The Falcon Inn, Fotheringhay
It's four months since we had a meal out. They could have served a boiled turnip and we'd have thought it a golden truffle. Thankfully, they didn't. But how would The Falcon Inn fare with dishing up their gourmet delights in the new normal? We loosened our belts to find out.
If you haven’t heard of the tiny village of Fotheringhay before, then you clearly have not been reading your Renaissance history. Mary Queen of Scots famously had her head chopped off at Fotheringhay Castle, but we can confirm that there’s quite a bit more fun to be had nowadays, from stand-up paddle boarding down the wide stretch of the River Nene that winds past the village to exploring the picturesque settlement and beautiful surrounding countryside.
This gorgeous gastropub boasts a fabulously bucolic location but is just 10 minutes from the genteel market town of Oundle, which resembles a miniature Oxford, and where you’ll find lovely interiors shop The Rounded House, gorgeously luxe kitchen and bathroom showroom Oundle Mill, and the fantastic Oundle Bookshop.
The Falcon was taken over and given a new lease of life by the current owners, Zak Perrin and Madison Keys, just weeks before Covid-19 forced the doors to close. The pair have taken the lockdown admirably in their stride, serving a varied and suitably gourmet takeaway menu to their local clientele, as well as selling freshly baked bread from the huge outside bread and pizza oven. We went along on the weekend of their re-opening to see how they’ve adapted to the new social-distancing measures, and whether the food would still manage to shine. Spoiler: it did.
You’d struggle to beat the garden and orangery of The Falcon if you were looking for the ideal location for a socially distanced meal. When we arrived, the bi-fold doors were flung wide open to allow the outside in, and tables had been spaced out around the edge of the room, to allow diners to enjoy their meals safely. We’d brought our pooch along, as well as the kids, so we choose a table under a shady tree in the garden. The staff all wore sleek face masks and gloves, but it was far less alarming than you’d expect, and they still managed to be friendly and attentive.
Inside, there’s a crisp, modern vintage vibe. Customers are able to use the spotlessly clean loo facilities in an external barn conversion – meaning you don’t have to traipse through the pub – and there’s soap and hand lotion from The White Company.
We stayed for nearly three hours, which is practically a miracle when it comes to eating out with the Mudlets, so they must have got something very right, although we did bribe the kids with the possibility of climbing back up to the top of the castle mount if they behaved themselves. Yes, our children are a bit geeky, but it worked. Thanks Horrible Histories. Happily, the well spaced out tables filled up with families, which made for a relaxed and jovial atmosphere.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
Food here is a gastronomic art form, everything looks beautiful, yes, but the flavours are a carefully considered culinary concerto that make each mouthful something to savour. So no shovelling it in, ok? Chef patron Zak, formerly of The Talbot in Oundle, is heavily inspired by French and Japanese cuisines and has given the menu a fresh take with the intention of drawing in customers from far and wide to dine here.
Indeed, we drove from the other end of the county and were ravenous by the time we arrived, so it was with some relief when we were presented with a huge basket of fresh, homemade bread with our drinks. It had certainly been some time since I’d enjoyed a cold glass of rosé in a pub garden and the Romanian Calusari Pinot Grigio (£5.40) was a joyful thing. Mr Muddy would second that for his pint, though he settled for Doombar shandy (£1.70) as he was driving.
I started with the Bream ceviche, grapefruit ponzu and wasabi (£6.50), which turned out to be a whole bream fillet adorned with pomegranate seed jewels, watercress and tiny grapefruit segments. Deliciously satisfying but so exquisitely presented that it felt almost wrong to eat it.
Mr Muddy had the Seared scallops, tequila and lime dressing, jalapeño crisps and cucumber (£8) which he was, sadly for him, forced to share with the rest of the family because it was utterly irresistible. Luckily there was enough to go round. The Mudlets are shellfish fanatics anyway, but show them a scallop this juicy and it’s game over.
The Mudlets both opted for the Falcon Burger and chips (£10 for two courses), which was served alongside our starters in order to stop them getting bored. Buns, burgers and chips were all homemade and very hearty. The kids wolfed them down very happily, and they were the perfect balance of child-friendly food and high quality ingredients.
The main courses were equally as interesting as the starters. I ordered Hake, seaweed polenta, heirloom tomatoes and dashi butter sauce (£16) again bringing that Japanese influence through alongside the beautiful English produce.
Husband chose shallot and mushroom tart tatin with garlic puree and parmesan (£14), which was more of a deconstructed tatin, with beautifully assembled enoki mushrooms and soft whole roasted shallots atop a buttery pasty base.
For dessert, whilst the kiddos scoffed their dishes of ice cream, we opted to share a chocolate and peanut delice with dulce de leche ice cream (£6.50) and a rum baba with vanilla chantilly and roast banana (£6.50) with invigorating double espressos (£2.40), which rounded off both a delightful meal, as well as our lockdown bellies, quite wonderfully.
The menu is so carefully thought through and creatively prepared, it’s a real change from a lot of the standard gastropub fare out there, and the extraordinary use of flavours in every dish makes dining at The Falcon an exceptional experience.
OUT AND ABOUT
Historic Fotheringhay Castle is worth an explore for the geekily inclined, yours truly included. Climb to the top of the hill for fantastic views across the Nene Valley. SUP Oundle offer paddle boarding adventures along this serene stretch of river.
The village is intersected by the Nene Way long distance walking path and nearby Barnwell Country Park offers lovely walks, nature trails a visitor centre and an epic treetop zip line, and you could easily spend an afternoon pottering around the pretty market town of Oundle.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: The Falcon is perfect for family meals and date nights, it felt like a something a bit special for our first meal out after lockdown. Also good for private dining, parties, and even weddings, with plenty of outdoor space for a marquee. The space combines traditional and modern style seamlessly, and lends itself to indoor/outdoor functions too.
Not for: Not a bog standard boozer. You might not pop on for a pint and bag of pork scratchings, although The Falcon does still manage to maintain a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
The damage: Three courses will cost around £35-£40 a head with wine starting from £19 a bottle. The 2 course children’s menu is £10 a head.
The Falcon Inn, Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, PE8 5HZ. Tel: 01832 226254