After a year at the Fat Duck in Bray, Emily Watkins has set up at the Kingham Plough in Oxfordshire, where she is showcasing her technically astute pub food. Tracy Watkins reports
A couple checking out of one of the seven rooms at the Kingham Plough typify the foodie punters that have descended on the Cotswold pub since the publication of several national reviews, most recently in the Sunday Times.
Undoubtedly, some want to sample popular dishes such as fillet of Hereford beef and triple-cooked chips (£22) gleaned from chef-patron Emily Watkins's year with Heston Blumenthal. Others may hope to rub shoulders with celebrity cheese supplier Alex James, formerly of Britpop band Blur, who lives near by and supplies the restaurant. But there is plenty of Watkins's personal touch to draw the punters as well, with a pithy, seasonal and local menu built around her Fat Duck-esque imagination.
Watkins and her husband and business partner, Miles Lampson, have created a country pub of cute rusticity, where menus change daily for the 74 covers. Dishes such as a posh starter of ham, egg and chips (£9), with a 90-minute slow-poached egg and home-made air-cured ham, are the technically adept takes on pub fare you'd expect from a Blumenthal alumnus, while braised lamb breast pasty (£14) is exactly as it sounds, with the usual pasty spices, fresh herbs and shallots in a simple modernisation of the pastry lunch.
Game features strongly, from slow-cooked haunch of rabbit stuffed with chestnuts and home-cured bacon (£16) to pheasant dumplings and game broth with pearl barley (£7).
The brigade of four - ideally, five - also handle all their own butchery. "I love the challenge of using the offal and lesser-known parts in a dish without then hiding them behind the more popular cuts," says Watkins, who cites breast and faggot of Gressingham duck (£16) as a personal favourite.
Suppliers range from the estates of the local landed gentry, such as Lady Bamford's Daylesford, to locals like Roy and Stan who have two front teeth and a Robin Reliant between them. And it is this eclectic mix of celebrity, rustic, local and homespun that accounts for some of the Kingham Plough's allure, where simple, well-sourced produce such as Alan's beans (from local supplier Alan Cox) or Grandpa's cabbage (a family recipe using the trusted Savoy) sit alongside more outlandish creations such as snail mousse.
The appeal of Watkins's menu is in the balance between simplicity and creativity. The menu changes according to what is in season and available: the popular crispy duck egg with watercress sauce became crispy bantam egg with home-made venison, ham and watercress salad when the ducks started laying for the Christmas market. And every day brings four new starters, five new mains and three new desserts. Yet there is the same culinary creativity that marked her desire to work up through the ranks in the Fat Duck kitchen.
It seems that Watkins is, indeed, a triple-cooked chip off the Fat Duck block.
What's on the menu
- Braised oxtail dumpling, carrot purée, £8
- Beetroot soup, soured cream, fresh horseradish, £6
- Slow-cooked belly of pork, twice-baked pumpkin, girolles, £8
- Cornish hake, spinach, cockle and saffron stew, £16
- Loin of very local lamb, lamb hodge-podge pudding, Grandpa's cabbage, potato dumpling, £18
- Slow-cooked crispy pork cheeks, bubble and squeak, £15
- Pumpkin pie, pumpkin ice-cream, £6
- Apple and cider trifle, warm cinnamon doughnut, £6
- Poached plum, iced caramel mousse, £6
The Kingham Plough, The Green, Kingham, Oxfordshire OX7 6YD. Tel: 01608 658327. www.thekinghamplough.co.uk