Review: Katherine MacAlister returns to The Feathered Nest

IT TAKES an intrepid diner to track down The Feathered Nest in Nether Westcote, but take it from me, it’s worth all the map-reading arguments in the world, our satnav taking us round the houses meaning we arrived later than planned.

Revered by those in the know, this foodie destination may be hard to find, hidden away in West Oxfordshire, but thanks to Kuba Winkowski’s deft touch in the kitchen, his fans flock from far and wide.

Which is why on a cold, dreary lunchtime, the historic pub was already buzzing when we arrived, the car park filling up.

On a sunny day, there is nowhere better to eat, its outdoor dining area framed by some wonderful Cotswold views stretching into the distance, a wonderfully relaxing, peaceful and pastoral scene.

Instead, as it was cold, we raced indoors where the fires had been lit. There was a convivial atmosphere and an air of expectation which always signals that great things are to come. Having dined there four years ago, I understood why.

Kuba’s food deserves a hush, all due respect descending as soon as we were seated in the charming conservatory.

There are numerous options to choose from: the ‘nest menu’ offering a choice of four to six dishes with matching wine flights if required, a matching vegetarian offering at the same price (four dishes £65, six for £95). Both are essentially a new take on the traditional tasting menu, allowing you to opt in and out on the number of courses required and their contents, dependent on your appetite, and wallet, plus a three-course set lunch for £38.

At least tasting menus dictate what to have. Kuba’s offerings give you a choice, and as each entry sounded utterly delectable, it was hard to make a decision.

This was largely due to the way the menu was set out, each dish titled, with its main ingredients underneath, leaving its concoction and construction to the imagination. Take the first course we ordered, simply marked as ‘asparagus – onion, hazelnut and parmesan.’

After much toing and froing, we drew a line in the sand and decided on the four courses as it was lunchtime.

In terms of quantity however, throw in the amuse bouche and the heinously good home-made bread and you are set up for a feast of unimaginable proportions.

Because Kuba’s sleight of hand, and dedication to the cause is evident from the very first moment, when our wild garlic soup was served, each tiny sip entirely encompassing the spring abounding through the windows.

We followed this with said asparagus, the cauliflower (agnoletti, cheddar, nutmeg), scallop (air dried ham, escabeche), and the guinea fowl (morels, egg yolk and ramsons), cue much googling.

Ramsoms is another name for wild garlic, agnoletti is a kind of pasta and escabeche means tapas. Who knew?

The asparagus was a must, it being so seasonal. It arrived resplendently erect, with a perfect glistening egg yolk, hazelnut crumb and a mushroom ketchup that defied belief. I had to sit on my hands to prevent my fingers wiping up the last smears on the plate.

The scallop was served retro style in its shell, reminiscent of the one my parents kept in their bathroom in the 70s, alongside their macrame plant holder. It wasn’t overly mucked about with, no fussing, the scallop left to reign supreme, with a wonderful Hispanic kick.

The cauliflower, which is enjoying a huge culinary renaissance at the moment, was too pretty to eat, and yet the petite pasta parcels hidden under the cheese crisps, hid an enclosed, soft, delectable cauliflower cheese, mixed with wild garlic and spinach. Like the Russian matryoshka doll, every time you took off a layer, a new one emerged, as intricate as the first, a wonder to behold.

The rich and succulent guinea fowl enlivened with a thick, creamy earthy woodland sauce, deserved a moment of silence, although perhaps two egg yolks in one meal was a bit much.

Dessert was easy – it had to be the rhubarb with blood orange and ginger nut (as pictured), whose presentation and strong, silky taste of the poached rhubarb was set off by the tang of sorbet and crunch of biscuit.

Yet the Valrhona Chocolate won hands down, with its peanut, Horlicks and vanilla side kicks – soft, melting and perfectly pitched, not too sweet, bitter or solid.

Yes, just right.

We pushed the cheese around the plate, the only false note of the meal, there being no contrasting varieties, the strong over-powering flavours needing a gentler contrast.

Haring back through the countryside, like Alice emerging from her rabbit hole, we were thrust back out into the real world, trying to process the sheer effrontery and magic emanating from The Feathered Nest, caring little which route we took, as long as one day we could return.