Thursday, 2 July 2015

The Wheatsheaf Inn, Northleach

Ever since I was a child I've always been fascinated by Midsummer. From trips to Scandinavia to try and glimpse that mysterious midnight sun (alongside plenty of drunken singing around the bonfire, schnapps in hand), to a late night picnic on the Thames with an ex, complete with amusing commentary from the adolescent boys boating on the river who kept contriving to sail past.

This year the Ewing agreed to indulge my love of the longest day (after all, it's all downhill until December) by spending it under canvas in the Cotswolds. If it wasn't going to be restful - during the midst of an English summer, when it's getting light at four in the morning and every bird in the sky breaks into full and throaty song not long after, sleep is something most of us dream of - it would certainly be an adventure. Or, with the prospect of erecting our new tent  for the first time looming, potential grounds for divorce (or death- TE).

As it was, it was pretty perfect. We, argued over guy ropes and groundsheets, drank lots of beer (a jug of Breakspear's Henley Gold, picked up at the Wychwood Brewery in Witney on route), blew hopelessly at a disposable barbecue until our eyes stung and our dinner was incinerated, and sat around the fire until every item of clothing (including the ones we weren't wearing) were impregnated with smoke. We even managed to wake and see the sunrise (and pick the slugs off the side of the porch that had arrived with the late night rain) before falling back to sleep.

While re-hydrating with white wine spritzers and breakfasting on cups of tea and a packet of Digestives is all well and good we were soon in need of some real sustenance. to the ivy clad Wheatsheaf Inn, in the nearby village of Northleach.

It's a picturesque spot, with a winding, shaded garden, a warren of dining rooms and a bar of dark wood and leather that was quickly filling up with pearls and corduroy as we arrived for Sunday lunch. I hoped the straw in our hair and aroma of barbecue briquette accompanying us would give a rustic air to our presence, but the effect was probably more like a knock-off Wurzel Gummidge and Aunt Sally.

I started with a Bobby's Beer, a local lager brewed in nearby Bourton-on-the-Water. I haven't sunk pints of the pale stuff since my uni days, and while it was certainly better than the watery fizz of yore, it didn't quite beat the joy of an English beer - such as the pint of Barnsey, a dark beer from Bath Ales that the Ewing chose - especially in this quintessentially English setting.

Bread here is courtesy of Hobbs the Bakers, home of the Baker Bros, and has a pleasingly chewy crumb  and tangy flavour. The butter, from nearby Netherend Farm, is one of my favourites. In fact we had already stopped that morning in the village so I could buy two packs of the salted variety which were cunningly stowed in the camping coolbox.

I eschewed the roast for the calves liver, served on a bed of spinach with a tomato sauce, fried sage and capers, and a peerless side order of crisp french fries. This was a hulking slab of offal, served rare as requested, that was nicely charred on the outside and creamy and ferrous within. Although as I moved towards the thicker, bloodier end I did begin feel somewhat like Anthony Hopkins in his star turn, less the pulses and red wine. Maybe you can have too much of a good thing. 

The Ewing went down the traditional route with generous slices of slow roasted pork, a less generous shard of crackling bathed in a light cream and wholegrain mustard sauce that made a summery change from your standard Bisto. 

Alongside were the standard roast potatoes and roots and a selection of steamed veg, including the undersung celariac and swede. Yorkies, a quid extra unless you had the beef, came puffed up majestically in their own cast iron dish and were, to coin a cliche, worth every penny.

Deserts were a blinder. The Ewing picked the Marathon pudding, as recommended by Jay Rayner in his Guardian Review, in which he memorably describes eating it thus: 'slip your spoon through the tumescent dome and you find below not just a liquid chocolate centre but also a mother lode of soft caramel with crushed peanuts. There is a scoop of their own vanilla ice cream on top to lubricate and cool things down.'

Even more outrageously the Ewing (at my suggestion) chose the almond ice cream to anoint the molten-centered cake, creating something reminiscent of the Almond Snickers, a spin-off bar that may be even better than the original. This was seriously sticky, sickly stuff, although a sweet-toothed pro like the Ewing gave it no chance.

My pudding, a virginal fromage blanc panna cotta with just the requisite amount of wobble, was a little more restrained but no less spectacular and was set off perfectly by locally picked Primrose Vale strawberries.

As delicious as supper of carbonised skewers of mystery meat and plastic glasses of warm beer is, it's also good to have metal cutlery, and a chair to sit on, and scented hand cream in the loos (especially good after battling with all those guy ropes) And, most importantly, a comfy bed to go home to for a well deserved afternoon siesta. Because if camping's good for one thing, it's reminding you how wonderful the pleasures of a (non inflatable) mattress are when you get home.

No comments:

Post a Comment