The Lamb Inn, Burford - Restaurant Review

Katie Jarvis reviews the Lamb Inn, Burford

Geneva: as we wind our way up the steep mountainside, the fountainous city below us, the dying leaves from the trees burnish our narrow path with sylvan gold. They flutter on the car like benedictions: for the first time in months – possibly years – Ian and I have a weekend away together, in this most clear-aired of countries where the very grazing of the cows fills the air with the melody of the tinkling bells around their strong necks.

It’s time for the two of us to sit; to rediscover shared interests; and, yes, to talk. In the minutiae of day-to-day lives, which revolve around the children and not each other, I’d forgotten Ian’s inner qualities. Forgotten the art of conversation.

“If that’s not a potato,” Ian says in an opening gambit, as we pass a crop-intensive field, “then it’s something else.”

“If it’s not a potato, it’s something else? What on earth is that supposed to mean?” I ask. The munificent beauty of the nature around us is awe-inspiring. So why pick on a potato?

“I just mean,” he explains patiently, “that it looks like a potato to me, but it could be another root crop. A completely different one.”

In philosophical terms, his statement is a winner: one that could be applied to any situation at any time. The ancient sages could only come up with the rather wishy washy ‘All things must pass’, which looks decidedly weak in comparison.

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But frankly, it’s not the depth of conversation I envisaged. In Geneva, we abandon small talk and aim for romance while picking a restaurant for an evening meal. We stroll, hand in hand, round the city centre, reading menus, looking at the beauty of the setting, the architecture of the building… Then Ian picks the cheapest and I pick the most expensive. It reminds me of an earlier dinner we once had, before the children were born. Wine in glasses, eyes boring into eyes, we pause only as a passing musician hands Ian a red rose in emergent bloom, which he gently lays upon my plate. “That will be �2.50, please,” says the musician. “�2.50?” gasps Ian, in moral outrage. “We can do without that, then, thanks.”

I get a sneaking suspicion that I’m being shortchanged when we dine, on our return, at the 15th century Lamb at Burford. The couple sitting next to us in the glorious lounge (‘bar’ is too prosaic a term) – warmed by the dancing flames of a log fire – order champagne. I wouldn’t mind so much if they then toasted their engagement, but they don’t even comment on the bubbly when it arrives. Their talk is of the mundane. (Not as mundane as root crops, though.)

It’s obvious, though, why you’d bring someone here to propose to them: the very air is scented with the historic, the cosy, the intimate. The waiting staff demonstrate a quiet attentiveness, bringing olives and nuts with the drinks that are quickly delivered. (Though no one offers to take my coat.)

From our comfy seats, we order butternut squash panna cotta with a bean and nut casserole, chicken and foie gras terrine with sweet wine jelly and toasted fruit bread; then beef for Ian and nut roast for me; plus a modestly priced but full-size bottle of Shiraz and fizzy water.

When we are shown through to the light and attractive dining room, I spot what appears to be our wine on an empty table which we’re whisked past. Instead, the waiter produces a half bottle of white with a flourish only spoiled by the fact that we didn’t order it. “Not ours,” we demur, politely. But he gently silences my attempts to point to the other table, and disappears off. A moment later, he returns with another flourish; and a half-bottle of red.

At our forlorn glances, he disappears again – he obviously wants to work this out without help – while I sneak off to see if the one on the other table is actually ours. He returns with such suddenness that I’m caught with my hand on the bottle. Despite the fact that it is ours, I look extraordinary guilty for reasons I can’t explain. Were this a Brian Rix farce, my trousers would fall down at this point.

He’s actually awfully nice, doesn’t make me stand in the corner for half an hour, and we all laugh overloudly with nervous relief. And the meal is very, very good. The panna cotta may sound the far side of strange – but it’s creamily delicious, counterpointed by its nutty accompaniments. I do find my nut roast (I know: nuts and nuts) on the dry side, which is a shame because the flavours themselves are enormously satisfying.

Ian is completely won over by the food. Loves his tender (though dinky) beef, and we both enjoy the desserts: warm banana and toffee cr�pe with rum and raisin ice cream; and a trio of espresso featuring two kinds of mousse and a custard. It’s imaginative, well executed and comforting for a cold winter night.

Romance? Pah. Champagne’s all air. Give me solid and reliable any time.

Ambience 8; Service 7; Food 7.5; Value for money 6

The Lamb Inn, Sheep Street, Burford OX18 4LR, 01993 823155;


Three of a kind: each a beast of a restaurant

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Stylish pub and restaurant with stonebaked pizzas, pub classics, and whole lobster, plus a real community ethos.

The Bear of Rodborough Hotel, Rodborough Common, Stroud GL5 5DE, 01453 878522;

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The Wild Duck Inn, Drakes Island, Ewen, Cirencester GL7 6BY; 01285 770310;

Great menu, stuffed with local and organic produce where possible; mainly based around Modern British and European, with the occasional migration to the Far East.

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