Restaurant Review: The Kingham Plough, Kingham

Katie Jarvis reviews the Kingham Plough and describes it as shamelessly brilliant and a great supporter of artisan producers.

We walk into the Kingham Plough and explain to the waitress who greets us, “Table for two, 7pm, name of Wilson.” (Ooh, state secret.) She picks up two menus and we follow her up some stairs onto a mezzanine level and find that we’re all – the three of us – gathered round a table, presenting the menus to a couple dining discreetly in a corner. Or trying to.

It must seem a bit OTT to them, to have three people crowding round their table. Realising our mistake, it’s hard to know whether to a) brazen it out by suavely asking, “Do you mind if we join you?” b) Pretend to be the wine waiters (two at once, for some odd reason) c) alternatively brazen it out by insisting on following the waitress round all evening or d) slink off. We choose option (d) and make our way back to the bar where another confused waitress is clearly wondering where the thump we’ve gone.

Ian claims that he was only following me and therefore it’s technically not his mistake at all. This is quite possible. I have a rich history of embarrassing myself, mostly in ways too intimate and dazzlingly personal to share with you. Or even to think about without wanting to top myself.

More respectable ones, however, include:

• Jumping cheerfully into the back of my mother’s car, only to find that it wasn’t;

• Wrongly adding up unemployment figures and writing a completely false front-page story as a result, which was published with my name on it, thanks to a sub who couldn’t add up either;

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• Saying scathingly “Oh my God, stuffing yourself with peanuts already, you disgusting pig” to a complete stranger at a party who was mysteriously standing where a close friend had been only three seconds previously.

But back to thePlough. It’s too posh to be a pub but too pubby to be a restaurant, though strangely it appears to work rather well as both. Maybe that’s because you can buy a jolly good sausage roll with homemade ketchup for �3.50 and a bowl of skinny chips for �2 – as do the family with two teenage boys beside us – or a dish of Cornish sea bass for �20 – as does the chap and dog with the purple trousers (the chap, that is; the dog’s not classy enough to get away with purple cords).

I’m certainly very happy that the luscious breads come free. And even happier that our table adjoins the service station where the bread is kept, meaning we can sneak a couple of extra pieces while we wait.

I’ve met lots of people from Kingham, but sadly never Emily Watkins; she’s the culinary brains behind the Plough. Damien Hirst can take a cow, pickle it, and turn it into a work of art; but I’d much rather the cow were given to Emily, who appears to be able to work even more magic with farmyard ingredients for a more reasonable price. Today’s menu is small but perfect: you can begin with leek and octopus terrine, with crisp fried octopus and shallot and caper dressing; or chicken liver parfait, toasted brioche and crab apple chutney.

But we order the locally-shot pheasant, white pudding, Evesham lentils and foraged mushrooms (see what I mean – every element has been minutely thought through) and an upside down chicory tart with celery leaves and Blue Monday cheese from Blur neighbour Alex James: a dish that’s complex, creamy, bitter and sweet. Lovely.

The menu does warn that main courses, all made from scratch, can take up to half an hour to prepare; but either Ian and I are finding each other more fascinating than usual, or the wait isn’t that long. Because our sirloin of Hereford Beef with gloriously fat chips and the loin of crispy breast of University Farm lamb, hay baked potatoes, roast onion puree, Grelot onions and sprouting broccoli are prompt.

No one asks me how I’d like my steak cooked – and when it arrives, I can see why. While utterly pink inside, it’s beautifully sealed without – tender and perfectly prepared. The chips look like a Jenga game, stacked in crisscross rows. Ian’s lamb is also good, but over in two shakes of its tail. We could have gone for cheaper options – venison pie is �14, or a soft boiled duck egg with salsify soldiers and pennybun mushrooms at �12.

There’s a sublime cheese list, as you might expect, with Stinking Bishop, Oxford Blue, St Eadburgha, Little Wallop and so on. Almost as if chosen by another local resident – the wonderful Juliet Harbutt, cheese guru extraordinaire. Who knows?

But we have a chocolate brioche pudding with malted milk ice cream and caramelised banana; and a Cox’s apple snow with vanilla crumble ice cream. So good, it’s surprising they’re legal.

Forget any embarrassment; this place is shamelessly brilliant: a great supporter of artisan producers and an asset to the area. If you’re going to splash out on a festive treat, then take it from me – this place is a gift.

The Kingham Plough, Kingham, Oxfordshire OX7 6YD, 01608 658327;

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