I RECEIVED a warning from a colleague before setting off to try the gluten-free menu at the Cotswold Gateway in Burford.
“Watch out,” he warned. “My wife’s coeliac and she has these gluten-free pizzas – you’d be better off eating the cardboard they come in!”
And so it’s presumably because of preconceptions like this that the Gateway has been championing its extensive gluten-free menu, which even extends to the beer, with its bottles of Wadworth’s 6X Gold suitable for coeliacs.
I say ‘extensive’ because the gluten-free menu is only a tad shorter than the ‘normal’ one. And it was full of pub classics and hearty fayre, the stuff that makes you really want to tuck in.
I started with the char-grilled asparagus with micro cress and – something I had been hoping to try for quite a while – a crispy duck egg (£7.75). The green spears were a seasonal treat, and the char-grilling gave them an extra dimension. Drizzles of hollandaise were the perfect accompaniment.
The crispy coating for the egg was a bit dense, but the egg yolk still has a softness to it – enough to encourage the dunking of a tip or two.
My wife opted for the river mussels from the specials board (£7.50), and was rewarded with tasty, plump shellfish in a lovely creamy broth, that just begged to be mopped up with the slices of gluten-free bread.
Fancying a bit of fish, I plumped for sea bass for my mains. It came on a warm salad of chickpeas, sun-blushed tomatoes, potatoes, green beans and olives (£15.95) and was a fine combination of flavours.
The bass was advertised as baked, but the skin arrived beautifully crispy and golden, and the fillets were moist and full of the delicate bass flavour.
It was obvious that the kitchen knows its way around a piece of fish.
The Mediterranean-style accompaniments worked really well with the dish, especially the tomatoes which were like little sweet and sour explosions for the mouth. My only criticism would be the lack of a sauce or dressing to hold it together, although a dollop of mayonnaise did the trick.
Sauce was certainly not lacking from my wife’s thick-cut entrecôte steak with chunky chips, grilled tomato, dressed salad and creamy blue cheese sauce (£22.95).
A fine cut of sirloin, perfectly cooked – charred on the outside, pink inside, as ordered – the tangy blue cheese took it to the next level. The plentiful chips were beautifully cooked too.
If the gluten-free ambitions were likely to fall short, I figured, it would probably be in the desserts. I went for one of my favourites, sticky toffee pudding, served this time with the almost ubiquitous salted caramel ice cream (£6.95).
Taste-wise, it hit all the spots – it was sticky, sweet, and the creamy ice cream perfectly complemented it. The texture was what let it down ever-so slightly – I prefer mine with a bit more substance and this one could have been a touch firmer.
There were no complaints about the Baileys and espresso brulee however, with it’s very grown-up custard, hidden under a crisp layer of melted sugar. Surprisingly light, it was a lovely dessert.
We washed it all down with the aforementioned 6X Gold (£3.95). I confess to being more of a lager and stout drinker, but this beer was light, and certainly didn’t overpower any of the food we had.
The atmosphere was extremely friendly, and the waiting staff were a delight. It’s a pub, not a restaurant, and that gives it a warm, relaxed feel, without an ounce of stuffiness.
The menu is not going to win any prizes for innovation, but it’s not setting out to. It’s producing rib-sticking, bold food with more than a nod to classic, local combinations – starters also included smoked mackerel, ham hock terrine, plus mozzarella, peas and broad beans, while the mains offered a wonderful sounding honey glazed ham on bubble and squeak with poached eggs. I hesitate to use the phrase ‘home-cooking’, because it’s several notches above that, but I hope you know what I mean. And while the prices are not particularly cheap, it would be hard to argue that they’re not good value when it comes to quality and portion sizes. Well, we were in Burford.
The Cotswold Gateway, 216 The Hill, Burford OX18 4HX 01993 822695