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Keeping up a fine tradition
The woodburning fire was a vision of dancing flames, and provided a welcome blast of heat, as we stepped from the cold and wet outdoors into the cosy confines of The Trout at Tadpole Bridge.
This historic 17th-century pub is prettily situated beside the River Thames, just outside Bampton, and, since the arrival of landlords Gareth and Helen Pugh two years ago, has been much improved and updated.
They have also injected their flair and high standards into the food and drink offering, and the pub is generally full of diners, both locals and guests staying in the pub’s six rooms, and a batch of regulars drinking at the bar.
Gareth and Helen’s success can be measured by the number of accolades The Trout has received since their arrival. These include being named Oxfordshire Dining Pub of the Year 2008 in The Good Pub Guide, and they have glowing reviews in other notable publications including The Good Food Guide.
So we were looking forward to something a bit special when my friend Sue and I dropped by for dinner one chilly evening in November. Seated within a couple of yards of the woodburning stove, we soon warmed up — a bit too warm really. The fire was burning so fiercely that, at one point, the pub door had to be opened to cool the place down a bit!
This did not, however, detract from our meal and, sipping glasses of well-chilled Champagne, we perused the menu.
This is short, but presumably that is because The Trout offer a good range of specials, based on what is in season and available that day, and there were at least ten or so options on the blackboard beside the bar.
Appropriately, they go big on fish at The Trout, and the specials that day included tuna, sea bass and haddock.
Fishy things featured on the menu too, including starters of half a dozen River Exe oysters, roasted Hebridean scallops in pancetta served, unusually I thought, with a spring roll containing lamb sweetbreads, and a salad of smoked eel with Noilly Prat jelly. Crayfish hooked out of the nearby Thames also feature in season.
My starter reflected the season and was a galantine of pheasant, layered with my favourite, foie gras, and cranberries, served with a grape chutney. Sue chose one of the specials, a smoked duck salad, which looked very pretty and, she said, tasted delicious.
My main was another special, a melting confit duck, sitting on a bed of savoury lentils. It was rib-sticking stuff and tasted yummy. Sue’s choice was a tender fillet of pork, from nearby Kelmscott, served with parsnip puree, black pudding and what was described on the menu as caramelised apple.
That was the only criticism of the evening — the apples were barely cooked and definitely not caramelised. Perhaps an oversight on the part of the chef, and nothing too catastrophic as the rest of the dish offered a perfect marriage of flavours.
The side dishes of new potatoes and seasonal veg, which included some spicy red cabbage that I could have eaten as a meal in itself, were excellent.
Other mains included tournedos of venison with sweet potato fries and more of that delicious red cabbage with a pickled walnut sauce, roasted partridge with thyme potato rosti and chestnut port sauce and, for vegetarians, pithivier of ceps and leeks with red onion marmalade and a red pepper sauce.
Our tummies were full so the most we could manage pudding-wise was a lemon posset — one of my favourite lemony desserts and an excellent example of the genre.
I will definitely be returning for more of what The Trout at Tadpole Bridge offers — a traditional cosy pub, great service and good, interesting food with a seasonal slant.