the Kingham Plough
Chipping Norton, OX7 6YD
Tel. 0162 8405 405
Food type: Modern British
Nearest train station: Kingham
Website: the Kingham Plough
The Kingham Plough is one of those places that has always been on my radar ever since chef/ proprietor Emily Watkins started appearing on Great British Menu. Unlike many people, I do take cooking shows like GBM and Masterchef with a grain of salt. You just have to look at how inconsistent the judges scores are compared to the chef’s scores to conclude that at the best of times, the judges are just chatting a bunch of codswallop or at least biased towards certain types of cooking. With Emily winning the fish course, it made me take notice of her pub/ restaurant, but even that itself was not enough reason for me to make a special journey to dine there. Our meal at the Kingham Plough was an impromptu decision, made the day before, as we were staying in the area for a couple of days, having dined at the Wild Rabbit the evening before.
We dined at lunch where there was a cheap lunch menu (3 courses for £18) alongside the standard a la carte menu. There are 4 options per course on the small a la carte menu. Thats not a problem for me though this may be limiting to some diners. Items are rather fully priced. Starters are £10 – £12, Mains £22 – £25 (except for the vegetarian option which is £17) and Desserts £7 – £8. Although I am sure that Chipping Norton and the village of Kingham must be an expensive neck of the woods, the prices here are on par with what is being charged at 1* Hind’s Head and Royal Oak, both located at fairly upmarket areas. There is also a bar snacks menu with an extensive selection of snacks and larger plate options which cost about the same amount as a starter.
Now I rarely comment on the decor of a restaurant as it is a matter of personal taste. The dining room is at best described as rustic. It is like walking into an antique shop with old carpeting which are tired and dated. I am no carpet inspector, but when I went to pick a dropped down napkin, I noted some peas on the carpet. Dried up, shrivelled pea from God knows when. It just does not make a good first impression when your dining room is dirty.
We began our meal with a couple of snacks. First, the ubiquitous scotch egg with a quails egg with runny yolk and sausage meat. Now I have eaten my fair share of scotch eggs in my life time and although these were well made, we all felt that that the sausage meat could have done with bolder seasoning as the flavours felt rather muted. Crispy pork ears have been initially slow cooked before being crumbed and fried, served with a very good tartar sauce. The pig’s ears were soft and gelatinous and simply melted in the mouth.
I split a starter with one of the pies. My terrine of coronation chicken was well made. The chicken moist and there was decent amount of curry spice coming through. The balancing elements come from the pickled onions and raisins. On the side, a curried butter dusted with onion ash and a onion loaf which was rather dense and dry. The other starter I tried was the slow braised oxtail and ox tongue. For me, this dish was missing a trick. Oxtail and ox tongue, both with inherently robust flavours were rather muted. And where was the advertised fried bread? Very careless of the kitchen to forget a garnish of the dish, especially as I am sure its purpose was to add texture to the dish. Without it, everything just felt very mushy and one dimensional.
Speaking of careless, my friend had the smoked haddock soup with toast. The soup was very tasty and well made, full of smoked haddock flavour. Unfortunately some of the toast served were visibly burnt. How this was allowed to leave the pass is beyond me, and I can only assume that either:
a) the kitchen porter was manning the pass and he was partially sighted
b) it was how it was meant to be as burnt toast is tasty
c) someone noticed and thought it would have gone unnoticed given the clientele that dines here
For mains, a tried the stone bass with oyster. I wish I hadn’t. The presentation was unappealing. The fish (steamed and I am pretty sure it was steamed as if it was sous vide it would have had a different texture) tired and although decently cooked, lacked seasoning. Now Chinese people know the first thing about steaming fish – unless your fish is supremely fresh, steaming is a surefire way of showing off its imperfection, even if the fish is a day old. To some extent, the European way of pan frying with loads of butter masks this issue. No amount of fennel pollen could mask that this was a poor piece of fish. That it sat in a pool of sauce that resembled dishwater was really off putting. The oyster beignet was surprisingly flaccid – probably sat at the pass for a while before the plate was served. At least, the mash potato that came with it was properly made and very good, suggesting that when the kitchen applies itself properly, they can actually produce good food. But this was essentially £25 for a good bowl of mash, and I wouldn’t pay £25 for a bowl of Robuchon’s mash.
I then swapped plates and tried the venison wellington which was unfortunately overcooked such that the central loin was starting to turn grey. This dish, even if the wellington was properly cooked, felt imbalanced. There was a huge amount of red cabbage but it was crying out for a sauce to tie everything together. Ultimately, the dish just felt dry.
I am not a big fan of Instagram and the pretty pictures of food displayed there. I think the two pictures above sum up why. On the left, an Instagram picture of the cheese, leek and walnut tart by the restaurant. The one to the right, is the tart my wife received.
My dessert at least partially salvaged what had been an abject meal so far. Guernsey & Jersey milk was a pannacotta which had a lovely wobble and soft set texture with well made honeycomb and berries (raspberries and blackberries) for acidity. The borage and honey jelly had pretty much melted though by the time the dish arrived and I am not sure if that was how it was intended. Nevertheless and pretty decent dessert.
First off, let me get this straight – unlike certain bloggers, I don’t go around visiting restaurants with the intention of writing a bad review. I am also not the elitist type who will slag off non-Michelin starred restaurants. For what its worth, my two most visited restaurants this year, the Beehive and Medlar both do not have a Michelin star to their name. I really wanted to like my meal here at Kingham Plough as I like to support chefs who champion local and seasonal ingredients. But this has to be backed by good and consistent cooking. It is not that the kitchen here can’t cook because there were glimpses of what they can actually produce. The coronation chicken terrine was indeed delicious and the panna cotta well made.
Unfortunately, there was an air of carelessness that swept through the cooking. I can just about understand if the kitchen forgets a garnish. After all, we are only human and sometimes we do forget. Flavour combinations that are not to my taste is also a matter of personal preference. But to let burnt toast (and how difficult is it to toast more bread) and overcooked wellington out of the kitchen is just very poor at any level, be it 0, 1, 2 or 3 stars. Sadly, when the prices are this high, the disappointment is only greater. I really hope that this is just an off day for the kitchen and not just a sign of one that is stuck in a rut.