The Fox and Hounds in Harlestone, near Duston, has always been my ‘go to’ pub when I’m out and about with the dog. It’s just down the road from my office too, so we often visit with the team to celebrate a milestone or someone’s birthday. My husband and I even had our first date there many years ago, so I have fond memories of this pretty country pub!
That in itself makes this review a little different than the others, as it’s the first time I’m writing about a restaurant I already know well. If you didn’t know, our reviews are anonymous and we don’t let the restaurants know we’re coming. It’s the fairest way to do things and it makes sure we get an authentic experience just like any other punter. This time I feel a bit of a cheat having eaten here before, but it does allow me to compare this trip to previous visits.
I’ve always known The Fox and Hounds to be popular with dog walkers, most likely due to its close proximity to Harlestone Firs and some great countryside walks. Today is no different. It’s the early evening of a weeknight and while the restaurant is quiet, the cozy bar is full of good boys and girls sitting quietly while their owners enjoy a drink.
The restaurant itself is tucked away and our table for three (booked effortlessly online just an hour before) is at the back, by a big window overlooking the garden. While it’s still too early in the year to eat outside, it does look tempting especially with the light evening casting rays of sunshine over our table. The seats are comfy, the lighting intimate and the music both upbeat and inoffensive. I’m reminded why I enjoy spending time here.
Another reason is the staff. Despite changing over the years, I’ve always found the team warm and helpful, attentive and chatty. When our server checks in to find one of our group isn’t enjoying the alcohol-free beer she recommended, she kindly offers to swap it for another. Our diner gratefully agrees, changing it for an alcoholic drink (which I suspect she wanted all along!)
The menu is short and sweet, with modern English food and some crowd pleasers such as pizzas and burgers. So far, so gastropub. But it’s clear they’ve put a good deal of effort into their vegan offering with a dedicated menu and some nice sounding dishes. Our food is ordered with only modest expectations. I must admit, for all the times I’ve eaten here I’ve rarely been blown away. I’ve never had a bad experience and it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the evening, but for a great venue with lovely staff I find myself wishing the food left more of a lasting impression on me.
There’s a cheesy theme to two of our starters. First up, deep fried brie in panko breadcrumbs which is very simple but spiced up nicely by a fruit and sloe gin chutney. The second dish of truffled goat’s cheese with sweet chilli beetroot is pretty as a picture. Hidden under a wafer thin rice paper cracker, the smooth generous dollop of goat’s cheese sits alongside beetroot and cubed pear. It’s surprisingly sharp with acidity from pickled beetroot overpowering the sweet elements. Not unpleasant, but a bit surprising. Surprising in a better way are the micro herbs which bring more to the dish than just decoration.
The final starter is the pick of the bunch. A duck liver and port parfait encased in butter and served with chunky rustic bread. It’s deliciously smooth and extremely tasty when paired with the sloe gin chutney that’s made its second appearance of the night.
Moving on to our mains and my chicken, leek and creme fraiche pie comes topped with a ham hock crumb which is a neat idea. It’s a bit mean on the chicken though containing only a couple of small pieces, the pastry a little too thick and stodgy. The pie is served with mash and wilted veg which are perfectly serviceable, and a mystery gravy that’s found its way onto my plate despite not being mentioned in the menu.
We also try the slow cooked pork belly and cured pork cheeks - a meat feast made even more imposing by a shard of crispy prosciutto jutting out at a dangerous angle. This is available with or without scallops, but we go the whole hog and opt for the pricey £18.95 option with scallops. In this posh surf and turf, peppery pork cheeks take on fiercely garlicky potato dauphinoise in a battle for your tastebuds. It’s all a bit much and the optional scallops, while perfectly cooked, can safely be left out without taking away from the dish.
More successful is the lobster and devon crab fishcakes on a pea and truffle oil velouté with crispy seaweed. The fishcakes are light and full of flavour, sitting atop two mighty spears of asparagus looking like felled logs in the forest.
As is the norm these days, I’d had a look online to see what to expect before our trip to The Fox and Hounds. Amongst the mostly positive reviews were lots of social posts showing off a ‘chocolate bomb’ which appears to be the restaurant’s signature dessert. A sphere of chocolate, melted away at the table with a hot caramel sauce to reveal a sweet centre.
With that in mind, as soon as the dessert menu is brought out I know what I want to try. When it arrives, the ‘melting chocolate & peanut bomb’ certainly looks the part, but we’ve barely had a chance to admire it when our server pours the hot salted caramel sauce over the chocolate shell. Slowly but surely it melts away to reveal its centre. My excitement melts away too, as the sticky toffee pudding centre promised on the menu is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it was a mistake or they ran out at the last minute, but I was looking forward to that and the pudding otherwise is all melted chocolate and cream. A biscuit crumb saves it from being dull and it was still good table theatre, so it gets a pass from me.
Aside from my dramatic dessert, most of the puddings available are traditional pub fare. We try out the apple and rhubarb crumble which does the job of a crumble perfectly well. An Irish coffee rounds out the meal for the only member of our party who doesn’t ‘do’ sweets.
All in all we’ve enjoyed our evening at The Fox and Hounds. As we leave, the restaurant has really filled up which is nice to see. As I said, I’m fond of this modern country pub and I want to see it do well. Many times I’ve sat next to the fire with my pup and a pint and been very happy. The food on this occasion didn’t reach the heights I’d hoped for, but the service and atmosphere made up for it.
As we came on a Tuesday we benefited from the pub’s ‘midweek treat’ deal where one of the meals qualified for their ‘3 courses for £20 deal’. This set menu also offers 2 courses for £16 and a discounted bottle of wine if more than 3 guests take up the offer.
After the discount, our three course meal for three including alcoholic drinks came to £92.60.
Address Harlestone Rd, Lower Harlestone, Northampton, NN7 4EW | Phone 01604 821251 | Website www.thefoxandhoundsharlestone.co.uk