Although the quality of food served in pubs has improved beyond all recognition over the last 30 years, eating in them can still be an unpredictable affair: At one extreme they might appeal to the lowest common denominator – offering unexciting, unchanging menus, at the other they may aim for more adventurous cuisine well beyond the capacity of chefs to execute them well.
Getting the balance between traditional fare and a more modern approach, with level of skill and a price point to match, has become increasingly difficult to achieve.
The Fox and Goat, a pub with rooms in Tiddington, has cracked this elusive formula. Located on the A418 off junction 8a of the M40, it is ideally placed for those who seek freshly cooked, good value food whilst avoiding the inflated prices encountered in the quaint market town of Thame or among the dreaming spires of Oxford.
The exterior is typical of hundreds of pubs across the country: Two levels with shuttered windows, whitewashed walls and an entrance porch. Inside, however, there is a cleaner, fresher look than that encountered in similar establishments, the result of a refurbishment a year ago. The oak beamed, low ceiling’d room with a floor of Indian stone is tastefully decorated and well lit. Large oak tables (with an eclectic collection of chairs) are well spaced, whilst an inglenook fireplace with wood burning stove give that classic feel, especially appealing on cold winter evenings.
Manager Doug Sheard oversees a dining room of 44 covers with 12 more in the bar area. Service is young and welcoming, with Ryan, who served us, being engaging and helpful without being intrusive.
Chef Meredydd Stables offers, where possible, locally sourced ingredients. Steaks, for instance, come from A&M Butchers in Worminghall, and herbs from the kitchen garden. The late Autumn menu pleasingly featured an abundance seasonal fruit and vegetables.
The dishes on offer are a mixture of pub classics, sandwiches, steaks, sharing dishes – Meaty, Veggie and Fishy – for two or four, and a selection of Carte starters and mains with international influences. Although there is an extensive choice, there is neither over-ambition nor pretension.
Portions are generous and prices fair indeed. Most dinner starters are under £6, mains average £14, and pub classics such as beer battered fish and chips or F&G Beefburger average £10.95. The most expensive dish is an 8oz Sirloin steak at £18.95.
A slightly more limited choice at lunch sees five starters all under £6; five mains all under £15; and four desserts all under £6. Perhaps best value of all is a set menu costing £13.25 for two courses.
Sunday lunch has proved especially popular with roasts and a range of dishes from the weekly menu
The select wine list, with a balance of Old and New Worlds is another set of bargains, with ungreedy mark ups. A 2014 Pinot Grigio and a 2013 Australian Merlot are keenly priced at £15.50 per bottle. At the higher end, a bin end Puligny-Montrachet 2012 is £58, or a Louis Jadot, Mersault 2012 at £60.
Free bread is becoming a rarity among pub restaurants, so the varieties offered must be of good quality to justify the cost. The grilled garlic Ciabatta we sampled before the first course was satisfyingly warm, crisp, soft and not too pungent.
A starter of Mini beef Kofta was anything but small with spicing well judged which enhanced rather than overpowered the meat. The skewered minced beef was accurately timed on the griddle, producing a rich crust and succulent interior. Roasted pumpkin seeds added a nutty smokiness whilst beetroot cream gave a rich sweetness to this Middle Eastern inspired dish. Overall, it would have benefitted from a less bland couscous and a hit of citrus to lift the flavours.
Beetroot appeared in a salad of Capricorn goat’s cheese, where it acted as a sweet foil to the warm, creamy tanginess of the cheese. Pine nuts gave texture and watercress salad added a fresh, peppery note which balanced the dish well.
Braised pork belly was an accomplished, attractively presented main course. Long slow cooking had produced meltingly succulent meat and a blast of heat gave crisp, thin crackling. The richness of the meat was offset by cubes of roasted root vegetables which gave sweetness and contrasting texture. Red cabbage and apple sauce added a degree of acidity the dish needed. Although a quenelle of celeriac mash lacked the nutty, mild celery taste of this underrated vegetable, it did not detract from the overall success of this course which was finished with a rich jus which brought the elements together. This proved greater than sophisticated comfort food.
Another hearty main course was a flavoursome 8oz Sirloin steak, precisely grilled to a medium rare and properly rested. The rich peppercorn sauce, served separately, had a moderate heat and smooth texture. Chunky fries, watercress salad, and grilled tomato proved well executed, traditional accompaniments.
For dessert, a Plum Bakewell had thin, crisp shortcrust pastry and a deep layer of moist almond sponge. Spiced plum compote proved a delicious autumnal accompaniment, although the dish might have benefited from more vanilla ice cream to balance the large helping of tart.
Another dessert featured a well-executed chocolate ganache tart, the richness of which was cut by cherries and a fragrant pistachio ice cream. Crushed salted pistachios gave texture and crunch. Aesthetically, this composition might have been better served on a white plate rather than on slate, allowing the glorious colours to shine.
Overall, we enjoyed the food and service at The Fox and Goat and will return in the summer to eat in the garden, sampling some of its sharing plates, pub classics or speciality sandwiches. In the meantime Fine Dining Guide will follow its progress with interest.