New Years Day, and judicious amounts of drinking the night before had left us in a decent enough condition to jump in to the car for a drive to the Mole and Chicken, set deep in Midsomer Murder's country on the Bucks/Oxon border. This place is a perennial Good Pub Guide favourite, and despite picking an inauspicious day to test a kitchen's mettle I had heard some good things and was looking forward to eating lunch.
First impressions boded well. The interior is traditional, old style pub, with a lovely, dark wooden bar and low ceilings. There is also an light and open extension at the back, with glorious views across the rolling countryside. We were shown to our table, in a cosy alcove and got stuck in to a couple of pints of Red Kite Ale, a chestnut red, malty bitter from the nearby Brill Brewery.
The Ewing's crab cakes, the biggest disappointment of our meal. These had been made with an unholy amount of mashed potato which, when covered in breadcrumbs and fried, completely obliterated any of the sweet and delicate crab flavour.
Far better was my squid with lemon and chilli. Although served in a fairly modest portion this was simple, great seafood, lightly battered and pepped up with a heavy dose of chilli and garlic. Lovely.
The Ewing's Oxfordshire lamb shank with mash and roasted roots. Proper comfort food, the meat was fall-off-the-bone (or would have been if the bone hadn't already been removed) tender, although a little fatty. The mash was fluffy and soft and the roots provided sweetness and crunch. The only thing a rich plate of food like this seemed to be missing was a few greens to lighten up proceedings.
My roast beef with all the trimmings; good, traditional grub. Beef was still pink, roasties were above average and yorkie both soft and crisp. Purple sprouting broccoli, one of my favourites, gave an iron-rich green note to proceedings. The standout element on the dish was the artichoke puree; the first mouthful of this rich, nutty, unctuously creamy stuff had me in raptures.
My decimated dinner. I wouldn't normally subject you to a photo of my half eaten roast, but I just wanted to include a shot of the ephemeral Jerusalem artichoke puree. It may look a lot like Polyfilla, but this cloud-like accompaniment is truly the stuff Sunday dinner dreams are made of.
The Ewing chose, surprise surprise, the chocolate option for pud; a fondant with honeycomb ice cream and poached pear. The fondant was nicely gooey in the centre with the ice cream providing a cold and crunchy contrast. Although the Ewing remained slightly troubled by the pear's inclusion on the plate I though it worked rather well.
Apple tart with cinnamon ice cream was solid if unspectacular. The tart was decent enough, if a little soggy-bottomed and lacklustre, but the cinnamon ice cream was every nice, perfectly spiced, velvety- rich and smooth.
So, a bit of a mixed bag. At £70 pounds this wasn't a particularly cheap lunch, and while the food was solid, none (bar perhaps the heavenly artichoke puree) was spectacular. That said it was comforting and cosy, perfect for a drizzly Sunday afternoon. There is also a lighter time and a value set menu available during the week.
What ever the time of year there is no doubt that the Mole and Chicken is a lovely, old-fashioned pub, set in glorious countryside. The terrace at the back would make a beautiful summer drinking spot, while the open log fire inside the perfect winter bolt hole, making it a year round place to enjoy an local ale or two.