WeÕre still hoping to change our eldestÕs mind about applying to Oxford instead of her favoured York, so when summoned to the family pile by my big sis who lives nearby it seemed an ideal opportunity for a spot of subliminal persuasion. Also, we donÕt get many invitations. The sis is the only person willing to endure having all six of us as houseguests. But then ŌYes, maÕamÕ, accompanied by a salute, is the way sheÕs usually addressed so good behaviour is guaranteed. ŌGet your feet of my cushions,Õ she said briskly as I settled down for a nap in the conservatory after our habitual family forced four-hour march across muddy fields. This was followed briskly by; ŌIf you want to be eat dinner at seven thirty donÕt you think itÕs about time you started getting ready?Õ It was only six oÕclock but country beautification obviously takes more effort than zipping up the bondage trousers and applying the lick of lipstick that usually passes for dressing in London - even though we were only going to the pub.
While not exactly our local, The Lamb, hidden on a blind turn in the miniscule village of Buckley, on the Oxford/Gloucestershire borders, was the only place we could get a table on a Saturday night. You have to book early for the good places in the country, I discovered after finding no room at any of the inns I tried. Well, except for Aquavitae in Oxford where, since the person on the phone didnÕt speak English, IÕll never know. Even in The Lamb we got the last place in the pleasantly plain, but cosy restaurant. However, it is possible to eat the same food in the less than charming public bar Š complete with wall-to wall cigarette smoke (smoking isnÕt permitted in the restaurant) sheep-patterned carpet and fake wood-panelled anaglyptic wallpaper.
The menu is chalked up on the blackboard Š about as rustic as it gets on the food front as though there are a number of wholesome dishes on offer, prices are decidedly metropolitan. Starters range from £3.95 for potato, leek and chive soup to Thai style monkfish with seared scallops costing £8.75. Similarly, main courses start with from cassoulet at £10.50 through steak and kidney pie £11.50 to steak with Bˇarnaise sauce at £19.95.
We were four Š the rest of the extended family having been locked up in the kennels, leaving us to the delights of avocado and bacon salad with Roquefort dressing, which pitched up, on the plate with some uninvited guests. Amongst the mixed lettuce leaves there were slivers of pear and chunks of crunchy walnuts that seemed to have escaped from the blackboardÕs description of the goats cheese salad. Meanwhile, the goats cheese salad arrived with a naked rasher of bacon slung unannounced and unexpectedly on the side. At £6.95, they were a little overpriced and unimaginatively assembled, but ingredients were good and well prepared. The serving f American asparagus was suitably New World in size given that it consisted of almost a dozen fat spears, all cooked to perfect degree of crispness. They were served with shaved Parmesan but a hint of melted butter would have been welcome.
Main courses were sound, stout and capable. Big sisÕs roast chicken wrapped in Serrano ham with wild mushroom and risotto had a triangle of what might have been Serrano perched on top but if it had been wrapped in ham, then it must have shrunk like a cheap suit on the way from the oven to the table. The risotto was the only real duff note in the meal being watery and fairly flavourless. I had pork fillet wrapped in a delicate pastry case with a duxelle of mushrooms inside, which was rich and delicious. The duck, again, was a little overcooked but the lamb cutlets were spot on. Vegetables didnÕt appear until a good five minutes after the last of the main courses which arrived one after the other like London buses, and were an odd, supermarket selection Š mange tout, baby corn which personally I think is fit only for feeding to Budgerigars, and only then if you donÕt like them, a few minibroccoli spears and potato dauphinoise.
Puddings are written on yet another blackboard. Oh Junket, sighed Big Sis, lovingly. I thought a junket was a jolly press trip with lots of alcohol. The half-set, invalid alternative is too worrying to contemplate. But little Miss Muffet just had to have it Š though as a purist didnÕt like the liberal sprinkling of nutmeg on top. Husband and I shared a stolid chocolate and Brandy Mousse, which unsurprisingly, was served in a wine glass.
When we unchained the kids back at the manor, big sis remarked to the eldest that if she came to Oxford, her mother could visit whenever she liked. AH well. York it is, then.