Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Horse and Groom, Upper Oddington, Cotswolds (UK)

The Bar at The Horse & Groom. November 2010.

The first non-Belgian eatery I wanted to cover here really had to be one of my favourite restaurants in one of my favourite areas in one of my favourite countries.
After all the hints I have dropped in previous posts on both of my blogs, I'm sure you've guessed it by now: I am referring to 'The Horse & Groom' in the Cotswold village of Upper Oddington, England.

Part of the bar and dining area. Nov 2010.
We went there for the first time, I think about 2 years ago.
One of our friends had seen that the chef was listed as a finalist for 'Cotswold Chef of the Year' in Cotswold Life, and she wanted to give the restaurant a try. Needless to say that we were up for that, and what a love story it has been since then: we keep going back for more.

There are so many aspects of this restaurant that I like, that it's hard to say what I like most.

First of all: it's cosy, with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Simon Jackson, the owner, welcomes his guests warmly and really goes out of his way to make you feel at home.

The inn itself is a 16th century building and its character has definitely been preserved, even though the interior has a more contemporary rustic touch. As soon as the weather gets a bit damp or chilly, the fireplace is lit, which fills the space with a warm glow and a hint of the scent of burning wood that is just right for a perfect evening full of joy and good conversation.

Window seats near the fireplace. November 2010.
The seasonal menus offer a wide range of choices, without being so overloaded that it becomes difficult to choose. Dinner menus contain about 6 to 7 starters, mains and desserts, and a few side orders. On top of these, there are daily specials on the board.

The vegetarian options are equally attractive, very well prepared and with the same amount of care put into flavours and textures as is the case with the other dishes.

The prices are fair, possibly at the higher end of what you'd expect in a village inn, but the quality of the food is so superb that what you pay is more than justified.

The chef, Jason Brewster, works with local produce as much as he can, and is committed to really cooking from fresh. As a result, everything you get on the table has been prepared in house and is just bursting with flavour. He and his kitchen team bake their own bread, make the stocks, sauces, chutneys, ice creams, puddings, even smoke the meats and fish.

Simon at work. November 2010.
Now, we're several paragraphs into this article and I haven't even mentioned what might just be the characteristic that really sets the Horse & Groom apart: Simon knows his wines. He knows them, and he loves them.

He will not push his knowledge on you or bore you with endless descriptions if you're not interested in wines, but when he spots that spark, and you get him talking, you immediately see that this is no marketing gimmick or put-on pretentiousness. He genuinely cares, about the wines as well as the stories behind them: who has made them, what makes them special, and what you could drink them with to experience them in the best possible way.

The Horse & Groom offers over 25 wines by the glass, which is really good, and gives you a lot of flexibility when you're dining with a smaller group.
To get an idea of the extensive selection, have a look at their wine list here.

(For completeness' sake: they seem equally passionate about their beers, but I'm more of a wine person so I can't speak from experience there.)

'Wine Staircase' in a cosy corner. Nov. 2010.
If you're in doubt which wine to choose, depending on what you like and/or what food you're having, you can always ask for advice. If someone else is taking care of your table, don't hesitate to ask if Simon would have a minute. He's definitely the man you'll want to talk to.

If you're getting a dessert, which I'd really recommend, you might want to consider one of the gorgeous 'sticky wines' to go with it. I think we've sampled the full range by now, and my absolute favourites are the Californian Quady 'Elysium' - Black Muscat, the Australian 'Cordon Cut' Clare Valley Riesling and the mouthwatering Pieropan 'Le Colombare'. These wines are truly liquid gold.

Before I get all lyrical, let me refer you to the Horse & Groom website for any practical information you might need, and assure you that when you're in the Cotswolds, this restaurant is well worth a visit. Even if you find you're not that close to Oddington, you won't regret the detour. Do try to take someone who doesn't like wine: chances are you'll need a designated driver.
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