The Kingham Plough – foraging with David Harrison
"Never have I been so grateful for an allergy"
If I asked you to name as many edible plants that grow on roadsides in the UK as you can, how many would you get?
Before I ventured off to Kingham to join bushcraft and plant expert David Harrison on a foraging excursion, I asked myself the same question and got stuck at about 4. On the drive down, myself and esteemed editorial colleague Sam Bennett realised we knew absolutely nothing about the task at hand. Do herbs count? Do potatoes grow on roadsides? We were clearly way out of our depth, and were mildly apprehensive about collecting a varied lunch from the verges of Cotswolds B-roads.
Luckily, David is remarkably knowledgeable, and was keen to explain the details to novices like ourselves. We met up in the warm front bar of The Plough and drove a mile or two out into the countryside proper, and within seconds David had found numerous wild species and described their culinary value. The taste and properties of horseradish, dead nettle, bittercress and alexanders were all colourfully explained, and common hogweed was a particular highlight, but more on that later.
The forage was not without its comedic value. After picking some garden sorrel and passing around some for us to eat, David was asked if there were similar-looking plants to look out for. “Yes, it looks exactly like this and if you eat it you’ll be dead within minutes” he replied, to a chorus of nervous laughter from the guests.
After taking in the glorious views surrounding our locale (and a chance encounter with some wild-growing magic mushrooms) we returned to The Plough. As Sipsmith’s master distiller Jared happened to be in attendance, we were treated to a pair of glorious sloe negronis, which was a fantastic surprise (see here for our borderline sycophantic article on Sipsmith’s outstanding portfolio of spirits). We were seated in the spacious dining room, and then the fun really began.
To describe The Plough’s food as delicious is to do the establishment an enormous disservice. The diversity and vision on the menu is far, far beyond what you’d expect in a pub environment, as chef proprietor Emily Watkins (trained at the Fat Duck, amongst others) has composed a menu devoid of cliché and packed with novel combinations. In this case, we began with a starter of snails and wild mushrooms, served with parsley and caper butter. Whilst this was stunning enough on its own, the real highlight was the hogweed shoots foraged earlier on, which were fried in butter and melted in your mouth like a tastier asparagus.
Next, the main course: Wild rabbit wellington served with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and local veg. I’m not normally the biggest fan of game, but the intense flavour of Emily’s interpretation was in a different league, leaving me in stony silence at the table whilst my brain attempted to process the flavours assaulting my unprepared taste buds. The hospitality didn’t stop there either, as when my inconvenient dietary requirements forbade me from tasting the blackberry Baked Alaska, Emily brought out a perfectly prepared crème brûlée flavoured with elderflower from her own garden. Never have I been so grateful for an allergy.
The Plough’s events aren’t limited to foraging, however, and they have a packed calendar for upcoming weeks. From a talk on mushrooms and truffles to Guernsey milk-based menus, via ‘beer and bar snacks’ evenings, this Cotswold gem isn’t one to be missed, and if you can’t make it to any of the special occasions, the artistry that goes on behind the kitchen doors are reason enough to make a booking. Spectacular.
Related Articles: Top awards for the best restaurants in Oxfordshire