Katherine MacAlister visits the revamped General Eliott pub and discovers miracles have been taking place
We had definitely gone the wrong way – off the A34 just before Oxford, through the village of South Hinksey and onwards, towards nothing but a muddy country lane and dirt track – and then bam, we popped out in front of a pub.
No ordinary pub of course because this is The General Eliott, which has made a big splash on Oxford’s culinary scene, not least because it was utterly derelict until quite recently and has been given a new lease of life by local Helen Hazlewood.
That she and her husband Cass have done it up and reopened it is a miracle in itself, not least because they aren’t landlords, but used to walk their dogs past the abandoned inn, and secondly because they’ve done such an amazing job in a climate where pubs are closing left, right and centre.
That it’s working is positively inspiring, considering The General Eliott is in the middle of nowhere and frequented more by walkers and cyclists than motorists.
Not tonight though Josephine, and not in these shoes.
There’s clearly been ‘work done’ when you arrive, like an old friend with a facelift, all the signs are there, a new cordoned off car park and outdoor patio area that in summer will really come into its own, but with the frost descending we gladly rushed into the pub and huddled at the bar, taking in the refurbed decor and happy punters.
We were seated by the fire at a lovely corner table and presented with the menus, offering good traditional pub grub – sausage and mash, ham, egg and chips, steak pie, fish and chips, steak, burgers – but I wasn’t expecting much. How good could it be having just opened?
Blooming brilliant is the answer, right from the moment our starters arrived. Just writing about it is enough to make me salivate. The posh mushrooms in a creamy blue cheese sauce on toast (£6.75) were rich and salty and juicy with enough sauce to soak into the home-made bread beneath. The bread actually merits a mention all of its own and was so moreish that Mr Greedy had to physically remove the bread basket from me.
The soup – cream of celery – was fresh and light with a wonderful depth of flavour (£6) and the goats cheese tartlet with onion marmalade and salad garnish (£6.75) a fresh, generous portion.
The accompanying wine is mainly sourced by Oxford Wine Company, meaning the pub has a fabulous wine list, as well as lots of local beer.
What Helen doesn’t know she outsources to the experts which is why the cheeseboard was so good, I might even proffer the best ever, hailing as it did from the Oxford Cheese Company in the Covered Market.
But I’m getting ahead of myself by two courses. Back to the food.
Next up, fresh from the oven, homemade beef and ale pie, with seasonal veg, buttered potatoes and mash (£11.50) which oozed gravy through the flaky pastry, divine.
The General Eliott burger was equally impressive, coming with all the trimmings and cooked just right for £11.95 with chips. The rump steak (£14.75), a special which came with everything you would expect, was slightly overcooked, but the spinach and stilton tart made up for it, arriving splayed like a filo lotus flower covered with sliced hazelnuts and oozing with earthy goodness.
How we could possibly manage dessert after all that I have no idea, but thank God we persevered because head chef Paul Dixon saved the best bit til last – the rich chocolate brownie with ice cream (£6.95), immersing me in a cloud of rich, chewy gorgeousness. The sticky toffee pudding (£6.95) was a sure thing, living right up to expectations. Cheese, coffee, exit.
If I had to make a criticism it’s that I didn’t like the cutlery, it cut into the hand, one of my pet hates. But if it’s the only means of eating Paul Dixon’s wonderful food, one I’m happy to overlook. In fact I’d eat it with my bare hands if I had to.
So a massive well done to Helen, who has provided the kind of local pub I’d happily sell one of my organs for. Devilled kidneys, anyone?
The General Eliott, 37 Manor Road, South Hinksey, Oxford
01865 608567 firstname.lastname@example.org