Gastro Gateway to Gluten-Free Gluttony

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). gateway eggThe 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.

gateway mussels

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. gateway sea bass

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

www.cotswold-gateway.co.uk/home

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A Spoonful of yummy at Knife & Fork

Knife & Fork pop-up restaurant, Deddington, north Oxfordshire

IT WAS an evening of surprises. Subconsciously, as we rolled up the drive of the huge country pile on a chilly Friday night, I suppose I had some preconceptions about the idea of paying £45 a head for a meal in someone’s home.

Maybe I feared it would be a bit twee – home cooking with ideas above its station. Perhaps I didn’t want to spend an evening making small talk with strangers. I don’t know – I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Those fears were quickly banished as we were greeted at the door like old friends and had glasses of fizz shoved into our hands. The diners – up to 16 on any one evening – can mingle over drinks and canapés while infectiously bubbly chef Tanya Young and her helpers put the finishing touches to your feast.

Tanya is coeliac herself, which is why the menu is gluten-free. Not that you’d notice, or feel you are missing out on anything.

“Most of my diners are not gluten-free and are amazed to hear they’ve just had a gluten-free meal,” says Tanya, an accountant-turned-chef who has returned to her childhood home of Deddington – via France, Singapore, Devon and Bicester – to set up a restaurant in her house, opening a few weekends a month. Overnight stays are also available. Word is spreading, and slots get booked up quickly.

“Having lived in France I had always dreamed of running a home restaurant,” adds Tanya. “Not knowing the menu was always part of the fun of visiting these little restaurants, so I wanted to recreate this dining experience – a sociable environment where guests could enjoy top-quality food in a relaxed atmosphere. I decided to just do it and Knife & Fork was born.”

One bonus, as far as I’m concerned, is that diners bring their own drinks. Water is provided (including a lemongrass-infused concoction on our visit), but the alcohol (except the welcoming glass of fizz) is up to you, depending on how cheap or flash you want to be.

And the menu is fixed – and very seasonal – so fussy eaters should beware. You get what you’re given. But on the evidence of my visit, what you’re given is very, very good indeed. And with five courses, plus some bonus extras, chances are there’ll be something you like.

We started with sirloin steak canapés, thick, tender mouthfuls of succulent, rare beef with a light horseradish cream. A perfect appetiser.

Then we were ushered into the dining room for the starter proper – a little mug of delicate pumpkin soup served with mixed nuts.

knife and fork

The soup was a real winter warmer, sweet but not overpowering, and the lightly spiced nuts were a perfect accompaniment to the squash.

Next up was the fish course – beetroot marinated gravadlax with remoulade. Again, a perfectly executed dish, with the clean taste of the salmon enhanced by the sweetness of the beetroot.

knife and fork

The remoulade was rich and earthy, with a beautifully balanced mayonnaise. And it was as pretty as a picture.

Altogether more substantial was the main course. Three-bird roasts can be a bit hit-or-miss, but this one was excellent, if a tad dry.

knife and fork

Chicken, Guinea fowl and duck, combined with a sausage stuffing, studded with pistachios and wrapped in bacon and served in generous slices.

Good as the meat was, the vegetables were arguably the stars. The onion purée was a sweet, savoury treat which I could have licked straight off the plate if I wasn’t in polite company. The cavolo nero gave the dish an irony hit, and the carrots were lovely.

We helped ourselves from a huge bowl of extremely moreish roasted new potatoes with their skins on, perfect comfort food alongside the gravy (that’s right; gravy, not jus).

Another unexpected treat was the intensely-flavoured apple sorbet to cleanse our palates before the cheese course. This came in the form of a blue cheesecake with caramelised walnuts and a glass of Madeira.

knife and fork

A really innovative take on cheese and biscuits, it came with a grape and celery salad in a tangy dressing that cut through the richness of the cheese.

Dessert was a new take on an old favourite – Black Forest baked Alaska with cherry sauce and toasted almonds. The combination of chocolate cake, cherries and cream is a classic in my eyes, and the addition of ice cream under a light meringue was a fun twist.

knife and fork

The almonds also lifted the dish, adding another dimension of texture and flavour – one of the hallmarks of Tanya’s cooking all night.

Make sure you book the babysitter until midnight (or splash out on bed and breakfast) because we were there almost until the small hours enjoying coffee and the most exquisite petit fours of chestnut and fig truffles. They looked dense and heavy but were light, melted in the mouth and tasted amazing.

We left feeling like we had joined a special club, or been let in on a little secret. A secret I now must share with you all.

For more information about Knife & Fork and to book, visit  www.knifeandforkeatery.co.uk.