The White Horse at Dun’s Tew
"Their burger is hard to beat"
The Oxfordshire Cotswolds are not exactly lacking in high-quality pubs.
Amongst the golden cottages, thatched roofs and gentle hills of our local AONB there seems to be an exemplary gastropub or restaurant around every corner, and the runaway, nationwide rise in popularity of “artisan”, “locally sourced” and “craft” food and drink means that you’d be hard-pressed to find an area more blessed with classic British menus and first-rate produce.
The White Horse at Duns Tew is, at first glance, a standard example of the Cotswold pub template: Low ceilings, exposed beams and ever-so-slightly wonky flagstone floors all feature; Hook Norton ales, a wood-burning stove and a secondary fireplace decorated with pinecones complete the archetype.
So, why bother with The White Horse when this style of pub is ten-a-penny in the surrounding area? One word: ingredients.
Many gastropubs of this ilk will attempt to cover all bases and offer an overwhelming, extensive menu, often sourcing their meat and veg from a large supplier and serving up decidedly average “pub classics”. This approach could not be further from what goes on at The White Horse as their offering, which often changes on a daily basis based on the seasonality and availability of the ingredients, was limited (on the day of my visit, at least) to 5 starters, 5 mains and 5 desserts. The pub’s commitment to local sourcing is ridiculously impressive: Google Maps reliably informs me that the Dash Wood Zwartbles sheep used for their lamb dishes are reared 282 feet away from the kitchen, and their vegetables (organic, naturally) grown a mere mile and a half away in North Aston.
All well and good, I hear you say, but what do the dishes actually taste like? I started with taramasalata, heaped generously beneath thin pickled cucumber slices, olives and caper berries and served with chewy, crusty bread served warm exactly as it should be. The menu also features a smooth chicken liver parfait, presented with a thick chutney prepared on the premises and more of that gorgeous bread.
The White Horse’s single foray into Asian-inspired cuisine comes in the form of a classic soy and ginger-marinated pork belly, all thick sweetness and salty umami punch. This dish gets quite heavy quite quickly, but the classic accompaniment of shredded cabbage, radishes and coriander leaves adds enough fragrance and bite to avoid the sticky pork becoming overpowering. If you’d prefer something a little more simple, their burger is hard to beat, and the chard and parmesan tart is a sophisticated and well-executed way of catering for the vegetarian crowd without resorting to stuffed mushroom or risotto, for a change.
I think what makes The White Horse really stand out is not just the quality of the dishes, but the unassuming atmosphere and complete lack of self-importance in which they’re served.
Locals cheerily nurse pints at the bar, and the whole operation comes across as a group of people who just take that little bit more pride in what they do than they strictly have to. To be fair, it’s definitely not cheap - by any stretch of the imagination - but when the food’s this good, served by such affable staff in such charming surroundings, maybe it’s worth that few extra pounds to really appreciate what our county has to offer.
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