Restaurant review: The White Hart

by Crumbs

06 March 2015

"The young, ambitious foodie heroes behind the pass have no concern for the constraints of traditional pub grub"

This local boozer may not be an obvious destination for a slap-up dinner, but JESSICA CARTER asks you to trust her on this one…

You can largelY tell, the moment you walk into a restaurant, the kind of meal you’ll be sitting down to, and what the chances are of any socks being blown off in the duration. Take, for instance, a good old traditional country pub. Not your new-fangled, quirky, pub-restaurant-with-rooms type affair, though – what I mean is a proper, old- school boozer. Expectations are somewhat capped for establishments like this; establishments, perhaps, like The White Hart in Minster Lovell.

Ducking through the car park entrance, we were presented with the familiar picture of a friendly, local watering hole: deep-red patterned carpets, low ceilings, small round tables, mismatched chairs, and tall stools lining the bar. We’ve all seen this image countless times in many different forms, and associate it more with a pint, packet of pork scratchings and good conversation than a three-course meal with wine.

Inside the dining area – a small room at the end of the bar with 10 or so tables – there were, however, some subtle deviations from the usual lasagne-serving tavern. Instead of bric-a-brac, for instance, it was cookery books that were lined up along window ledges and shelves, while tables were laid out with the addition of starter cutlery and wine glasses (a rarity at your standard boozer).

However, these touches only became apparent in hindsight, so – even after an initial skim-read of the menu, from which I picked up on a beef curry, fish and chips and chicken pie – my expectations weren’t immediately raised. But then my eyes wandered towards the prices, which – while not unreasonable – were hardly circa the customary seven or eight quid either. That made me do a double-take, and look again. Turned out the aforementioned beef curry was actually a Thai panang number, with peanuts, wild rice and flatbreads; the fish and chips (pollock, as it turns out) came with pea purée and tartare salsa verde; and the chicken pie... Well, more about that later. Anticipation, naturally, began to mount. 

To start, we tucked into a meaty black pudding and faggot Kiev (£7) with roasted bone marrow and thyme butter, accompanied by a sweet parsnip and apple purée to counter the richness. The pearl barley arancini (£6.85), meanwhile, came as crisp golden spheres sitting in a shallow pool of vivid green watercress sauce. Inside, the pump pearls were flavoured with roasted mushrooms, tasting earthy and wholesome. And drinks came too. I had a glass of Malbec (easy-drinking yet robust, it proved itself capable of taking on the rich main course with ease), then a second, while my ale-drinking chum went for local beer, Oxford Gold, brewed 10 minutes down the road. 

Course number two was, for she, that chicken and leek pie (£15.50) and, for he, king prawn and saffron stew (£17.50). The former came in a ceramic bowl topped with a shiny puff pastry lid. Beneath, chunks of moist chicken swum among the flavours of truffle and smoked bacon that had been infused into the buttery sauce. The other side of the table was occupied by two large plates: on one sat a large square bowl of vibrant orange stew, and on the other a dish of pan-roasted potatoes with garden peas, and slices of home- baked bread. Admittedly, stews aren’t usually my thing: I find them a little too heavy, and rather samey towards the end. This colourful variation, though, was exciting in style and flavour, and was kept light, with the carbs served on the side and soft, juicy prawns standing in for more conventional red meat. 

For dessert, the pub’s signature white chocolate and Milky Way cheesecake was an obvious must-try. The filling light and airy, it was punctuated with pleasing chewiness and crunch, with boozy sultanas and toffee popcorn keeping things even  more interesting. For someone who claimed to be at capacity, my companion did rather well in seeing off his choice of a dark choc and peanut butter delice, which harboured brittle shards of Daim and chewy lumps of flapjack. 

The White Hart is a genuine, friendly pub – with a great selection of local beers and a top front-of-house team, might I add – which also happens to have great things going on in the kitchen. The young, ambitious foodie heroes behind the pass have no concern for the constraints of traditional pub grub, and appear to be having as much fun knocking up these exciting and imaginative dishes as I had testing them. 

✱ THE WHITE HART, Burford Road, Witney, Oxfordshire OX29 0RA; 01993 7786;