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Sir Charles Napier


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This place came to my attention about three years ago, just before I started a thread on here about the Hand and Flowers £10 set lunch. It had a glowing review by Matthew Norman praising its £14.50 set lunch, so I listed it as a must try. Someday.

As it won its first Michelin star last week I thought it best to get there before the crowds flocked in.

It really is in a picture post card setting, deep in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside, yet only about thirty miles from London. It is surrounded by beautiful well tended gardens with some interesting sculptures dotted about the place, both inside and out.

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The interior to the front is pure pub, but this is not really pub territory, its serious restaurant stuff with pricing to match. They impose a "suggested" 12.5% service charge, which is not in keeping with the distinct lack of same. There is a growing tendency for some gastro-y type pubs to add this abomination, when its clear their staff are just not up to the job. I particularly don't like being served by some distant youth who is dreaming of whats in his girlfriends pants, instead of paying attention to what is not in my wine glass. The gulf between one star Michelin restaurants and some one star Michelin "pubs" is glaring, mostly they are not at all close in the service stakes.

If I'm being charged for service, I want service, not to have a jug of water plonked on the table for me to have to bloody well pour myself. Again I like meals explained, not plonked down with barely a smile, and a quick dart back to the kitchen. Get more staff, who can spend a bit more time with the customer, by doing so, you can offer better service

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We had two halves of Wadsworth 6x (£4) at the bar, and were charged 50p service charge on top, for them being handed to me a full eighteen inches away.

Thankfully the a la carte menu, (the only one available on Saturday) was not so heavily laden with Knightsbridgey prices, as the one on the website was. Although having said that there was still three starters at £14.50 ( £16.31 inc service) and two mains at £28.50( £32.06). The menu read quite well with a choice of eight on starter and main.

The heavily artexed lemon yellow dining room is pleasant indeed. With its quality mismatched tables and chairs. Some more sculptures adorn the tables as well as the room itself.

Bread was, I assumed, made on the premises. I should have asked really. A choice of foccacia and sultana and walnut. It was decent, especially liberally coated with the butter, which I found to be very pleasant.

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Herself started with Seared foie gras, calvados poached apples, cassis and brioche. (£16.51 inc service)

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We did not detect any distinctive calvados flavour. The foie gras was as you would expect. The brioche I suppose was to there to break up the richness. We both thought the apples to be too tart.

Her second choice starter would have been Confit tamworth pork shoulder with black pudding and apple puree.(£10.69)and as we both fancied grouse for main, (but I wanted to try different things) I thought it only fair to have this dish myself so that she could try a taste for herself.

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As far as I'm concerned, as tasty as it was, this is pub grub. It may be poshed up a bit with the slick of black pudding puree but it is basic fare.

I wanted the grouse, as it was to be my first this season. However if my wife had of made a fuss I would have chosen something else. I see little point in going to a restaurant with the purpose to review it and choose the same dishes.

Traditional roast grouse with bread sauce and game chips. (£32.06)

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The grouse announced its arrival a couple of metres away from us. That distinctive pongy, gamey aroma wafted across the table, dominating all before it.

It was not the prettiest looking plate of food, although having said that I suppose its extremely hard to prettify. The watercress perhaps would have been more suited stuffed up its rectum.

I was more than happy eating this bird. Once I had broken through the somewhat tough seared shell, it was perfectly cooked inside. Intensely full on gamey flavour, and most certainly a mans dish, although my wife enjoyed a taste. Watercress is a classic accompaniment, this was suitably dressed. The dressing had however leached into most of the game chips (crisps) rendering them soggy and unpleasant. The bread sauce served on the side was too thin and lacklustre.

Turn your eyes away if your squeamish the remains look like something from an abattior.

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Our other main course was a reasonably priced Partridge with choucroute, salardaise potato and perry jus. (£21.94).

Again, most certainly not the prettiest plate of food, in fact it looked a mess. Thank goodness it ate ok. Thumbs up from the wife. She loved it. " Far nicer than that main course at " Dinner ". Hmmm.

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The dessert menu consists of seven choices (£9.56). British and French cheese,(£11.81) Coffee (£3.32) Petit four (£5.06) Various Ice creams, and Sorbets.

I may have been tempted to try a couple of desserts but at nearly £10 each there was no way. We opted to share one between us and asked our waitress which one she thought was the best choice on the list. My wife is always fearfull when I resort to this tactic, as she has strong likes and dislikes.

