One thing you can expect at The Churchill Arms, Paxford, is the unexpected.
Chef Nick Deverell Smith took over the pub two years ago and since then has garnered a reputation for serving great and innovative cuisine. In fact his enthusiasm and talent saw him earn a spot on BBC’s Great British Menu earlier this year.
Nick’s background, working with the likes of Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Eric Chavot, and holding positions as head chef at Soho House and Dean Street Townhouse, has undoubtedly given him the experience and confidence to produce menus that offer something a bit more adventurous for us local foodies.
I was lucky enough to visit the Grade II-listed pub in the pretty village on a night when the chef and proprieter’s wine supplier, Milton Sandford Wine, had been invited to pair some wines with a special menu Nick had devised
Both the food and wines were delicious, robust and a perfect prelude to the season of indulgence.
We kicked off with a mushroom arancini – Italian fried rice ball – which was perfectly crunchy on the inside, and oozy and moreish on the inside. This came with a lovely fizz, Franciacorta Saten 2011 La Valle from Lombardy, which was elegant and light.
For the starter Nick served pan-fried pigeon, local artichokes, pearl barley. I’m not a big fan of pigeon – so husband Steve yummied up the surprisingly beefy breast with delight, while the smooth buttery artichoke dotted with the pearl barley ticked all the boxes for me. So while Steve drank Morgon 2014 Pavillons des Perrets, Cru Beaujolais, I enjoyed Pinot Blanc 2016 Rudolf Rabl, Lamptal, from Austria – which I have now declared to be my new favourite wine in the world. It’s a spicy, rich and nutty white of which I would like a barrel to see me through Christmas, please Santa.
I love monkfish but don’t necessarily think of it as a winter or festive dish, but here Nick had a surprise for us. Roasted and served with sage gnocchi, pumpkin puree and chestnuts, the fish tasted absolutely gorgeous, and felt luxurious and very much a special occasion main course. Two heavenly wines also paired with this (hic!) a Viognier 2016 Domaine des Trinites, Faugeres, which is a natural wine from Mediterranean France, and an Organic Gravity Pinot Noir 2014 Mahana Vineyards, from New Zealand.
How do you turn a simple crème brulee into a festive favourite? Nick had the answer to that too – here his came flavoured with spiced apple and was served with apple sorbet and a warming glass of Berneroy Calvados XO.
We left the pub full of stomach and beaming smiles… It is so satisfying to have enjoyed truly great food in a wonderful atmosphere with impeccable service, it left us with a warm happy glow. And no, that wasn’t just the wine speaking!