Once Charlie and Kelly left the Samuel Fox (who can now be found here by the way) I kind of just wrote the place off, especially as I was beginning to hear some not so good reports about the food there. But then an email from the new owner (and chef) James Duckett landed in my inbox. It told me that James has worked under Albert Roux, Michel Roux Jnr and Marcus Wareing and suddenly the Samuel Fox returned to the ‘to do’ list.
On our first visit I started with leek soup, potato, cheddar and soft quail’s egg (£5.50). The syntax of the dish’s description intrigued me and I was glad when I wasn’t served up a bog standard leek & potato soup. Creamy leek soup served with some slices of potato, topped with a quail’s egg with black sesame seeds scattered on top did not disappoint. It looked so pretty that I almost didn’t want to dig in and bizarrely I was actually really pleased to see that the egg was soft rather than runny as I actually didn’t want to lose all the yolk in the soup. Thinking back I don’t recall there being any cheese, but maybe I just hadn’t picked the flavour out; in any event I didn’t miss it. Gav had the chickpea fritters (£6.75). The fritters were quite similar in taste and texture to falafel and they were nicely spiced with cumin and coriander. Served with a spiced aubergine and yoghurt dressing Gav really enjoyed the dish.
On our second visit, it was clear that the soup had really impressed as Gav ordered a bowl for himself. I chose the braised rice (or risotto to you and me) with butternut squash, Blacksticks blue cheese and sage, on the basis that I knew the flavours worked well together. Again, the plate looked good with small chunks of butternut squash coloured cheese hiding amongst the vegetable proving for some deliciously surprising mouthfuls. Our friends also had the risotto and the rabbit and ham hock terrine (£7.50). I didn’t get to try any of the terrine, but it looked quite meaty and like something that I would enjoy. I did, however, try some of the brioche served with it and, oh my, it was as light as air and pretty amazing to be honest!
On our second visit we both went for the hanger steak (£16.50) and I think we both now accept that this was a mistake. There was nothing wrong with the dish (the chips were perfect and the cep cream was a new one for me), but given the mains we’d enjoyed on our first visit, the steak option was just a bit safe. And although I cleared my plate, I couldn’t help but feel a little jealous of our friends who had gone with bream and that delicious pheasant dish.
Sweet fans will be glad to know that the kitchen’s talents are not limited to the savoury courses. On our first trip I had the lemon posset with berries and brioche donughts (£6.50). The posset was good and zesty; just how I like it. But the real highlight for me was the side of brioche donughts. They were quite salty which pleased my savoury tooth and they had a great texture thanks to a crispy outer layer. Gav had the sticky toffee pudding (£6.50), an old favourite of his. The sponge was light leaving the thick and sticky sauce to do the talking and I’m glad to say that he wasn’t disappointed; in fact he enjoyed it so much that he had it on his second visit too.
I, on the other hand, went for the cheese course (£8.50). I didn’t actually want it, or need it, as I was well and truly stuffed, but I was egged on by one of our friends who just doesn’t get the concept of having cheese for dessert! I was served a selection of Blacksticks Blue, a brie and a strong cheddar along with some savoury biscuits, which I think were handmade, a chutney and a few grapes. It was everything you wanted in a cheese board, and in all fairness, the portion was big enough for a decent lunch so I was able to share it with everyone (including he who had criticised my choice!).
On both occasions we’d had Nero d’Avola which is priced at a reasonable £16 per bottle and I think that wine fans will be quite happy with the list as there’s a fair bit of choice on there. On the other hand beer lovers will be pleased to see Bradfield Brewery on the bar.
Both trips had served us well; food was stylish, but with substance and very reasonably priced. Service was good; James had inherited a waitress from the days of Charlie and Kelly and she is sweet, friendly and efficient. Although a new waiter was a little nervous when we visited, he was chatty and enthusiastic which is all a diner can ask.
So, once again, the Samuel Fox is a decent dining option and one that I’ll recommend to anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of a drive out of town. I’ll be keeping an eye on the place, as I suspect that James has some interesting plans for the place and I’m sure that I’ll be returning one day…