The newly launched Cotswold restaurant is following its ethos of simple food packed with flavour. Andy Lynes reports
Feldon Valley, tucked away among stunning Cotswolds countryside in an area of outstanding natural beauty, has been a draw for golfers since 1992. Now, under new management and after significant investment, this year has seen the launch of 25 bedrooms in five modern and stylish lodge buildings and the Kitchen has opened its doors. The 40-cover restaurant not only boasts a chic, minimalist interior and views over the golf course and valley, but also a serious talent behind the stoves.
Darren Brown made his name as head chef of West Stoke House near Chichester, where he won a Michelin star in 2008. He went on to open Angelique restaurant for Alan Murchison in Dartmouth and was the head chef at Kingham Plough in Chipping Norton before joining Feldon Valley as executive head chef in February.
"The kitchen I've been provided with is amazing and the setting and scenery is great, so all the components are there," says Brown, who has been running the pass with a skeleton crew of four since opening in mid-April (another two chefs are due to join imminently).
Brown offers three menus. The House menu is served seven days a week and is aimed at golfers, lodge guests and the local community, with a selection of ‘Light Bites', including a sandwich of the day (£5). There is a list of ‘More Substantial' items, such as the Feldon Valley burger with rosemary fries (£15), and Sunday lunch features a choice of roasts, such as loin of pork from nearby Paddock Farm with apple sauce (£18) or rump of Long Compton beef with horseradish cream (£19).
But Brown really comes into his own with the à la carte: "We have 12 dishes: four starters, mains and desserts. Every week there will be one change, so within three months it is a completely new menu. Whenever someone comes back, there should always be at least one or two things they haven't seen before. We're thinking of dishes a few weeks in advance, practising them and getting them right, and then they go on the menu," he says.
Bestsellers include a light and elegant starter of fresh white Salcombe crab meat with kohlrabi, fennel purée and apple jelly (£10) and tartare of Lanes End Farm beef ("literally from the field that borders the golf course," says Brown) with St George's mushrooms and mushroom ketchup. "I always like to have a tartare on my menu. We did a version with lamb loin from a farm in Shipton. We sear the meat, then remove the outside to meet Environmental Health requirements, then slice and dice the loin. We mix it with shallots, chives, a small amount of chopped mint and a touch of Cotswold Gold smoked rapeseed oil. Instead of a raw egg yolk, which puts some people off, we used celeriac purée, which complements it quite well and gives it richness."
Feldon Valley is also developing an ‘ecology island' within its grounds. "By next year, that's going to provide us with a few interesting little things for specials," says Brown. "We're in the process of installing our beehives, we're going to have some wild flowers and we're going to be planting our own potatoes."
Brown says his approach at the Kitchen is to "do things simply but pack things with flavour". That doesn't exclude dishes that require a number of processes and several days to complete, and the Paddock Farm Tamworth pork belly and head (£19) is a prime example. "We brine the belly for three days in brown sugar, water, salt, maple syrup and honey, then cook it for 36 hours in a water bath. It's pressed, portioned then seared. The pig's head is braised overnight in a stock of really black burnt caramel, water, lemon verbena, miso and fresh ginger. We pick the meat and mix it with sherry vinegar, wholegrain mustard and lots of tarragon, then press and pané it."
The dish is finished with a Roscoff onion seared on the stove and slow-cooked in an onion stock, with balsamic gel, pork crackling, local black cabbage and a home-pickled gherkin. "There's a lot of work in the dish, but the punchy flavour is worth it," says Brown.
It's early days at the Kitchen, but Brown isn't tempted to run before he can walk. "It's not about ramming every bum on every seat. We want to do a quality product, and if that means doing a few less but doing them properly, that's what we're going to do."
From the menu
- Alan Cox's Oddington asparagus, garlic, parsley mayonnaise, Cacklebean egg yolk £8
- Cured brill, tomato, broad bean, salad cream £7.50
- Cornish plaice, potato terrine, crab sauce, spring cabbage £16
- Ricotta dumplings, sprouting broccoli, courgette, peas, Regato cheese £15
- Paddock Farm Tamworth sausages, creamed potatoes and onion gravy £10
- Dark chocolate mousse, white chocolate ice-cream, praline rice krispies £7
- Strawberry ruby chocolate dome, pistachio ice-cream £7
- Lower Brailes honey parfait ‘sandwich', pear, honeycomb £7
Feldon Valley, Sutton Lane, Lower Brailes, Oxfordshire OX15 5BB
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