The Boxing Hare: A Foodie’s Pub in Chipping Norton
But where do you find a proper foodie pub? One offering more than the standard pub grub or Sunday lunch? A place where you’d celebrate a special birthday with friends and family and splash out on a decent bottle of wine?
When an invitation landed in my inbox to review The Boxing Hare in Swerford, I was hot on the foodie trail. Over the last two years, this Chipping Norton pub has quietly earned a reputation as a gastro gem and gained a loyal clientele.
Food lovers, it didn’t disappoint. Book a table and put it in your sat nav for your next visit. This gastro pub (sadly, one without the rooms to rest your weary head), is worthy of a delicious detour.
A Cotswolds Gastro Pub With Culinary Credentials
It’s a brave choice to take on a roadside pub. The former Masons Arms (once a masonic lodge) – now renamed The Boxing Hare – resides on the A361 connecting Chipping Norton to Banbury. The pub’s clever transformation over the past two years, is down to the nous of its new owners – restaurateur, Anthony Griffith Harris and his partner, former actress, Stacey C Elder.
When they moved to the Cotswolds, they brought with them serious culinary credentials. For over thirty years, Anthony had run restaurants in London including the Canal Brasserie and the First Floor Restaurant and Private Dining Rooms in Notting Hill.
Location-wise, The Boxing Hare is 5 miles from Chipping Norton and conveniently, just a short drive from Soho Farmhouse. With Daylesford Organic Farm in Kingham a 10-mile drive away, it attracts both local regulars and weekenders.
When out-of-town Londoners tire of kale smoothies and superfood salads, they can gravitate to this family-friendly, dog-friendly pub for a slap up Sunday roast with all the trimmings (try the rib rack of Cotswold lamb). It’s celeb friendly, too and rumoured to be a favourite of the Beckhams who live nearby.
Cleverly, they’ve kept popular pub classics on the menu – burgers, Hooky-battered fish & chips, and sausages and mash. For mid week diners a Prix Fixe menu, offering two courses for £17.50 (£5 for pudding), represents excellent value for money.
Modern Country Interiors
Inside several dining areas, including a spacious conservatory, all lend themselves to group dining. Outside, there’s a garden and tables with a view of the rolling north Oxfordshire countryside.
For a romantic meal, nab the table for two by the fireside. After dinner you can retreat to another cosy nook in the bar next to a woodburner.
Interiors are modern country with pale blue walls and rustic wooden floors, tables and chairs. Orchids and pot plants provide greenery while garlands of dried hops hang from the ceiling beams interspersed with twinkly lights.
Candelabra, crushed velvet curtains and quirky accents add a touch of glamour and fun. Carnivores will clock the 70 day dry-aged steak hanging in the fridge (a 30oz cote de boeuf for two to share will set you back £68, a 10oz rib-eye steak £30).
A Marriage of Great Taste
In the kitchen, another dynamic duo is at the helm – head chef Nicholas Anderson (who previously worked with Anthony in London), and his sous chef wife, Kate.
A two-time Michelin star and 3 AA rosette winner, Nicholas met Kate while working at The Bell in Hampton Poyle. Herself, an accomplished pastry chef, Kate began her career at Oxford’s Old Parsonage hotel and later moved to the Nut Tree, a Michelin-starred pub in Murcot, near Bicester.
Soufflé, So Good
With such a backstory, expectations ran high when I visited on a rainy January night. Not surprisingly for midweek dining in the country, the restaurant was quiet but the welcome warm and the service attentive. It’s not hard to imagine the place at weekends full of the chatter of family and friends catching up over a relaxing meal together.
Forks at the ready, we dived into our appetisers with gusto. A twice-baked cave-aged Cheddar soufflé with spinach and parmesan was a creamy, light and comforting dish, perfect for a cold winter’s night. It was so good that each mouthful was carefully shared out between us.
The Cotswold gin and beetroot-cured sea trout with cucumber salad offered a refreshing taste of the sea with its Nordic-inspired sweet dill & mustard dressing.
In fact, the long list of appetisers was so appealing, we noticed other diners ordering two instead of a main course. Perhaps they were trying to control January waistlines but more probably, they were seduced by interesting combinations such as Ecuadorian white prawn fritters with saffron aioli and lime.
Seasonal Country Dining
For my guest, a main course followed of perfectly cooked smoked haddock on a bed of spinach topped with a poached egg and accompanied by a tangy mustard sauce.
For me, a plate of seasonal pan-roasted venison loin served with dauphinoise potatoes, red cabbage, roasted beetroot and a red wine jus. Earthy, satisfying and rich. Partnered with a glass of merlot, this was winter country dining at its best.
Whatever you do, make sure you leave ample room for dessert. Beautifully presented, these are Kate’s speciality and are definitely not your average pub puddings.
Homemade ice cream comes in interesting flavour combinations including prune and Armagnac. A chocolate fondant is served with a salted caramel sauce topped with a chocolately almond crumb.
Expect the conversation to stop flowing as you savour every last morsel.
By all means choose the affogato (always an excellent way to end a meal if you’re feeling full), but you’d be seriously missing out.
- Beer explorers can do a brewery tour and beer tasting at Hook Norton Brewery (2 miles away)
- Shop for local produce at Chipping Norton’s farmer’s market (every third Saturday of the month, mornings only)
- Do a cookery course at Daylesford Organic Cookery School in Kingham (10 miles away)
- Go for afternoon tea in a yurt at Nicholsons plant centre in North Aston (booking required, 8 miles away)
- Fancy something stronger? Tour The Cotswold Distillery to taste Cotswold Dry gin (8 miles away)
- Learn to bake real bread with Bakergirl at their Bakehouse in Wroxton
How to Find The Boxing Hare
The Boxing Hare, Banbury Road, Swerford, Oxfordshire OX7 4AP
Tel: 01608 683212
The Foodie Travel Guide
Sally is the founder and editor of The Foodie Travel Guide. She travels around the UK and beyond in search of the best foodie days out, tasting experiences and delicious places to stay. She loves a glass of English sparkling wine, afternoon tea with friends and escaping London for gastronomic adventures.
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