"Salted caramel and chocolate mousse with malted ice cream" was the quick reply.

"Ok, we will go with that".

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Not bad I have to say. All the better as it was not sickly sweet, but not worth a tenner nevertheless.

As you may gather my wife enjoyed the experience a bit more than me. I was a little underwhelmed. Perhaps my expectation level was raised with the Michelin award.

We are somewhat spoit by being able, and having dined at all levels from pubs, neighborhood restaurants, one, two, and right up to Michelin three star places, so comparisons are inevitable.

Essentially most pubs enjoy no massive start up costs. There fabric remains the same over many decades. Staff and other overheads are considerably lower than big city establishments who really have to charge more to recoup some of their outlay never mind cover overheads, or god forbid make a profit. Yet some pubs feel they can charge London prices in rural locations. My main gripe is that service charge of course. If you make the charge, make sure people are taken care of. Don't leave them up a corner to fend for themselves.

Saturday lunch for two people, two and a half courses each. One decent bottle of fruity chilean house wine (£19.69) two halves, jug of finest Oxfordshire tap water, no coffees £114.75 including service

"So many places, so little time"

http://londoncalling...blogspot.co.uk/

@d_goodfellow1

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I'm used to seeing a service charge, of course. And generally have little objection (although I'm more of a fan of the French "service compris")

But levying one on bar service drinks is taking the piss.

John Hartley

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As far as I'm concerned, as tasty as it was, this is pub grub. It may be poshed up a bit with the slick of black pudding puree but it is basic fare.

As you may gather my wife enjoyed the experience a bit more than me. I was a little underwhelmed. Perhaps my expectation level was raised with the Michelin award.

We are somewhat spoit by being able, and having dined at all levels from pubs, neighborhood restaurants, one, two, and right up to Michelin three star places, so comparisons are inevitable.

Essentially most pubs enjoy no massive start up costs. There fabric remains the same over many decades. Staff and other overheads are considerably lower than big city establishments who really have to charge more to recoup some of their outlay never mind cover overheads, or god forbid make a profit. Yet some pubs feel they can charge London prices in rural locations. My main gripe is that service charge of course. If you make the charge, make sure people are taken care of. Don't leave them up a corner to fend for themselves.

I'm a little confused over the "pub grub" comment - you're in a pub, what do you expect? You didn't seem to mind Pollen street social serving Ham, egg, tomato and mushrooms which you could equally argue was pub grub. A Michelin star isn't a style of food, it is " A very good restaurant in its category". It doesn't stand to reason that a pub with a michelin star will be the equivalent of a 1 star fine dining resturant, or a 1 star Japanese or a 1 star bistro etc.

Having said that the tendency of pubs (not just Michelin starred ones) to charge the prices you mention, bugs the hell out of me as well. A service charge for bar service is outrageous. I think its important to remember that it is an "optional service charge" I would have refused to pay it, as you are entitled to do. :hmmm:

Edited by Matthew Grant (log)

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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I believe Michelin doesn't look at value for money (correct me if I'm wrong), anyway by the look of it this definitely isn't!

But Michelin should look at the standards of food, so I would not expect in a starred establishement in any category a dish whose very concept - and not an occasional cooking mistake - leads to having soggy chips.

Regarding service charge, mercifully here in Scotland it is normally left to the sense of fairness of the customer, even in high end restaurants. Same in Italy. Like Matthew, when in London I'm also inclined to refuse to pay (or reduce) it when service has not been adequate. The problem is, who wants, at the end of a meal which is supposed to be a relaxing experience, to enter the inevitable discussion that ensues? To mention our resident 2* Michelin contributor, it is interesting to read on TripAdvisor about the alleged 'interrogations' to which customers are subjected when they object to paying the service charge in his restaurant. Because I dread such scenes, more often than not I just end up paying with a vow never to return.

Edited to add: 1) Nice report! 2) That grouse isn't finished in my book!

Edited by Man (log)
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I think where David is coming from on the pub Michelin star level thing is absolutely right.

As a chef and restaurant owner it has bugged me for ages, just what a pub can get away with and be described as Michelin starred.

