For those of you who aren’t familiar with Worminghall, this village sits in the far outreaches of Oxfordshire, straddling the border between Oxon and Bucks. Having grown up in one of the neighbouring villages I was aware of The Clifden Arms, a fantastic 16th century thatched pub with a sound reputation, but had not ventured out to eat there since Matthew and Kate Butcher took over in 2011.
However, I had viewed the menu with admiring glances perceiving that it might just be a little expensive for a meal out but always off-setting this thought against the knowledge that Matthew has a fine pedigree having worked at Michelin Star venues including Le Manoir. Consequently the pub was on my ‘to do’ list when the opportunity presented itself.
On arrival inside the pub I was greeted with a cheery array of locals consuming ale and chatting the night away. This for me is always a good sign that a pub hasn’t forgotten what it is, an easy mistake to make in the era of gastronomy in public houses. To marry gastronomy and a public house is a skill, which was already on view as we arrived. This was confirmed when being seated in the restaurant, with classic country style furnishings and feel immediately providing that country inn setting that so many pubs try to establish and fail at. However, this all counts for nothing if the food doesn’t hit the mark.
So, with this in mind, I keenly surveyed the menu and decided to try the ‘Citrus Cured Bass, Lemongrass Miso Broth, Brown Shrimps & Asparagus’ – £7.00. (Below)
This starter was presented enticingly but also was a constructed with the craft, care and attention to the finer nuances you would expect from a Chef with an excellent reputation. Needless to say, all the flavours worked and it tasted exceptional.
For main course, I decided I wanted to try something wholesome and therefore decided to go with the ‘Seared Rib of Beef, Parsnip Mash, Green Beans, Mustard Caramelised Onions and Red Wine Sauce’ – £17.50. Again, this was everything I hoped for and more. The beef was cooked with the kind of care and attention a craftsman dedicates to his work. (below)
So we were on a roll, 2 out 3 executed to perfection by the pub but we needed something to finish with, that was on a par with the first two courses and decided to try the ‘Peanut Butter Iced Parfait, Caramel Hazelnuts, Banana Crisps’ – £5.50 (below). Wow. This was a showstopper. I am not a huge deserts person, but this may well have just set the bar and provided the yardstick for me to judge other deserts with. I don’t think I need to say much more than this just works magnificently. Texture, flavour, craft – this is gastronomy in action.
You can probably tell I enjoyed this one. This venue is a class above a lot of the pubs in Oxfordshire. Yes it is slightly more expensive but with good reason, the class of food and the level of work on offer. The service is attentive but not too fussy, the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming and the food is top drawer. It is also worth noting that if you do just want a pub classic there is a a range of meals available to suit a budget, including the excellent burger for £9.50 which we also tried. (pictured with main)
Ultimately, this is a pub you need to try. It is somewhere to go for a meal where all the hallmarks of top level cooking are on display or just enjoy a pub classic. They also have a fine selection of ales, including Doombar, and a ping-pong table in the garden to entertain the kids (and adults!).
Food Of The Ox Rating: 9.5