The Fox and Hounds, Exton

April 27, 2016

The evenings are getting longer. I’d like to say it’s getting warmer, and surely it will soon. And so this latest review for the Leicester Mercury looks at a fantastic country pub that is ideal for a leisurely drive out from the city. The Fox and Hounds is  ideal for anyone looking for  beautiful food, beautiful surroundings and a bit of class:

The Fox and Hounds at Exton  

I love living in the city. I love being close to the heart of things and where there’s a constant turnover of places to eat and drink, driven by cultural diversity and restless entrepreneurism.

But then again, sometimes I crave quiet – a bit of serenity and a bit of luxury. And when I do, it’s to places such as the Fox and Hounds in Exton I go.

WP_20160406_21_02_11_ProRutland is not short of chocolate box villages, and Exton is one of the finest. Trucked away between Oakham and Stamford on backroads that go nowhere in particular, it’s awesomely English. There’s a pretty village green, solid stone cottages with perfect thatched roofs, a big manor house with a tragic story attached and, hurrah, an impressive 18th Century pub.

Last year it attracted the attention of Rochelle Bushell who along with her son David Graham had run a series of successful bars, restaurants and guest houses in South Africa. The opportunity to revive this beauty was too tempting to resist. Since taking over they have been developing some stylish bedrooms, doing out the bar and restaurant with Rochelle’s eclectic collection of furniture from around the world and developing the kitchen to offer a fine, distinctive food offering that is now ready to take its place among the best in the county.

Walking into the bar area, you immediately feel the weight of the world disappear. Big old comfy sofas, huge gilt mirrors, heavy drapes and cosy fireplaces – it impresses with a slightly faded grandeur; smart enough to be seriously posh, but lived in enough to make you feel at home. On our visit there was a lovely jazz and blues soundtrack too.

On reading the menu, the feel good factor raises further. The dishes have been developed by David Graham and head chef Omar Palazzolo, a young Milanese chef who has La Gavroche and Nobu on his CV. The two of them share a passion for fine British produce and for dishes that make the most of it.

There is still a village pub role for the Fox and Hounds, and there is a classics menu of fish and chips, shepherds pie and erm, pheasant and chanterelle terrine with whisky and lemon spiced marmalade – all around a tenner or so. However the à la carte has compelling dishes that scream out to be tried, so that’s were we were headed.

WP_20160406_19_12_20_ProFirst off though, some of the very best nibbles I’ve encountered (left). Sumptuous olives and little cornichons in a citrus dressing with carefully pared orange zest, flatbreads, a brilliant purée of Mediterranean vegetables, a little pool of pesto and a smear of nduja, a spicy, spreadable salami from Calabria. There was even a super-seasonal little flower-bud of wild garlic.

That set me up for some excellent scallops, with an intense velouté of Jerusalem artichokes with truffle oil, poured at table to give a real aromatic boost. There were also great fresh winter greens and pretty little artichoke crisps. Clearly this is a kitchen that works hard to get the most of its ingredients. The same virtue was present in another starter of lightly battered balls of duckmeat with seasme-spiced noodles and well judged sauces of hoi sin and plum wine jam.

A main of pan-roasted Norwegian cod was a highly successful blend of technique and flavour. The fish given a nice crust and coming in a foaming sauce of apple and pernod with madras spices. Filled out with braised leeks and a cassoulet of cannelini beans, it was a treat to all the senses.

Most dining pubs offer a pork dish but the repetoire is fairly narrow. I’ve had enough belly of pork for the foreseeable future, but here was something much more interesting. A tender, oven roasted free-range loin that was, heaven be praised, still a little pink, and which had been given a yoghurt, rosemary and maple marinade. With some fat woodland mushrooms, little pillows of crisp “pork air”, and a sweetish cider and mustard jus, this was no run of the mill dish but a bit of a joy-ride. Some may not enjoy the range of flavours but I was delighted to find chefs wanting to take a few risks when developing a new dish.

WP_20160406_20_27_04_ProDeserts were a light, refreshing and technically spot-on lemon posset with pistachio crumb and raspberries, and a marvellous bunet(left), a traditional Piedmontese dairy desert with chocolate and amaretti, here served with with salted caramel ice-cream and a crème anglaise with a few sprigs of chervil. Poached blueberries appeared to have been replaced with blackberries which was a shame, but this was a light desert that punched well above its weight.

There’s a serious wine list, although only a limited number available by glass. That said, our Vouvray was superb. And what a treat to have young staff who are friendly, focused, attentive and fully on top of the menu.

The Fox and Hounds obviously has an old time charm about it, but the food is adventurous, high quality and definitely brings something worthwhile to a fairly crowded market.

 

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