The new ‘Sheriff of Letcombe Regis’ is in total control of his parish in the Vale of The White Horse.
Martin Sherriff is one of the most humble and talented chefs I’ve met on my travels in and around our culinary region. We recently enjoyed the most imperious lunch at 18th century freehouse The Greyhound, in the midst of the Vale of the White Horse, set in the quaint village of Letcombe Regis, nestled under the Ridgeway national trail in south Oxfordshire.
Popularly known as ‘Britain’s oldest road’, The Ridgeway path still follows the same route over the high ground used since prehistoric times by travellers, herdsmen and soldiers. Many of those overnighting at The Greyhound are attempting the week-long trek from Avebury to Ivinghoe. I’d walked it after my O-levels with some school chums, sneaking into as many pubs en route as we could, after our day’s toil. Dry Blackthorn Cider or ‘bitter top’ and pork scratchings were very much the order of the day back then. Yes, I am pretty ancient and I am terribly sentimental!
Have no doubts – this is a fabulous walking country up on the downs. So why not work off the excellent food The Greyhound offers? We enjoyed a beautiful dog walk before our midweek lunch. Owner Catriona Galbraith has created four local walks directly from the pub, all depicted in easy-to-follow leaflets with clear instructions and an aerial photograph of each route.
There are 8 beautifully appointed upstairs bedrooms decorated in a muted, modern country cottage style complete with wonky beams, smart fabric headboards and Roberts radios reached via higgledy-piggledy back stairs. Each of the eight rooms is named after the geography of the area – monikers such as Lambourn, Oxford, Uffington and Ridgeway capture the relaxed vibe perfectly. Many rooms are family-friendly or dog-friendly, but note that bookings for these can only be made directly with The Greyhound and not via third-party websites.
So why not stay overnight full-board and soak up all that is good about this beautiful corner of our South Oxfordshire?
However, if you’re in a more slothful, hibernatory, autumnal mood now the clocks have gone back, simply avail yourself of the excellent à la carte menu or the outstanding value three-course lunch offering that’s titled “Lunch for Less”. It’s available Monday to Friday lunchtimes (not on public holidays):2 Courses for £24.00; 3 Courses for £29.00
Like all leading gastropubs, seasonality and local sourcing play a big part in the Greyhound’s ethos – the honey comes from the village’s Ridgeway Bees, and Martin’s provisions come from the local butchers and a vegetable plot five minutes away up by the Ridgeway. Beetroots, courgettes and Swiss chard had been dug the night before for that day’s menu. Fish is from Stickleback and landed in Fowey and Brixham. Breakfast ingredients come from Park Farm near Swindon and Patrick Strange Butchers in Bampton. Freshness and food miles are always at a premium.
“We are not pretentious. I believe in offering food that is great quality, affordable and accessible” says Chef Martin. He has developed his considerable skills across the British Isles and Ireland, working in top establishments in Jersey and Galway. He’s a resident of Clanfield now, which has its own burgeoning gastro-food scene.
Catriona and Martin are passionate about their carefully curated Apprenticeship programme to develop Oxfordshire’s next generation of kitchen wizards. There are 3 apprentice chefs on the books at present. For example, Charlie the pastry chef delivered the most indulgent ‘stand out’ strawberry Tiramisu for my dessert. Such young, fresh, innovative thinking is being brought to bear every day.
Front of house is the charming and urbane Old Wykehamist James Cameron. And he’s a rather tidy golfer too at nearby West Berks GC. He’s the most polite, service-focused young man you’d ever want to meet. What you’d call a “rather lovely bloke”.
Catriona’s two daughters work in the business and very willingly and competently, I might add. Catriona herself grew up in the West of Scotland, assisting her parents in the family hotel in Tarbert. It was a career as an electronics engineer and then at Vodafone in Newbury that brought her to England’s south.
Buried away in the depths of South Oxfordshire, The Greyhound is owned by her and husband Martyn Reed. They have lived in the area for around 20 years. The previous incarnation of the pub was finally closed in 2014. When the husband and wife team bought it, the grade II listed building was desperately in need of serious TLC.
