6:00pm Thursday 21st July 2011
By Katherine MacAlister
As far as first, second and third impressions go, KATHERINE MACALISTER soon realises she’s hit the jackpot in Witney.
New frock, new heels, yes, I was feeling pretty good as we arrived at The Fleece in Witney on Saturday night... for about five seconds.
Because instead of being met with appreciative glances, I was utterly ignored, and quite rightly so, thanks to the huge crowd of stunning and beautifully dressed men and women thronging around the bar and spilling out on to the tables outside like a swarm of exotic butterflies.
And as I pushed my way through the balldresses to get a drink I felt like Ugly Betty at a supermodel party. It turns out the annual carnival celebrations culminate in a ball and we’d hit Cinderella’s pitstop. But then where else would you go but The Fleece, the classiest and sexiest joint in town.
It’s not just the beautiful but relaxed décor or the external tables framing the church green or the beckoning restaurant at the back, but the complete lack of any pretension and the wonderful feeling of welcome and fun you experience as soon as you walk in the door, that make The Fleece such a special place.
Much of this is down to the manager Suzi, whose beaming smile welcomes all her regulars and guests with an ease that disguises how brilliantly she steers such a bustling hive of a ship.
The butterflies flew off almost as soon as they’d arrived, no doubt to dance the night away, and we were left to have a quick drink at the bar before being led to our table for dinner, where we ordered an excellent bottle of light red and sat back, knowing we were in good hands.
Anyone who’s eaten at a Peach Pub will know the restaurant format, deli boards, fresh fish, salads, pasta and steaks, all using seasonal ingredients and new and interesting recipes. I’d heard the risotto was amazing and having eaten a picnic lunch and cream tea already (don’t!), opted for the superfood salad of feta, avocado, broad beans, baby leaves, quinoa, orange & shallot dressing (£6.50) to start, whose vinaigrette made it much more delicious and less virtuous than it sounds.
The courgette and slow-roasted tomato carnaroli risotto, (£11.50) was the perfect follow-up and my friend marvelled over her choice from the specials board – brill with vegetable fricassee and courgette spaghetti – a light tasty fish, with a rich sauce whose flavour was packed into every mouthful.
The portions weren’t large enough to deter us from dessert, and I simply had to have the treacle tart. When the waitress said they’d just sold the last piece I could have cried and couldn’t be persuaded to try anything else, but helped my friend nibble at the cheese board (£6.75), (you choose three cheeses from a larger selection), with up-market chutney and biscuits. A nice touch.
And then our waitress reappeared, like a fairy godmother, (perhaps she was on her way to the ball) beaming from ear-to-ear with news that a new treacle tart (£5.50) had just emerged freshly baked out of the oven and would I mind a warm piece?
Is the Pope a Catholic? It was every bit as good as I’d imagined, and the perfect conclusion to a gentle, but wonderfully complete meal.
And instead of going home, we were enticed back to the bar by the laughter and easy atmosphere which pervaded round the corner, where we chatted with the locals over more Grand Marnier than I care to remember, made lots of new friends, including several of the butterflies on the way back to their chrysalises, until the early hours.
And as we wound our merry way home I reflected on how lucky Witney was, not just to have such an active social community, but such a great central hub of a pub.
* The Fleece is at 11 Church Green, Witney, OX28 4AZ.
Call 01993 892270.
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