Sometimes a good meal is worth travelling for, and travel we shall, as our search for great places to eat takes us to the southernmost tip of the county. Bang on the Northamptonshire border and just west of Brackley is the charming village of Kings Sutton, home of The White Horse. The village pub has a great reputation with two AA rosettes and an appearance in the Michelin guide, not to mention a 5.0 rating on TripAdvisor. Keen to see what the fuss is about, we book a table online and head over for a weekend treat.
The sun is setting on an unseasonably warm day, and as we drive into Kings Sutton both my partner and I comment on how lovely the village is. Nestled in the middle we find The White Horse, an attractive pub with a small outdoor seating area opposite a village green overlooked by a church. There’s no space in the small car park to the rear of the pub, but we easily find somewhere to park nearby.
Inside, the bar is all low ceilings and chunky oak. Bustling with chatty folk, the pub has a welcoming feel and is clearly popular with the locals. We don’t give these reviews a score, but if we did, bonus points for the pups quietly behaving themselves under their owners’ chairs in the bar. The restaurant itself is more open with tall ceilings and exposed beams, but with the same cozy feel helped by soft furnishings, cushions and a log burner.
The concise menu, printed on exceptionally posh paper, is filled with traditional dishes with some interesting twists. Keen to get started, we order a small glass of white Rioja and the ‘gin of the week’ from a cocktail menu featuring some creative and mouth-watering combinations of botanicals, fruits and gins.
Fresh bread is brought to our table moments after ordering the drinks, along with a complimentary appetiser of cheese and ale soup. Goodness, this should be on the menu. A deliciously heady cheese soup buried under a mountain of chives, I savour both spoonfuls of the tiny serving. What a tease. The bread selection is full of flavour and even the whipped Marmite butter has my partner (a self confessed Marmite hater) weak at the knees. “Well this is delicious.” A marmite convert perhaps?
A great start, we both agree. So what’s next? For my partner, a ham hock terrine with piccalilli and toasted brioche. We see for the first time the chef’s bold presentation with a small pink disc at the centre of a large white plate, the accompaniments served separately on a bespoke wooden stand. The core of the terrine is another surprise - a change of texture with an unexpected parfait complimenting the hock beautifully.
For me, as soon as I saw a savoury cheesecake on the menu my mind was made up, and the delicate slice of Oxford blue cheesecake with baked apple puree certainly looks the part. A base of crushed walnuts sits under a creamy topping, mild with blue cheese but not short on flavour, with a bitter leaf side salad and walnut dressing.
After a short pause we’re ready for our mains. Fancying a nice steak and chips, my partner has opted for the Newbottle Farm beef fillet, beer braised onions and roasted bone marrow, served alongside ‘White Horse’ chips. Fillet steak cooked well is a joyous thing and here it’s accompanied by sweet onions and some of the best pub chips we’ve ever had, golden and glistening with salt flakes. The roasted marrow is served in its bone, looking alarmingly like something you’d give one of the dogs in the bar to keep them quiet. It adds another dimension to the dish but isn’t to my partner’s taste. I question if we should’ve ordered a side of veg, but he’s happy enough with his big bowl of chunky chips.
My choice for main is Purston Manor lamb “pie”. To be honest, it was the quotation marks that grabbed me. When is a “pie” not a pie? Turns out, when it’s a wellington, or a close approximation of one. The “pie” sits alone at the centre on a large plate, clearly the star. A neat dome of glazed pastry, inviting you to dig in to see what’s inside.
I describe this as a wellington as that’s my first thought as I open the pie to find a slab of tender lamb fillet, surrounded by melt in the mouth, perfectly seasoned slow cooked lamb - yet another delightful twist. It’s a celebration of lamb, with different textures and a stunning gravy on the side amplifying the lamb flavour. It’s served with a mint sauce that’s punchy and potent, a real whack of fresh mint that lifts the whole dish. The sides, served attractively in heavy cast iron pots are a triumph. Buttery soft potato dauphinoise and savoy cabbage shredded so finely it’s like confetti on the plate.
We end our meals by ordering coffee and desserts. Small but sublime lattes are joined by a chocolate, cherry and almond bakewell tart, and an apple crumble tart with cinnamon ice cream. The cherry flavours of the bakewell tart are boosted by whole fruit and a cherry sorbet, while the toasty crumble works brilliantly with the baked apple and silky smooth cinnamon ice cream. The tarts are dainty and refined with thin crispy pastry and tasty fillings. Just the right size to round off a rich, filling meal, while still delivering on the flavours of their classic counterparts.
As the bill arrives, there’s one more surprise - a small packet of fudge to take home with us which makes a welcome change from mints!
After an outstanding meal, we would’ve recommended The White Horse on the quality of the cooking alone. The dishes were presented with style, backed up by exceptional flavours and served in an environment that felt comfortable, cozy and welcoming. But more than that, it was the little touches and flashes of creativity that elevated the experience to a truly memorable one for us both.
Our three course meal for two, including two alcoholic drinks and two coffees came to £94.30
Address: 2 The Square, King's Sutton, OX17 3RF
Phone: 01295 812440