Catriona and her husband live but two minutes down the road. It took a painful year to completely overhaul and renovate this ancient property. They’re both heavily invested in village life and have created the sort of country inn they themselves like. “We wanted somewhere we’d want to go with friends and family, offering good food and a really warm atmosphere,” Catriona said. “We have the standards of a London hotel but with a real-world village soul”.
It had been a sad, old Morlands pub that had been left to rot, run badly as a tired and neglected Greene King tenancy. How many pubs have those clumsy bland corporate moneymakers ruined in Oxfordshire and its surroundings? What with Greene King’s acquisition of Abingdon’s Morlands in 2000 (and Burtonwood’s purchase of Oxford’s Morrells in 1998), yet another storied pub was ruined by a simplistic “one size fits all” HQ pub chain thinking. There are well over 20 historic pubs in Greater Oxford alone that Greene King has completely emasculated and wrecked. Alas, even our glorious iconic Turf Tavern is a sanitised shadow of its former self from my mid-80s student days.
But thankfully there’s none of that ‘cookie cutter’ branded pub group feel here. The Greyhound is a true one-off, oozing ambience and wanting to wrap its arms around you with its warm, cosy and traditional English country house decor.
The food is exceptional as exemplified by the plate-scrapingly-perfect liver and mascarpone parfait with a chicken nugget, dulse seaweed tapioca and gooseberry dashi. Visual artistry too.
Mains were unbelievably brilliant. I savoured every morsel of my breaded fish mousseline with pickled shellfish, coastal vegetables, kelp butter sauce with parsley oil and creamed potato purée. How innovative!
On top of the apprentice’s strawberry tiramisu, you won’t find a better dessert than the colourful, intriguing white chocolate mouse and sea buckthorn sorbet, topped with white chocolate and poppy seed shard, candied hazelnuts and buckthorn gel. I bet you didn’t even imagine that these were ingredients you could create so much culinary alchemy with.
To suit this endless taste invention, the wine list and range of mocktails & gins is comprehensive. In fact, I’ll be as bold to say this is one of the most interesting wine lists I’ve encountered on my travels. The Greyhound is a free house and serves a wide range of real ales, craft beers and ciders, specially selected and rotated from local brewers, and the hostelry has won Country Pub Of The Year by the CAMRA White Horse Branch.
Each Wednesday evening there is “The Midweek Fix” – a special menu at £22 for two courses. It’s forever changing so do check online before booking.
Martin has recently been developing an inaugural autumn Tasting Menu – the first evening was in mid-October, proving to be a huge success locally. You’ll appreciate the diversity of the team’s cuisine if you love such feasts. At £80 for six courses it’s good value and very much ‘par for the course’ price-wise these days. Martin is totally tuned in to eating trends and follows seasonal availability and what’s well priced at the market that particular week.
For inspiration, do check out Martin’s beautiful food photography and music on Instagram @cotswoldchef_
There’s a private back room for hire where the culinary team will create a tailored menu for you and ‘The Sheriff’ will even come to carve the meat or his trademark Beef Wellington personally. It’s a perfect space for a birthday bash or an extended family dinner.
The good news is I’ll be reviewing more pubs in South Oxfordshire and into the Vale of the White Horse. Along with The Killingworth Castle in Wootton, The Greyhound in Letcombe Regis is one of my current favourites in our region.
The value for money on the plate here is exceptional. The service is second to none. The quality of the seasonal ingredients, the youth and invention behind the dishes and the polished creative presentation make this a memorable experience. The food at the Greyhound is definitely a ‘cut above’.
Go now before it gets much more famous and so much harder to find a corner seat by the fire or a table for a bargain lunchtime or Wednesday evening treat.
The Greyhound Inn
Main Street, Letcombe Regis, OX12 9JL
Bitten were invited as guests of The Greyhound, all views are our own