Being very good in its cat is all well and good and many of you on here completely understand this. The other 99.9 percent of the dining out crowd, without a doubt, do not. A michelin star is a michelin star in their eyes. I've heard it so many times, its untrue,ie 'how is it that x n y pub has a star and you don't?' If can muster the energy to answer, I'll say, its because x n y pub are classed a very good.......etc etc. Usual answer in return, 'Thats ridiculous' and the same can be said for a bib gourmand, no idea most of the time.Pubs and restaurants have a completely different playing field but in general terms, as I said, a star is a star.

In my view the problem lies with michelin at the one star level. The lines of distiction have become far too blurred.

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Thanks for all your comments, much appreciated and good to get other peoples point of view.

Matthew I'm bemused. Looking at Michelin, I do not see different listings for restaurants and pubs they are all under the listing "one star". Why should standards be any lower?

Its well documented on here that I'm a big fan of Pollen Street Social. Jason Atherton's "pub dish" is head and shoulders above the one that I commented on.

Good that we agree on a couple of things though :wink:

John I have fallen for this drinks at the bar, to be added to the bill stuff before. I was off my guard this time. In the past, especially when in company I settle the bill in cash before going into the restaurant.

Man Like you I'm not really into spoiling what should be a pleasant event by confronting the management about service, unless I'm in the mood and it is completely dire.

The grouse btw was cooked to my satisfaction, however as I ate closer to the breast bone, deep inside the bird, it became quite rare.

Country. You answered the question better than I could have done :laugh:

liuzhou See above.

Richard You know what your on about, and I respect your opinion with such a strong link to the industry.

"So many places, so little time"

http://londoncalling...blogspot.co.uk/

@d_goodfellow1

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Thanks for all your comments, much appreciated and good to get other peoples point of view.

Matthew I'm bemused. Looking at Michelin, I do not see different listings for restaurants and pubs they are all under the listing "one star". Why should standards be any lower?

Quite simply because a pub and restaurant are different categories. You have to read between the lines with Michelin, they wouldn't be so kind as to tell you which category they fall under :rolleyes::biggrin:

Maybe that is what they need to do, create classes of restaurant e.g. French bistro, modern european, pub etc. The catgegory would be agreed with the owner and each restaurant could then be clearly compared to its correct peers.

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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I wonder what Tom Kerridge would think if Michelin judged his food only against other pubs. (did they?)

Would that dilute his very welcome uplift to two Michelin stars? Is it only really worth one if compared to say Sat Bains?

I don't think big Tom would agree.

Thinking about it, we are due a return visit. I will let you know. :wink:

Hand and Flowers

"So many places, so little time"

http://londoncalling...blogspot.co.uk/

@d_goodfellow1

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. . . .

Maybe that is what they need to do, create classes of restaurant e.g. French bistro, modern european, pub etc. The catgegory would be agreed with the owner and each restaurant could then be clearly compared to its correct peers.

But so many places identify themselves as being some sort of crossover establishment, there would inevitably be tons of screaming over having been judged according to the wrong set of guidelines. Could be entertaining, actually :wink:

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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I wonder what Tom Kerridge would think if Michelin judged his food only against other pubs. (did they?)

Would that dilute his very welcome uplift to two Michelin stars? Is it only really worth one if compared to say Sat Bains?

I don't think big Tom would agree.

Thinking about it, we are due a return visit. I will let you know. :wink:

Hand and Flowers

Of course not :laugh: 2 stars is 2 stars whatever category you are, 2 stars is "excellent cooking, worth a detour", nothing to do with category at all so it should be comparable to other two stars. This is Michelin, nothing could be that straight forward :laugh:

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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. . . .

Maybe that is what they need to do, create classes of restaurant e.g. French bistro, modern european, pub etc. The catgegory would be agreed with the owner and each restaurant could then be clearly compared to its correct peers.

But so many places identify themselves being some sort of crossover establishment, there would inevitably be tons of screaming over having been judged according to the wrong set of guidelines. Could be entertaining, actually :wink:

Thats exactly why I said the category would have to be agreed with the owner, there would still be lots of screaming and shouting though as delusional restaurant owners and out of date Michelin inspectors clashed horns :biggrin:

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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I think there are fair points being made here about starred pubs. I've eaten at both the Harwood Arms and the Sportsman (latterly on a non-tasting menu night). Both were thoroughly enjoyable meals. But, on both occasions, we wondered about the star, thinking that either it wasnt warranted or, if it was, there was a lot of places equally worthy. And,indeed, if there are correctly one star material, then there are a goodly number of other places that should be into two stars

John Hartley

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i think hopefully by now it's been explained for better or worse it's all to do with category so to compare pub to resto or across continents , that way madness lies.

i am perplexed by your comment David that somehow pubs don't have massive start up costs or other overheads - versus city centre restaurants i assume?

