One of the amazing things about being a blogger is getting invites to check out cosy country pubs, hotels and B&Bs around the country, combining my love for food with a little slice of luxury living curling up in a hotel bed. And luckily, it seems these little jaunts always come at the end of super busy weeks and give Mr M and I a much-needed chance to wind down and actually have a chit-chat.
This latest one, The Fat Fox Inn, was nestled in the Chiltern Hills in the Oxfordshire market town of Watlington. We arrived late after a mammoth drive via a visit to our new baby (the puppy, Brandy) and walked into a bustling bar area.
I’d imagine the Fat Fox is pretty nice in the summer months but is perfectly suited to the colder times of the year, with a roaring fire, rustic tables, and a warm welcoming atmosphere.
Most of the rooms are in a converted coaching barn just out the back, which gives a nice feel of walking ‘home’ to your peaceful room after an evening in the Fat Fox, yet that walk only being about 20 paces.
Our room was, well, pretty impressive. A HUGE sleigh bed, exposed beams, muted colours of creams and golds, and a great mixture of olde-world and modern that worked brilliantly.
The lighting was soft, the room well-equipped with nice little touches like bottled water on your bedside table, some reading books, tea and coffee-making facilities, and indulgent little miniatures in the bathroom. The kind of place you walk into and say ‘ah’, exhaling the week’s stress and troubles away.
Bags dumped, we headed back to the main building in search of food. The Fat Fox is divided into a few different rooms – the busy bar area we’d seen briefly, a slightly quieter room with the gorgeous huge fireplace and a final room that seemed to be the ‘restaurant’. We opted for the middle room, so we could snuggle around a table in the corner next to the fire and catch up on the week’s gossip.
You can’t beat reading a menu with some warm bread, salty rich butter, and tasty olives – plus a glass of vino – to start your evening off. So clearly that’s what we did. And for all you olive haters out there, these were pretty darn good.
The menu at the Fat Fox is an interesting mix of classics and slightly more modern dishes, echoing the same past-meets-present feel of the rooms. It seemed clear to me that someone in the kitchen likes to experiment, and when I met the chef later that night he confirmed that he likes to have a little bit of a play around.
And so you have dishes like my starter, the ‘Fat Fox Inn Scotch Egg’, jazzed up with celeriac remoulade and mustard mayonnaise. The scotch egg was exactly as it should be, runny golden yolk, tasty meat and a crunchy breadcrumbed outside. The mustard mayo was a nice touch, adding a bit of a tang to the rich scotch egg. And the celeriac was a great addition too, bringing with it a crunchy freshness.
Jamie went for a slightly unusual choice for him – goat’s cheese, pickled kohlrabi, walnuts and walnut oil. I think he saw the words goat’s cheese and didn’t think about the fact he’d basically ordered a salad.
It was a delicate little dish (not his usual choice at all) – lumps of goat’s cheese, slices of kohlrabi, fresh peppery leaves and the crunch of walnuts. Probably not my favourite starter ever, but for people looking for something a little lighter then it might be for you.
The main course menu was a wide range of dishes and styles, from fish and chips, a burger and braised faggots to slightly more unusual dishes like gnudi, which I’ve only ever seen before once, at Gusto in Leamington Spa, and hare ragu.
I went for one of these, opting for pan roast hake, with braised chard, roast red peppers, pine nuts and raisins. It was a real rainbow on a plate, crimson roasted red peppers, emerald chard, and golden skin on the hake. Of course, appearances can be deceiving so I was keen to see whether a combination of tastes I’ve not really seen before would work.
It did. The fish was impeccably cooked. Soft, tender, flaking lightly. The peppers, pine nuts and raisins added an almost Mediterranean feel to the dish, reminding me of sunny weather and holidays. Yet it was still substantial and felt like a good hearty meal on an autumnal day. It was a hit, and I would order this again at the drop of a hat if we go back.
Jamie has now decided he’s officially on a mission to compare the steak at each and every establishment we go to, so we went for the Calnan brothers ribeye steak, which came with peppercorn sauce and thick cut chips. Calnan Brothers’ butchers is literally just round the corner from the Fat Fox, so it’s a subtle boast that the Fat Fox is a place that gets its produce from local suppliers.
Now Jamie rarely orders a sauce with his steak – he’s a fan of tasting the meat and not allowing it to be masked by anything else. But at the Fat Fox the steak comes with the sauce already poured on.
I wasn’t sure how he’d react, but apparently it was a really decent peppercorn sauce and didn’t drown out the flavours of the steak at all, but complimented and emphasised them.His hunk of meat also came on a bit of celeriac puree which added a sweetness to the peppery dish.
For dessert, we decided to share the dark chocolate mousse and Baileys Ice cream, just for that ‘something sweet’ at the end of a lovely evening. The mousse was bitter, contrasted by the rich, sweet ice-cream, and the whole thing was presented beautifully and slightly more impressively than you might expect from a rural pub. A sprinkling of chocolate crunch, shards of tempered dark chocolate, all making for an indulgent, yet delicate-in-appearance dessert.
Throughout our meal, the service was pretty darn marvellous. We waited just the right time between courses, enjoyed the right level of friendliness without it being too overboard, and left feeling relaxed and ready for a great night’s sleep.
And what a great night’s sleep it was. Since the barn is tucked away behind the pub, there’s no road noise or, in fact, any noise at all. Handily, when we checked in we’d been asked what time we’d like breakfast, allowing the staff to stagger breakfast and make sure everybody didn’t arrive at once, but also eliminating any of the kind of confusion we’d had at the White Horse in Duns Tew, when we missed brekkie.
After a lazy lie-in and a nice shower in the bijou bathroom (though watch out tall people, Jamie said the shower was a bit low for him, though I was fine lol) we headed back to the same room in the pub, where we could help ourselves to cereal and juices, newspapers, and a choice from the breakfast menu.
Jamie went for a full English (no surprise there), which was a hearty though not ridiculous, plate of sausage, bacon, black pudding, mushrooms, tomato, toast, and eggs. It was rustic and substantial, and everything tasted fresh and well-sourced.
I went for scrambled egg on toast with a few rashers of bacon. These were, I have to say, delicious scrambled eggs. Buttery and creamy, made to just the right texture so they’re almost a bit runny and sloppy without being undercooked. Breakfast of champions I reckon.
Fuelled for the day, we took ourselves off for a little wander round Watlington before we headed home. It’s not only beautiful, but it’s a bit of a foodie’s haven, with the butcher’s, a kitchen shop, and delicatessen, and a few lovely looking cafes to pop into. Just the kind of thing you want when you’re having a little break from everything.
It’s also super picturesque, with lots of lovely little paths to wander down and explore, especially when the autumn colours are as glorious as they have been.
Wander done, shopping done, we headed home and back to reality feeling rested and supercharged. The Fat Fox is, in my view, everything a pub that offers accommodation should be. Friendly, relaxed, and welcoming, yet with a high standard and an attention to detail that you don’t always get.
They say on their website, “no one is a stranger here for long” and I’m happy to say we felt like more than just anonymous guests by the time we went home. The staff took time to find out a bit about us and to make us feel like they genuinely would like to see us return. And since they’re apparently dog-friendly too, I think we might just do that….
We were treated to a complimentary stay and dinner at the Fat Fox Inn for the purposes of this review but paid for our drinks. As ever, what’s written here is my honest opinion.
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