Muddy review: Fox and Hounds, Charwelton
Searching for that elusive welcoming village pub that just happens to dish up bold and exciting gastro fare? Fox and Hounds in Charwelton is nailing it with true foodie passion and friendly vibes.
Built of traditional Northamptonshire ironstone, the Fox and Hounds, in the sleepy, picturesque village of Charwelton, looks at first glance to be a fairly ordinary country pub. Neatly painted bright blue wooden tables adorn the pavement and courtyard garden and planters spilling over with colourful flowers lend a cute cottage vibe to beckon visitors inside.
Bought as a community asset in 2013 having lain in quite a state for a number of years, much has changed since those dark days. A clutch of local friends who haven’t visited for a while couldn’t quite believe I was braving it. Slaughtered Lamb vibes from An American Werewolf in London, was the impression they gave me (not good, if you haven’t seen the film). Little did they realise the incredible transformation that has taken place here thanks to the local community getting stuck in, followed a few years later in 2016 by Dave and Sarah Webster, who now run the show, taking charge.
The Fox and Hounds has emerged as a genuinely welcoming community pub, but there’s a twist: the food and drink reign supreme here as a result of Dave and Sarah’s passion for intense flavours, fresh produce with exceptional provenance and fine wines. Dave is an experienced sommelier who can chalk Le Manoir up on his CV , so you are in very safe hands. Just make sure you’re not the designated driver.
It’s like when you find that perfect tapas bar or trattoria on holiday (holidays, remember those?), where the atmosphere is totally chilled and welcoming but the food is on another level. It’s still rare to find that perfect combo in England, but dream team Dave (front of house) and Sarah (executive chef) have nailed it. Want to feast on lobster and Champagne at the bar while watching the rugby? Welcome to your spiritual home.
The crisp, country chic decor is instantly welcoming. Think white walls, oak beams, leather Chesterfield sofas and exposed brick fireplaces. Flashy it isn’t but when you’ve got food this good on your plate you don’t need to be distracted by headache-inducing wallpaper.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
Put simply, indulgent and foodie with locally produced fare on the menu as well as seafood freighted overnight from the Essex and Cornwall coasts, the menu is really diverse here and it stands out as offering something a bit different to the usual gastropub classics.
The minute we walked through the door, Dave was giving me the lowdown on his extensive selection of artisan gins. I went for Herno, a Swedish brand that has won more awards than any other craft gin and we sat in the sunny courtyard garden to peruse the wine list, which is a whopping 13 pages long with each wine having tasting notes to guide the uninitiated, though this should come as no surprise given Dave’s background.
When the Great British summer rain drove us inside we tucked into preprandials of Maldon oysters with red wine and shallot dressing (only served Friday to Sunday) and whilst that would quite easily have ticked off my Last Supper requirements, it was merely the start of a delightful voyage through chef Sarah and her all-female team’s culinary spell book.
My starter was a White and brown Crab Salad, which looked pretty on the plate and tasted as fresh as a dunk in a cold clear sea thanks to the cucumber, samphire, pea shoots and lemon dressing. Dave presented us with a tailored wine flight to accompany our choices. As wine is his area of expertise we were delighted to let him be our guide and I paired the crab with a glass of clean and fruity Hiruzta Txakoli from the Basque region.
The husband went for a gorgeously green pea Panna Cotta with goats cheese, mint and and onion ‘Jammy Dodger’, which he described as “summer on a plate”, which he scoffed alongside a glass of peachy Roccolo Grassi Soave.
By now we were on a bit of a seafood roll, so our main courses were a Stone Bass Nicoise with soft boiled duck egg (me) and a Lobster Risotto (him). I often make tuna Nicoise at home as the whole family will hoover it up but, oddly, I’ve never tried it with white fish before and it was an absolute revelation, obviously all down to Sarah’s perfectly cooked and beautifully plump bass fillet but, nonetheless, I’ll definitely be trying (and failing ridiculously) to recreate this at home. I swigged a glass of French Olivier Coste Carignan Blanc Rare, which was citrusy and wonderful alongside the bass.
The husband’s Lobster Risotto was something of a showstopper and not technically a risotto at all but a pasta dish made with Fregola and lobster bisque and loaded with fresh Cornish lobster and lobster tempura, which was accompanied by a zesty Colomba Bianca ‘Vitese’ Zibibbo from Sicily. And if all that sounds like quite a bit of food and wine, then please spare a thought for us as Dave force fed us irresistible Parmesan Crusted Courgette Fries with Honey Yoghurt and and Chickpea Panisse with Harissa Aioli. Yes friends, we did have to initiate stretchy waistband mode at this point.
Dessert was a shared Strawberry Panna Cotta with Strawberry Sorbet and Eton Mess garnish, which was delightfully refreshing and seasonal, after which we decided to share some cheese as well, plumping for a super intense Oxford Isis, which is washed in honey mead, and erstwhile Blur bassist Alex James’ Blue Monday. Dave forewarned us that both were really strong flavours and not for the beginner cheese-lover. “I’m a pro.” I assured him. Ahem, flavour receptors set to overload! Served with Sarah’s homemade crackers and chutney and a glass of Pedro Ximenez sherry, this was possibly the most fun my jaded taste-buds had had in quite some time.
OUT AND ABOUT
Charwelton itself has some lovely walks and the bar in the Fox and Hounds is dog friendly, so you can bring your pooch along too. The Jurassic Way takes you past the site of a medieval village and the beautiful Church House, which I like to imagine as the Bennett house in Pride and Prejudice, but I digress. Nearby are National Trust Canons Ashby and Daventry Country Park and we highly recommend a visit to The Royal Ordnance Depot in Weedon for a spot of vintage shopping and a rummage around the The Reading Tree bookshop.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Have we mentioned this place is super welcoming? Oh good. Because, whilst the food is magnificent, the vibe is not in the least bit alienating so you can expect everyone from families with kids to groups of friends, locals and loved-up couples. It’s also great for veggies here as, whilst the menu isn’t as long as your arm, there is always something thoughtfully different to the usual standard veggie options.
Not for: Although it’s not posh, we can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to eat here unless you have a strange aversion to lovely people and incredible food.
The damage: Prices are reasonable, which adds to the sense that the Fox and Hounds is really striving to be both a foodie destination and somewhere for a local crowd. Starters begin at £7.50, mains are from 13.50 and desserts are £7. Wines start from £21 a bottle and whilst there is an extensive wine list it is deliberately not prohibitively expensive.
Fox & Hounds, Banbury Road, Charwelton, NN11 3YY, tel: 01327 260611, email: email@example.com. foxandhoundscharwelton.co.uk