Fox and Barrell, Cotebrook, Cheshire, restaurant review

The rustic charm of the Fox and Barrel and its new varied menu make this a gastro-pub worth travelling to REVIEW BY RAY KING

The Fox & Barrel, Fox Bank, Cotebrook, Tarporley, Cheshire CW6 9DZ. Tel: 01829 760529; served Mon-Sat noon-9.30pm; Sun noon-9pm

The Fox & Barrel Inn at Cotebrook, deep in the heart of Cheshire, has long been regarded one of the county's premier dining pubs but its recent change of ownership looks set to promote a fine location even further up the gastronomic league table. It certainly looks the part: the whitewashed building nestling amid neatly manicured gardens by the busy A49 just north of Tarporley has always bagged its fair share of passing trade without ever sacrificing its status as a much loved local. Inside, the spacious, rustic bar area with ample wood panelling, prints, pictures and impressive fireplace, gives way to a dining area in an extension cleverly divided to disguise its substantial size.

The eclectic collection of odd chairs and tables, arranged on polished new floorboards also lendscharm to a space that otherwise might have appeared rather functionally uniform, despite the bookshelves lined with thick, leather bound volumes. On sunny days a pleasant patio and rear garden beckons.The arrival of Gary Kidd and Dickie Cotterill from the highly respected and award-laden Grosvenor Arms at Aldford has ensured that, as it were, the culinary bar has been raised and the wily old Fox has jumped from admirable country inn to gastropub. The menu reflects that and majors on top class locally sourced ingredients. Local pub, local produce; it's that simple.

Moreover it is now available all day, every day. Just as well, for we'd arrived after a long drive up from Devon past 2.30pm in the afternoon - a time when chefs at many similar establishments will have switched off their stoves until evening.We were hungry and the Fox & Barrel delivered - generously.In fact first courses arrived on the biggest starter plates we'd ever seen. My potted duck with red onion marmalade (�6.25) came with two doorstep-sized wedges of warm toast and a tangle of salad leaves and herbs while Mrs K's deep-fried coconut crumbed king prawns (�7.45) were partnered by sweet chilli jam and a similar garnish.

The mound of potted duck, (big enough to sneak some home in a doggy bag) offered lovely rustic flavour when smeared thickly on the toast with the intensely sweet shredded onions. The prawns were juicy and delicious but the excellent flavour did benefit from judicious recourse to the heat of the chilli jam.

My main course roast rack of lamb �14.50) was a traveller's delight. Carved pink and tender into half a dozen best end cutlets, it was accompanied by forthrightly herbed basil mash, with balsamic and cherry tomato jus. Tasty though the gravy was, the boat had been pushed out a little too far; presentation suffers somewhat when the plate is swimming with sauce.

Mrs K's duck breast (�13.95), sliced thick and pink with a square of good boulangre potatoes and juniper flavoured red cabbage also ticked all the right boxes though again, the appearance of the dish wasn't particularly enhanced by over-generosity with the otherwise entirely complimentary orange infused sauce.

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Swapping driving duties for the home leg enabled me to appreciate the Fox & Barrel's commendable wine list, particularly so for its selection by the glass. A large 250ml scoop of fresh pineapple-citrussy Argentine Esperanza sauvignon blanc (�5.50) doubled as an aperitif and partner for my starter, while a large glass of concentrated, juicy Rhone-style Porcupine Ridge South African shiraz-viognier (�7.30 but worth it), complimented the lamb admirably. We rounded off by sharing a delightfully comforting bowl of autumnal nostalgia - lovely blackberry and apple crumble with proper custard (�5.45).

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