My pub had been there centuries yet the kitchen and other refurb work cost £80k, you can't just go from chicken in a basket to one star wannabe without incurring cost, and old buildings need constant work, which has to be paif dor £2k for chimney work in our first week for starters! depreciation is a very real expense not an accounting issue!

Ingredients cost the same, water and 'leccy cost the same, minimum wage costs the same, the idea that pubs or out of town restaurants are somehow running a different economic model is a fallacy, ok prime central London is a different beast cost wise but then so is the footfall, Yauatcha doing 650 covers a night, that could easily be a months covers in a country pub!

Edited by Gary Marshall (log)

you don't win friends with salad

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. . . .

Maybe that is what they need to do, create classes of restaurant e.g. French bistro, modern european, pub etc. The catgegory would be agreed with the owner and each restaurant could then be clearly compared to its correct peers.

But so many places identify themselves as being some sort of crossover establishment, there would inevitably be tons of screaming over having been judged according to the wrong set of guidelines. Could be entertaining, actually :wink:

Thats exactly why I said the category would have to be agreed with the owner, there would still be lots of screaming and shouting though as delusional restaurant owners and out of date Michelin inspectors clashed horns :biggrin:

Agreement on a category? Can't even begin to imagine that happening (not to mention, I think the question of the food being worth going out of one's way for being the defining criterion really does make more sense)!

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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I think there should definitely be different classes of establishments. You can’t put the Hand & Flowers in the same category as Le Manior, they both have two stars, but that is crazy. We had a very good £10 two course lunch at the H&F but I wouldn’t pay much more for dining in a roadside pub with scrubbed tables with cracks large enough to lose you cutlery down. Think of the overheads of Le Manoir, maintenance staff, gardeners, to say nothing to the staff to customer ratio in the house and restaurant. In a place like that you should get exemplary service and you can see what you are paying for. Lets face it, its not the ingredient cost of the menu you pay for anywhere. The poor sod that supplies the produce gets dam all compared with what the diner is charged for the food.

A pub is a pub - OK for everyday hunger eating but however good the food is, you are only getting a fraction of an all-round dining experience with bare tables, hard seats and paper napkins. Good food should go with exemplary service and first-rate ambiance. As you found out David pubs like the Sir Charles Napier are charging too much money for what is on offer. We drove into their car park a few years ago, looked at the menu and drove out again - it was too expensive for a pub, even then.

Pam Brunning Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society

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i think hopefully by now it's been explained for better or worse it's all to do with category so to compare pub to resto or across continents , that way madness lies.

i am perplexed by your comment David that somehow pubs don't have massive start up costs or other overheads - versus city centre restaurants i assume?

My pub had been there centuries yet the kitchen and other refurb work cost £80k, you can't just go from chicken in a basket to one star wannabe without incurring cost, and old buildings need constant work, which has to be paif dor £2k for chimney work in our first week for starters! depreciation is a very real expense not an accounting issue!

Ingredients cost the same, water and 'leccy cost the same, minimum wage costs the same, the idea that pubs or out of town restaurants are somehow running a different economic model is a fallacy, ok prime central London is a different beast cost wise but then so is the footfall, Yauatcha doing 650 covers a night, that could easily be a months covers in a country pub!

I bow to your industry knowledge Gary, but this subject is really a can of worms, and I think its best to agree to disagree.

Time and again I visit pubs at all levels and marvel at how long ago they had a lick of paint, nevermind a top to toe refurb. Of course I don't always get the chance to look inside kitchens :wink:

My comparison was mainly based on big city establishments, most especially London. I doubt very much staff would tolerate minimum wage when the cost of living is such a lot higher. Plus of course staggeringly large rent and rates are incurred. I resent paying London prices in urban areas, and that service charge infuriates me even more.

Interesting that you should make a comparison with the phenomenon that is Yauatcha, did this not change hands for a stupendous amount of money due to its insane popularity (profitability). Me thinks a comparison with a host of other places is more relevent.

I think this subject could be debated over a very long lunch and we still would not agree.

Still as always I respect and look forward to your contributions. :smile:

"So many places, so little time"

http://londoncalling...blogspot.co.uk/

@d_goodfellow1

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