Over the years I’ve seen lots of pubs position themselves as gastropubs at the expense of the pub bit. For me, that’s always a shame because a pub captures the very essence of Great Britain and although the food bit is also important, this should not overshadow the public house roots, so I was keen to see if a certain gastropub in Witney was doing just that.
Having spent a bit of time in Witney over the years and having drunk at The Fleece, Izzi’s and also the Hollybush I wanted to check in on the latter and find out how it was faring. The pub has enjoyed a solid reputation under current owners Luke and Alex. Luke is the son of the previous owners and previously worked at Jacobs Inn, while Alex used to work at Izzi’s and also Jacobs Inn so both owners come from a culinary background.
The first thing that struck me was the vibe; the pub was busy when we arrived at 7.20 and continued to get busier and busier as the night went on. However, the nice thing was the mix of ages in the pub. The younger drinking crowd seamlessly blended in with the older generation, with both demographics drinking at the front of the pub and also sitting down for meals; already I was feeling at home and that’s before I tucked into a pint of the house ale which was superb (below). The bar-staff are polite, efficient and lively, adding to the positive atmosphere. Once we’d enjoyed our drinks in the bar and soaked up a little of the atmosphere we were seated and talked through the specials by Alex who was knowledgeable and passionate without overdoing it. He struck the right balance in showing us the menu and giving us some insight into the pub, its current setup and the specials.
A gastropub should always major on finer dining, but, like the whole setup, the Hollybush hasn’t forgotten that some pub classics are essential, like fish and chips and my personal favourite pub classic; the burger. So another solid tick in the box for the menu which mixes classic with edgier fine dining food.
Alex had done a solid job on selling us the specials, so my wife decided to opt for the Pan-roasted Scallops, caramlised cauliflower puree, granny smith apple and hazelnuts while I went for the Crispy Cornish lamb belly with mint salsa verde. These starters were light enough to get you teed up for the main event, but tasty enough to get the palet equipped.
For the main event, Mrs Ox opted for the classic burger pitched on the menu simply as “Burger & Chips”. In my eyes that’s a nice touch because you don’t need to wax lyrical about a burger, it shouldn’t be complicated because it’s a warming meal we all know and love and it came with bacon, cheese, tomato and a gherkin; it doesn’t get better than that. Of course, having seen it arrive, I tried a little and it was cooked with the rareness that a burger needs.
So, if one of us had gone down the classic route it was only fair in the spirit of a review for one of us to try the more refined food so I went for the Chorizo Stuffed Rabbit Loin wrapped in smoked Pancetta Heritage Carrots, Cavolo Nero, Toasted Nuts & Seeds. This was presented as gastropub food, tasted like gastropub food and lived up to its billing. I’m a quick eater anyway, but this was devoured in under 5 minutes simply because it was so good.
Chorizo Stuffed Rabbit Loin wrapped in smoked Pancetta Heritage Carrots, Cavolo Nero, Toasted Nuts & Seeds at @hollybush_witney last night #witney #oxfordshire #cotswolds #gastronomy #gastropub #gastro #forkyeah #getinmybelly #eeeeeats #nomnom #nomnomnom #eatingfortheinsta #blogger #foodiegram #foodblogger #pub #restaurant #foodie #foodies #foodoftheox
For pudding, we were talked through some more options by Alex who was more than happy to talk us through some of the other elements of this pub; they have two Saturday football teams who are encouraged to come back to the pub after the game, another nice touch and something which harks back to pubs being parts of their community. Being a footballer and football fan myself, I know this is important because I’ve played for pub teams before and I know how well received this kind of thing is by the teams.
The other thing that Alex touched upon was barn at the back of the pub; a big space for private events and that very evening they were catering for 20. Not only had they squeezed us in at short notice for a table of two in prime-time, the service wasn’t even slightly affected; we didn’t have a clue that a large event was taking place in the pub. This was a surefire sign that they are competent, professional and assured. Once we’d learned a little more about what the Hollybush is, we then listened to Alex’s advice and ordered puddings.
On Alex’s recommendation I chose the Warm Pear & Almond Tart which comes with Cinnamon ice cream and honey while Mrs. Ox went for the Chocolate Fondant which was everything you would expect (runny in the middle & tasty). Both were the a good ending to a great evening.
Sometimes I come away from a meal and think the food was good but the venue OK, or vice versa, but I came away from the Hollybush thinking the whole experience has been carefully thought out and well crafted. With a mixture of young and old revellers, classic and fine dining dishes, great drinks and cocktails and the option to have bigger events alongside normal dining means it’s a venue for any occasion and I urge you to go.
I can’t find fault with my experience, with even the traffic from Oxford to Witney being non-existent, it was a lovely evening.
Food Of The Ox Rating: 9/10