Despite living just a few minutes drive away from The Abingdon Arms, it hadn’t really been on my radar as somewhere I needed to go. But then I started to hear about this place that had been brought back to life by the village community, had the people behind Joe Perks on board, a chef who had been at The Anchor in Jericho for a few years and a Bitten favourite baker was raving about it on Instagram. So one sunny afternoon at the end of last summer, we decided to stop off after a veggie stock up at Rectory Farm.
Beckley is a tiny village with a population of just over 600 and feels like it’s right out in the countryside, despite being a few minutes away from the ring road and only four and a half miles from Oxford centre. The pub is located right on the High Street and from the outside looks like a fairly nondescript village pub. Inside it’s all natural stone and exposed beams, with muted tones of upholstery and mismatched furniture. The bar has an impressive range of locally brewed ales and ciders as well as your usual drinks. Food is served all day with a Sunday roast and a kids menu too. It’s warm, comfortable and very welcoming.
Where it does excel is in the garden. Multi-level with covered seating and tables for larger groups as well as more intimate gatherings, it overlooks Otmoor nature reserve and on a clear day, you can see for miles. Having a quick look at the menu after a quick pint made us keen to go back for a meal, which we finally got round to last weekend.
The menu online was different to what was on offer and this was clarified for us as changing regularly depending on what is in season or of particular interest to the chef. I was a little dismayed to realise that the dish I’d been looking forward to, lamb rump with romesco sauce and smoked aubergine wasn’t available but perked up at the inclusion of a 35 day aged ribeye.
Starting off with a pint of Cotswold cider and a glass of pinot grigio, we perused the relatively short but interesting menu. Six starters on offer that included two vegetarian and two pescatarian options. We selected the Vadouvan spiced smoked haddock fishcake topped with a poached egg from Mayfield Farm in Witney and a bed of spinach, £7. This was essentially kedgeree minus the rice, in fishcake form. The egg was perfectly poached and a glorious yellow whilst the fishcake was delicately spiced. A really good dish.
Mozzarella di Bufala with blood orange and fennel granita, £8.25 could well have served two! A large ball of good mozzarella drizzled with olive oil and a scattering of black pepper, two slices of good wholemeal bread, a slice of blood orange to cut through the creaminess, and the addition of fennel to make this an authentic Italian dish worked well. Possibly more of a summery dish than a mid-January plate, I’d be more than happy to have this again, especially out in that garden. If it was burrata instead of mozzarella, I’d be completely sold!
We also selected the charcuterie board which, unlike the mozzarella was definitely not for sharing! Nine pounds got you cured meat and salami from Otmoor Pig and Trealy Farm, garnished with slivers of roasted red pepper, microherbs and quince as well as two lightly toasted bread slices and some over chilled unsalted butter. Excellent meats with the fragrant lightness of the quince an interesting contrast.
Onto our mains which were slightly more of a mixed bag. There’s the ubiquitous pub grub classics of pie with changing fillings, fish and chips, burger and steak but with a few not so standard dishes such as seabass fillet with truffled puy lentils, Creedy Carver duck breast with beetroot and spelt, and a ricotta gnudi with roast squash and pumpkin seed pesto, all priced between 12 and 19 quid.
Cheeseburger and steak were our choices, both coming with what’s described on the menu as hand cut chips for £3.50. I’m not convinced these were handmade in the kitchen from actual potatoes, although I’m happy to be corrected. I know from experience how much work goes into peeling and chipping a mountain of potatoes so I don’t blame restaurants for buying in this menu staple, but I do get frustrated when they’re described on the menu as homemade – not the case here I hasten to add! Just simply describe them on menus as chips!
Anyway, the cheeseburger arrived on a wooden board with a stack of chips, a pile of very mustardy celeriac remoulade and the burger itself encased in an enriched bun. Lettuce, tomato, gherkins and a double helping of a decent strong cheese atop a well seasoned and thick, charred, juicy burger.
My £24 steak was disappointingly thin for a ribeye which meant requesting a rare cook was nigh on impossible. It was also lacking in that outer caramelisation crust, something that I have become accustomed to only occasionally getting as I tend to ask for my steaks blue. However, it was also well seasoned and accompanied by a rich red wine sauce which was lovely. The cut had been well trimmed which I liked as ribeye is notorious for being one of the fattier cuts and the vein running through had rendered down well into soft, succulent albeit nutritionally bad saturated fat. It tasted so good for something so bad! A little too much dressing on the salad garnish for me. Good, but not the best steak I’ve had.
We’d just about managed to save room for dessert at £6 each and agreed to each have a different dish. First up was the dark chocolate brownie with salted caramel ice cream. Warm, fudgy and decadently dark, the ice cream a good accompaniment although it was a big portion!
Poached rhubarb with a rhubarb ice-cream, burnt cream and a shortbread crumble was an absolute winner – so much so that the eater declared he’d happily come back every day for repeat portions! The rhubarb was still quite firm but was a good texture against the smooth ice-cream and burnt cream – essentially a damn good custard with a brulee top. Having the shortbread scattered across made it a deconstructed crumble.
Treacle tart was my choice and I am very happy to report that it’s exactly like my grandmother used to make. Excellent, crispy pastry and proper breadcrumbs to give that sticky crunchiness instead of the wobbly filling so often served these days. I’d have been happy without the accompanying maple and pecan ice cream but ate it anyway. A seriously good dessert!
Overall, a very good lunch. A few creative dishes amongst the staples so it’s worth going for something a little different and make sure you save room for dessert!