A new brasserie and favourite head chef brings Katherine MacAlister to Eynsham Hall

News that Simon Bradley, formerly head chef at the Randolph Hotel, had been pinched by Eynsham Hall nearly brought tears to my eyes.

A magnificent chef, Simon was a classic example of how to keep a good man down, his beautifully executed food being smothered by the function room style restaurant at the Randolph, which was then closed by the disastrous fire.

So the fact that Simon is now heading up a new team at the recently refurbed Eynsham Hall after a major £2.5 million refurbishment of the hotel, including the launch of a new brasserie restaurant, had me sobbing into my cappuccino. But could he pull it off?

Yes is the simple answer, with kitchen bells on. Because while previously stifled by his surroundings, here Simon and the new brasserie complement each other perfectly.

A fresh start for both then, and just the man to bring Eynsham Hall kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Because until now, considering the beautiful surroundings of the stately home, food was always out on the backburner; weddings, birthdays and office parties having precedence over anything going on in the kitchen, the chef never being the star of the show.

That this has changed is immediately obvious as soon as you walk into the cool, new, classy, beautifully decorated, no expense spared new brasserie – an eyecatching venue, modern with a nod to tradition, which offers privacy and intimacy where required or a more open plan arrangement if preferred.

High leather booths, huge windows, expensive fabrics and curtains, wonderful lights, a zinc bar, all heighten your senses and expectations.

The exemplary staff, namely the wonderfully eccentric and gregarious Portugese Bruno de Sousa, sat us down, showed us the menus, made us some fabulous gin and tonics, chose our wine and took our order while keeping us endlessly entertained, the prefect maitre d’.

But it was the food which shone, taking our breath away, despite the exciting room and tangible vibe to the place.

First up an innocuous sounding cream of mushroom soup with black truffle oil (£5) which was smooth, with an earthy foraging autumnal taste, like a poacher in silk pyjamas, setting the scene for what we then realised was about to be a masterful meal.

The elegant potted ham hocks, celeriac and grilled sourdough was equally as tempting, (£8) and properly chunky.

Next up, the steak, which although hard to resist I felt was almost a waste, given the opportunity we had to reallypush the boat out and see what Simon was made of, but steak it was – the sirloin of dry- aged beef, sauce béarnaise, chips, mushroom and vine tomato (£23) was such a labour of love, each component being equally thought through, cooked perfectly, presented beautifully, the sauce served in a tiny copper pan.

The more abstemious sounding heritage carrot salad with an onion bhaji, ginger, yoghurt and coriander (£13) may sound rather earnest but in fact was so gently and delicately spiced and seasoned, the curry hints making it a wonderful, and surprisingly, fragrant dish.

The portions were just right, allowing us room for dessert, the dark chocolate ice cream an unnecessary accompaniment to the pistachio crème brûlée, such was its depth of flavour, satisfyingly cracking top and delicious lightness.

In fact, so immersed was I in my sugary heaven that I hardly noticed my friend’s chocolatey offering which disappeared as quickly.

The Oxford Times:

  • The pistachio crème brûlée with dark chocolate ice cream

So there we are – somewhere fun, new and different for Simon to ply his wares, and a new destination restaurant, the food no longer playing second fiddle to its function-heavy reputation.

But don’t save it for a special occasion because the brasserie is relaxed enough to visit any time.

If only the Randolph would follow suit.

THE PARTICULARS
Eynsham Brasserie, North Leigh near Witney
OX29 6PN 
T: 01993 885 200
www.eynshamhall.com

Note: Eynsham Hall is located just off the A4095 between Witney and North Leigh. It is not in Eynsham village.

Notable staff: Simon Bradley, head chef

Parking: Lots on site

Try the... afternoon tea at Eynsham Hall – homemade cakes, scones and finger sandwiches served with loose leaf tea or freshly filtered coffee, £18.50 per person, with champagne £24.95.