The Double Red Duke, Bourton Road, Clanfield, Bampton, Oxfordshire OX18 2RB (01367 810222). Snacks and small plates £ 7.50 to £ 16, large dishes £ 12 to £ 35, desserts £ 9, wines from £ 27
Later, I would think of it as the redemptive scallop; like the bivalve that made amends for the tragically broken promise of the one who came before him. Then I would hate myself for letting the ridiculous phrase “redeeming scallop” enter my head. At the time, however, all I thought was, “Damn, there’s three. It means that I have to share the other. Why my God why? ”It fell to the shell, under a thick layer of crispy golden breadcrumbs which, in turn, had been happily dipped in butter speckled with wild garlic. The scallop had been cooked to a shiny mother-of-pearl. inside, and there, like a conspicuously tinted comma from an illuminated manuscript, was the bright orange of the coral. Eventually, I started scratching the ridges of the shell for the crispy bits. There was a lot of it. of crispy pieces.
The one before me was served at Gridiron, in the elegant Metropolitan Hotel in London. On the menu, we could impressively read: “Wood-roasted scallops with smoked eggs and paprika butter.” What happened was limp, malnourished, and sorry. The connection between these two very different scallops is the same chef consultant, Richard Turner, also executive chef of the Hawksmoor Group. At the time, I concluded that Turner’s bold shtick just didn’t work amid the Metropolitan’s clean white lines; that the environment demanded a certain unsightly balance from Gucci that didn’t match its greasy approach. (Gridiron has remained closed since the start of the first lockdown.)
But I am nothing except an optimist. One of the new businesses to emerge from the most recent lockdown was the relaunch of Double Red Duke, a handsome honey pub in that part of Oxfordshire where nothing bad has ever happened and no one has never farted, nor even thought of doing so. He was added to a small but growing portfolio of campaign pubs run by Sam and Georgie Pearman, who made a name for themselves overseeing Cheltenham’s ever-reliable Lucky Onion group. Early on, Turner was announced as a consultant chef with one of his Hawksmoor chefs, Richard Sandiford, installed in the kitchen. When I visited they told me Turner was no longer involved, although the menu was the same they touted when he was tied up. He’s smeared with animal fat fingerprints. Surely it was worth getting on the M40?
He is. And besides, go down the M6 to the M42 or along the M4 and go up. Or train him in Oxford and splash around in a cab. You got the idea. The Double Red Duke is worth a visit. Inside the sprawling pub is a network of low-ceiling nested rooms, at the heart of which is an open kitchen full of live-fire grills, lined with a wide counter. Reserve a spot there, then look in the embers and reflect on where your life has been so good. Or head to one of the leafy dining rooms with their plump green banquettes and the odd rust-colored sofa, a sort of food coma that might get you stuck at the end of the meal.
The kitchen under Sandiford seems determined to prepare the named dishes well, rather than reinventing the wheel, to give it unwanted corners. The closest thing to innovation is a brilliant mashed green beans with garlic, lemon, tahini and olive oil, drizzled with chili sauce, although even that is hardly revolutionary. Hummus, made with beans rather than chickpeas, can be found everywhere in the store. It’s a dollop of punchy beauty and comes with thermoformed flatbread straight off the grill. These loaves beg to be torn and sniffed deeply before they are put to work.
Then there are the demonic kidneys. Oh, the demonic kidneys. I order them regularly, more in hope than in expectation. Often times it looks like one of those recipes that over the years has turned into a faded photocopy of itself. Here, the image is crystal clear. The generous pile of plump lamb kidneys for £ 9 still has a pink tinge to the heart. The deep pond of sauce, dipping into the slice of sourdough below, is the rich, sticky, tangy cayenne wonder it should be. Anthony Trollope, who has referenced them in his novels, nodded approvingly.
Unsurprisingly, given Hawksmoor’s DNA, steaks are at the heart of the menu: prime rib, porterhouse and T-bone with many and varied sauces, including the anchovy wonder that is Gentleman’s Relish. Prices are 25% lower per 100g than Hawksmoor. Next to these is both a whole turbot and a sturdy 350g cup cooked on the bone for £ 35. It is an excellent piece of fish that has been shown with care and attention. The only negative point of the meal is the pot of lemon ketchup that comes with it. Calling it ketchup doesn’t change the fact that it tastes like cream of lemon; a pretty good lemon curd, but lemon curd all the same. This is not the condiment that this fish needs, or any fish for that matter.
I have for £ 18 thick veal chop on the bone, topped with fried oysters and a big mess of tartar sauce sprinkled in turn with bright orange with egg mimosa. Everything is deliciously to the point. We order dripping salt and vinegar crisps as it would seem rude not to. They’re everything you could want them to be: crispy, rustling against each other like dried leaves in fall, stuffed with vinegar. The fact that I don’t have room for them, that I have to leave room for dessert at your service, makes me sad. You ask too much of me sometimes, people. There is a bowl of steamed spinach to make us feel virtuous.
Desserts at £ 9 include caramel pudding and white chocolate cheesecake. We’re sharing a strawberry sundae, and it’s all the joyful things of childhood by the seaside that these three words promise. We fight over ribbons of frozen strawberries, streaking the vanilla cream. Outside, beyond the parking lot, is a set of newly built rooms, in the golden tones of Scandinavian wood. I find myself imagining coming here for the night, letting the kitchen do its job, then tripping over the bed. the menu at Double Red Duke reads like a simple version of pub food. It even includes a cow pie. But the simplicity of the words on this page are just beginning to tell the story. It’s a class act, redemptive scallop and everything.
Considering my modest career as a pianist, I will always be a cheerleader for anything that brings music and food together. It is therefore a pleasure to welcome The Parlor, a sumptuous and lighted space within the complex of restaurants and bars which is The Ned in the City of London. They are seriously investing in live music, to accompany the atmosphere of the New York supper club, top players like pianist Reuben James and clarinetist Giacomo Smith and his band. There is no cover charge for the music, or at least none that is obvious; let’s just say the entrance fees are hidden in the menu prices of American bistro classics. It’s not anyone’s cheap version, but the dishes, like the music, are up to the mark. It’s a very good evening.
Everything changes at Edinburgh’s mainstay, The Little Chartroom. In September, chef Roberta Hall-McCarron and her husband, Shaun McCarron, who runs the house, moved the restaurant to a new, larger site on Bonnington Road. Meanwhile, the original site will become Eleanore, a wine bar serving a menu of small plates, including a barbecue pork neck with chicory and quince and oysters with fermented cucumber, sweet pickled apple and l horseradish oil. See thelittlechartroom.com.
And unsurprising news that is always worth reporting: the food delivery business Deliveroo reported orders in the UK and Ireland, up 94% in the second quarter of 2021 to 38 million.