the Wild Rabbit
Kingham, Chipping Norton, OX7 6YA
Tel. 01608 658 389
Food type: Modern British
Website: the Wild Rabbit
The first meal of my birthday road trip took us to the village of Kingham where we were booked to stay and dine at the Wild Rabbit. I had thankfully made the booking way back in September before the announcement of the Michelin Guide 2017, where unsurprisingly, they were awarded a star. Since the award of the star, both the restaurant and the accommodation have been fully booked until January. The chef here is Tim Allen who was previously at Launceston Place which used to be a favourite of my wife when he was cooking there for 4 years.
Tim recognised us when we arrived to check in and offered to whip up a tasting menu for us so we could try a wide variety of his dishes. There is no tasting menu available at the moment as Tim informs me, he is still recruiting people to complete his kitchen team. However, I am sure that this will materialise at some point in the future once more staff are in place. At the moment, there is just an a la carte menu available. Starters are £12 – £13.50, Mains £20 – £32 and Desserts £7. There is no lunch menu available although there is a bar snacks menu which feature smaller dishes.
We began our meal with a couple of canapés. First was a cheese and truffle sandwich – parmesan sable slices filled with whipped cream cheese and grated Wiltshire truffle. Great umami. Even better were Patridge wrapped with lardo on a little toast. These were English grey-legged partridge, which had been shot and delivered on the day, slow cooked and were juicy and moist. Partridge is a very lean bird, and as such, pairing it with fatty lardo was a good move.
The first official dish on the menu was Tim’s signature vegetable salad. This dish has been a mainstay on the menu of Launceston Place although the contents of the salad have greatly evolved since. The heart of the dish involves various vegetables (now sourced from the local Daylesford farm), and this being in autumn/ winter these are root vegetables cooked in various ways. There are of course beetroots sweet as honey, heritage carrots with intense flavour as well as caramelised cauliflower and grilled leeks. Each vegetable treated with the utmost respect and care. To tie all the elements together, some whipped goats curd with a hint of truffle, honey dressing and an onion ash. This was a meticulously crafted dish, with good balance of sweet, salty, sour and bitter. If I was a vegetarian, I would not have felt short changed if I ordered this dish.
We followed with quail served two ways – the breast pink and juicy and the legs confit, then glazed with a verjus reduction. On the side, a little cauliflower puree, creamy, rich and slightly bitter balanced by the smokiness of thin slices of morteau sausage. Finally, a crispy quail’s egg, with runny yolk completes the dish. This was very classy cooking, with the quail timed perfectly and its gaminess offset by the acidity from the sweet, sticky verjus glaze.
Next we moved on to a fillet of brill, cut from a nice big fish, simply pan fried and finished with plenty of butter. This was paired with confit chicken wings and celeriac two ways (puree and salt baked). This was classical cooking at its best – a generous slab of high quality fish which was complemented by the meaty chicken wings. In a way, this style of cooking reminded me a lot of Phil Howard’s cooking back when he was at the Square. This was bold, rich, meaty, satisfying and above all delicious. For a bit of freshness, there was a remoulade of sorts of leek and apple to balance all the rich flavours.
Our main course was veal rump, cooked sous vide, then finished on the Green Egg for a smokey finish. English rose veal can often be underwhelming when it comes to flavour, so to give it a lift with a barbecue finish is very smart move. The garnish was a parmesan bon bon – a liquid ball of parmesan wrapped with strings of potato, deep fried to order and cevenne onions as well as a grating of Wiltshire truffle. There was a classical madeira jus to complement the veal, but with the addition of capers which gave lovely bursts of acidity which help cut through the rich elements on the plate.
After a short pause for cheese, we began our dessert sequence. First was a nice refresher based on amalfi lemons – featuring lemon cream, curd and granita with meringue sticks. The final dessert was a deconstructed apple tart tatin featuring camerelised Cox apples and crispy puff pastry shards paired with an apple sorbet and custard ice cream. The apples had been cooked down nicely, absorbing the caramel but still keeping its own texture and contrasted by the crispy, flakey texture from the puff pastry. A lovely end to the meal. A couple of madeleines with lemon curd were brought out for us to enjoy with our coffees. These do need a bit of work though as the madeleines were slightly undercooked and heavy.
This was a very accomplished meal we enjoyed at Wild Rabbit. The kitchen is cooking at a solid 1* level and highly deserving of its new starred status. The cooking technique on display is very sound and the flavour combinations classical and appealing. Nothing too shocking or challenging. Having eaten at all the nearby starred restaurants during this week-long trip, it is clear that the food here is a clear step above all its nearby competitors. Tim Allen is a very talented and ambitious young chef and during our short chat with him after our meal he mentioned to us that he is trying to push his kitchen towards obtaining 2*s. Certainly, all the elements are there for him to achieve that status – a beautiful setting, great ingredients and a talented chef. It will be interesting to see how the cooking here continues to progress in the next couple of years.