Long Itchington, a picturesque Warwickshire village complete with village green and ducks waddling freely about the local pond, boasts not only a genteel calm, an abundance of charmingly appointed timbered buildings and lush foliage, but also three excellent pubs serving decent food.
One of the trios, The Buck & Bell, has welcomed visitors since the mid-17th century. Despite having rung time once and for all in the 1980s, it has since been restored and thrives once more.
A spacious well appointed interior, gleaming wood and polished bar pumps, and neatly dressed attentive staff provide a comfortable dining experience. The food, all sourced from local suppliers, made for a pleasing menu of pub grub classics – each well presented and cooked with care – without resorting to the pretention and over-priced, minuscule servings that so often mar gastro-pub offerings.
The starter of note was the field mushroom topped with smoked bacon and blue cheese rarebit – the bacon and cheese worked perfectly, as might be expected, while managing not to overpower the flavour of the mushroom. The mushroom could have been more substantial, a little more “meaty,” but was delicious all the same.
A double baked soufflé with mature cheddar cheese served with apple and celery salad went down well, too, as did a manly portion of crispy whitebait. The bread accompanying these crispy fish was quite uninspiring – something more rustic, grainier, would have suited the fish better.
The mains were a success, too. I had my eye on one of my dining companions’ wild mushroom risotto for the longest time. She thankfully struggled to finish the dish. The beer battered cod with crushy peas, chunky homemade chips and tartare sauce held it’s ground, yet failed to live up to the standards of cod I’ve come to expect from a certain Warwickshire fish and chip shop. The batter, however, was crisp and flavoursome.
Perhaps the most enviable of my companions’ meals was the Lighthorne lamb kebabs with feta salad, sunblazed tomatoes and sauté potatoes. This was certainly the most appetizing plate to be served, and appeared to be the most substantial. Should I ever return (I’d happily do so) this is what I’d have.
Finally, for the mains, sea bass fillets with smoked bacon polenta cake, chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables and tomato compot. Good, but the fish was not all it could have been. Certainly something else was needed to fill out the plate.
Only one desert was sampled; a rich chocolate brownie with ice cream and peanuts smothered in caramel, I believe. Excellent, the peanuts in particular.
The Buck & Bell does what it sets out to, well. If only this kind of place would stretch to baskets of fresh bread, butter and olive oil to soak up the beer and fill the corners for male diners.
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