Restaurant review: The Fox and Hounds, Hunsdon
PUBLISHED: 11:39 30 November 2015 | UPDATED: 13:07 01 December 2015
Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne is drawn to a village gastro-pub by a mix of the traditional and unexpected
First things first – on this visit to the Fox and Hounds in Hunsdon, I had to send a dish back. It was only my second visit to this popular village pub-restaurant and there were enough happy guests in the room to persuade me it is a rare occurrence. And if one of the markers of good restaurants is how they deal with bad news as well as good, then the Fox and Hounds came through. Sincere apologies, the offending dish of calf’s liver with persillade seasoning and duckfat potato cake removed, to be replaced shortly after by another (bottom right) which this time did the job it was created for.
The name above the door is that of chef/proprietor James Rix, who runs the place with his wife Bianca. He has enough big names on his CV to impress any food critic and to suggest it was not he in the kitchen that night. Whoever it was, it’s not my job to point a finger, merely to report on my visit which, that one hiccup aside, proved an enjoyable night out.
I was drawn to Hunsdon by the menu, a tempting mix of the traditional and the unexpected – think wild sea bass fillet with coco beans and aubergine caponata, or locally-shot wood pigeon breast with dandelion, pancetta and blackberries, both of which were on offer on the evening of my visit. One important caveat is that the menu changes daily – twice-daily has been known on occasion, depending on the season and availability of fresh produce – so the list I saw is probably not the one future diners will find. The sample version on the website gives an idea of the approach but it’s advisable to phone if you are looking for a particular dish on a particular day.
The line-up confronting my fellow critic and me was reassuringly familiar but with a scattering of the unusual touches for which the F&H is noted among its many followers. Deep-fried monkfish cheeks and saffron aioli was one example among the starters; another was Normandy black pudding with girolles and a fried duck egg. Among the mains, a touch of autumn had crept in, reflecting a change in the weather, so there was lamb rump, English Shorthorn chateaubriand for two and bone-in cote de boeuf among others, these distinguished by being prepared in the restaurant’s specialist Josper charcoal oven, another sign food is taken seriously here.
For starters, my other half chose Cornish crab (£7.95) with corn tacos, mango salsa, guacamole and the chilli sauce known as Sriracha (top left). No problem there. Because it is not often offered, I went for a piece of the creamy mozzarella from Puglia known as burrata (£7), served with Provence black fig and every bit as rich as promised. All was well until we approached the mains. My companion has a thing about calf’s liver and is delighted whenever she finds it but
this was not the best example – served as a chunk rather than in slices and so tough as to be clearly overcooked. At £17.50, it should have been better. It went back, a replacement arrived and all was well. On my side, a loin of locally-shot venison (£22) with celeriac dauphinoise, Savoy cabbage and girolles made up for things by being soft, sweet and tender and exactly the right shade of pink in the middle.
We passed on dessert, although panna cotta with poached Mirabelle plums (£6.25) almost led us astray. It’s on the list for next time.
The Fox and Hounds is a personable place and I have no reason to think my experience was anything more than a rare misstep. The surroundings, especially in the dining room with its chandelier and period furniture, are cosy and there is the reassurance that the restaurant has again been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand for 2016, its third year in a row. It is also listed by The Times Square Meal Guide as one of the top 10 venues for Sunday lunch in the South East. w
The cost of this dinner for two was £78.05 including a carafe of house red and a 10 per cent service charge which is added automatically. This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and visited by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.