richard'sâ¨wife Solanche heads the front-of-house team, is £35 to 45 per head, including wine.
SAMPLE DISHES FROM THE MENU
Hay-smoked wood pigeon, bubble and squeak, crisp bacon, elderberries £7
Beetroot tart, Armscote nettle, horseradish, sour cream £7.50
Tiddenham Farm duck, summer turnip, hand-dived scallops, hazelnut, sea purslane £10.50
Main courses Cornish stonebass, baby gem, cockles, potato terrine, cider vinegar £17
Gloucester Old Spot pork, bobby beans, black pudding, Victoria plum, mashed potato £18
Hare, beetroot, cobnuts, elderberries, chubby goose, bitter chocolate £22
Grandma Baylis' grown-up strawberry trifle, fresh star anise doughnuts £6.50
Granola Armscote Manor: honey, cherry, set buttermilk, bee pollen £7
Chocolate Whatchamacallit: cobnut, caramel, damson sorbet £7
Fuzzy Duck, â¨Illmington Road, Armscote, Warwickshire CV37 8DD