Hitchen's Barn

Oakham, Rutland


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When you have worked at luxury hotels in Barbados and the British Virgin Islands (not to mention Hambleton Hall), it must seem like a daring move to return to a village pub in Rutland, but locals are mighty glad that Neil and Louise Hitchen brought it all back home. Rough plank tabletops, low-hanging beams and unglazed crockery set the tone in their Barn, but when Neil's dishes start arriving, it all begins to feel a cut above. Local suppliers form an honour-roll, from Ron Grant's furred game to Katy Machin's Windy Farm eggs, and the intent is clear from the outset, when breads are accompanied by whipped butters incorporating Lincolnshire Poacher cheese or Marmite. The cooking clearly has its roots in pub fare, but with more imaginative gloss than that description can hope to capture. Chicken and ham-hock terrine comes with piccalilli-style cauliflower and a quail's egg, while a panna cotta of beetroot and goat's  cheese appears with caramelised walnuts and rocket. Traditionalists' eyes will light up at the sight of chargrilled ribeye with onion rings and garlic butter, but there is also curried monkfish with palourde clams and baby leeks. The choice is extensive and appealing, all the way to desserts such as blood orange, Prosecco and Campari jelly with vanilla ice cream, or chocolate and pecan croissant pudding with maple-syrup custard. Wines by the glass, from £5.50, offer a good varietal spread, and the choices inspire confidence.