Frenchman Olivier Bonte and ‘front of house’ Will Morris are breaking out with the bold, classic French bistro Fleur De Lys in Bampton. It’s situated in the most unlikely of foodie destinations but the food is seasonal and straightforward, with a vibrant menu chock full of both French favourites and British dishes.
Head chef Stuart Banks, previously of the Dormy House in Broadway and The Chequers at Churchill, is a native of Driffield, in the old East Riding of Yorkshire. With the range of cooking opportunities on tap, Stuart has loved being down south these past 15 years and has no intention of ever going back north.
The meat is from the local butcher Patrick Strainge (three doors down) and specialist beef comes from Martin’s Meats in Broadway. Fish is from New Wave Seafoods and Kingfisher, which supplied the very cod and plaice on that day’s à la carte menu. Stuart is using only the best suppliers so he’s definitely offering a proper gourmet treat here. He deploys his broad knowledge of both modern and classical gastronomy in all sections of the menu.
With sensibly priced rooms for overnighting and top-notch dining, this is definitely a rapidly improving southeastern corner of the Cotswolds. To be fair it’s really more Farringdon, Abingdon and the Vale of The White Horse! The previous property – The Romany Inn – had been shut for two years before Olivier, Will and the team took it on with the backing of hospitality industry veteran investors. The guys have delivered a far-sighted eatery here and 9 beautifully appointed rooms upstairs in a variety of styles that appeal to every taste and budget. The rooms are inspired by renowned French figures (like Depardieu, Bardot, Cantona & Monet and the smallest room ‘Macron’!) and in a classique châteaux style. They feature luxury toiletries from Côté Sud Parfums, bold wallpaper and comfy Hypnos mattresses, all blended with quirky vintage reclaimed furniture.
Bampton has roots dating back to the Anglo-Saxon days based around agriculture and farming. Over time, it grew into a bustling market town with St. Mary’s Church, a stunning example of medieval architecture. More recently Bampton’s claim to fame is as the fictional village of Downton, showcasing “Downton Abbey” to the world.
So let’s get on with romancing about this wondrous grub. As a sweet and savoury soufflé connoisseur, I opted for the unusual, twice-baked Comte soufflé with mustard and spinach at £11. It arrived sizzling and drowning in a thick, rich cheese sauce. Like all great French cheese soufflés, it was a culinary delight, uncorking a symphony of flavours and textures. The Comte cheese lends a rich and slightly tangy flavour.
As it bakes, the soufflé puffs up, forming a golden, crusty top while remaining creamy and molten on the inside. With each spoonful, you experience the harmonious blend of the savoury Comte cheese, the creamy custard-like interior, and the crispy exterior. The flavors are enhanced with a hint of black pepper and wine, adding depth and complexity to this classic French dish.
My dining companion tried the plump, little escargot snails. They come to your table bathing in a luscious garlic and parsley butter sauce, served in the quintessential six-holed ceramic dish. Heaven for the taste buds with a rich and powerful blend of buttery indulgence and the zesty kick of garlic and fresh herbs. On popping one of these snails into your mouth, you get an earthy snail essence, combined with the herbal brightness of the parsley and the punch of garlic. And don’t forget the fresh baguette to mop up the leftover buttery goodness – it really is the perfect French starter.
Traditional French escargot – it’s not just a dish; it’s a culinary adventure that makes your taste buds scream!
For mains, I went for a classic French-inspired veal escalope featuring tender veal slices sautéed to perfection. The dish is elevated with a rich brandy-infused mushroom sauce, delicately enhancing the meat’s flavours. The addition of garlic and fine beans adds a vibrant touch, providing a lovely contrast to the succulent veal and the decadent sauce.
My companion plumped for the Plaice Veronique with Noilly Prat, grapes, samphire, and new potatoes. The delicate plaice, bathed in a subtle light Noilly Prat sauce, is adorned with bursts of sweetness from the grapes, while the addition of salty crisp samphire and new potatoes provides a delightful textural contrast, culminating in a balanced and sophisticated culinary experience. The side dishes of Lyonnaise potatoes with bacon & onions and the peas à la française are total knockouts!
The Cassoulet is one of the main house favourites here. Confit of duck leg, pork belly, and Toulouse sausage is the very definition of a rustic masterpiece, boasting layers of robust flavours. The tender confit duck leg, alongside the succulent pork belly and hearty Toulouse sausage, harmoniously unite in a sumptuous bean stew that is both comforting and richly satisfying for these chillier autumnal days.
There’s a good value ‘Menu du Jour’, served Monday to Thursday evenings and Monday to Friday lunchtimes – 2 courses for 22.00 or 3 courses for 29.00
The tight selection of wine is reasonably priced and there’s many available by the glass, including a lush rosé and excellent Sauvignon Blanc at £6-7 a glass. There are plenty of racy cocktails available too, like the innovative Baked Apple Margarita at £10.50, composed of El Rayo Reposado tequila, triple sec, lime & baked apple syrup.
Well, a French meal would not be a complete experience without dessert. A chocolate mousse to die for and a drool-worthy tarte tatin brought our meal to a perfect crescendo.
Fleur de Lys has the potential to be a culinary masterpiece, both in taste and presentation. It offers truly simple and affordable French cooking. And as for Clanfield & Bampton – is this in danger of becoming the new foodie destination to rival Chippy, Kingham and Charlbury?
Fleur de Lys
Bridge St, Bampton, OX18 2HA
Bitten were guests of Fleur de Lys, all views are our own