Review: The Maytime
"From a selection of five starters, five mains and five desserts, each course is exemplary."
As pleasant as the majority of them undoubtedly are, dining pubs do eventually all begin to look, feel and taste the same. Eating local food in an Oxfordshire pub is my favourite pastime, the most enjoyable part of my job and the reason why it’s worth getting up in the morning, but ultimately, there’s only so many times you can write about exposed beams, well-cooked food and a decent selection of ales before it all starts to seem fairly monotonous, and you run desperately low on adjectives.
With The Maytime, however, I have no such problem, as this is an exception to all the rules in both ambition and execution. First of all, a variety of over 80 different gins must be one of the most extensive in the area if not the county, with local favourites like Cotswold Gin rubbing shoulders alongside big-name beauties like Martin Miller’s and more outlandish numbers like the heather- and dandelion-infused Caorunn, served with a choice of nine different tonics, including some I had no idea existed. Impressive.
If you’re after a beer then the choice is no more restricted, with an array of draft, bottled and canned ales and lagers from near and far. My first choice was the gorgeous tea-steeped Gunnamatta from New Zealand’s Yeastie Boys brewery, which is worth the visit alone.
Onto the menu and the fun really starts. Young and enthusiastic landlord Dominic Wood and his head chef Roger Williams have devised a food menu far more modest than that for drinks, and the food itself is all the better for it. From a selection of five starters, five mains and five desserts, each course is exemplary, with clever presentation, fresh flavours and humble ingredients prepared with culinary flair. Feast your eyes on a crispy, deep-fried duck egg with a vibrant orange yolk and moreish saffron crumb, paired with fragrant asparagus spears and the low-end punch of smoked duck, alongside favourites like moules marinière and ham hock terrine – the latter with buttery toasted brioche and mayonnaise laced with on-trend and deeply flavoursome tonka beans.
The standards are raised again when you arrive at the main courses – highlights include braised pork cheeks cooked dead slow so the fibres disintegrate on impact, and you’re left with a gorgeously smooth jumble of meat. The almost overwhelming savouriness of the cheeks and accompanying caraway jus is balanced with baby leeks and a sweet and sticky sultana raga, with flawless mash to hold everything together. If that all sounds a little too rich, go for the bream – grilled to perfection with more of that asparagus, with a classic mustard and tarragon sauce completing the picture.
I’m often keen to criticise at least one course in a review to give an accurate picture and not to come across as sycophantic, but I’m afraid that on this occasion there’s very little to fault. Desserts hit the spot across the board, from the refreshing hit of melon meringue pie with poached oranges and aromatic basil sorbet to the ridiculously indulgent chocolate brownie with banana ice cream, toffee sauce and chocolate ‘gravel’.
So – far from a normal gastropub, I’m pleased to have found a place that’s as unpredictable, ambitious and well-executed as The Maytime. From the warmth of the staff to the award-winning garden, this is a remarkable place, and given that Dominic has only headed up the venture – his first – for five years, the achievement becomes all the more extraordinary. Fantastic.