Raymond Blanc - My favourite Sunday lunch spot

12 August 2018

The Sir Charles Napier, near Oxford, is one of my favourite places to enjoy a long, long lunch with my two sons, Sebastian and Oli, and friends. It has a fantastic atmosphere; I feel so relaxed and at home. The restaurant has a great team, the food is wonderful and the gardens are beautiful - vast and so well-maintained. Sunday roasts at this place are a particular favourite for me.

Garden

Tom Parker Bowles
Lunch fit for a hero of the Empire

18 August 2018

There’s a statue of Napier in Trafalgar Square, and a New Zealand town named in his honour. There are also ten or so pubs, one of which, The Sir Charles Napier in Sprigs Holly, Oxfordshire, is a red-brick, wood-beamed place far removed from the hurly-burly of dusty battle and an empire long passed. Deep in the Chiltern Hills, it has an exuberantly flowering garden, where oversized bronze foxes and snails gaze out over an immaculate lawn. We drink pints of local IPA, as small planes scrawl vapour trails across brilliant blue skies, their low drone melding with the growl of distant tractors.

We move, as slowly as those gastropods, from garden bench to small wooden table, in the cool shade of the trellis. And eat fat strands of immaculate crab, picked that morning, fresh as a saline-scented breeze. The delicacy of the white meat offers sweet contrast to the marvellously murky depth of a brown crab mayonnaise. There’s a sly honk of horseradish, and intense tomato consommé that seems to contain the very essence of southern summer.

Sara’s salmon reminds me quite how beautiful the fish can be, all gentle cured, vivid amber translucence, coated in a slip of herbs. A lone asparagus adds a last gasp of late spring, the splodge of Avruga caviar a gentle salty kick. It’s a dish of immaculate poise and balance, as pretty as a Fabergé brooch. Even chicken, one of those meats I tend to avoid in restaurants unless it’s deep fried and squawking with chilli, is memorable, poached soft and tasting of a life well lived. The sauce, spiked with vin jaune, is both rich as a Home Counties Porsche dealer and as light as the cut of his jib. Morels add honeycombed extravagance, Jersey royals their ephemeral scent of virgin soil. Like the salmon, this is English summer deluxe, cooked with the most delicate of hands.

When it comes to the steak, though, there’s no mucking about: a great hunk of chewy, well-bred rump, cooked rare and oozing macho minerality. Big fat chips beg to be dunked in a peppery salsa verde, while onion wings are clad in the most billowing of batters. As for a side order of braised baby gem with crisp chicken skin… it’s what every side dish should dream of being when it grows up. Service is as sweet as the home-made ice cream. So yup, this is a gastropub, albeit one wearing handmade Lobbs. And like its namesake, it melds the traditional with the quietly modern. It’s a lunch worthy of this exquisite English country garden. Sir Charles would be proud.

The Independent

Top 10 Stylish Haunts - This is an old-fashioned inn that just happens to serve some of the best food in the county, as well as having the best grounds. The perfect halfway house between urban-floorboard gastropub and twee country ale house.

Tatler Restaurant Guide

Run by the charming Julie Griffiths

The Observer

The Godfather of the gastro-pub revolution.

The Guardian - Matthew Fort

Lost in the trackless wastes of Oxfordshire, but well worth the search.

Oxford Mail

It’s possible some people might prefer the kitchen view to facing the naked lady whose private parts are right at eye level.

Will Self

Napier was the man who, after relieving the siege of Sind, sent Queen Victoria a telegram reading simply ‘peccavi’ or I have sinned.

The Sunday Telegraph

The Sir Charles Napier has oodles of understated charisma.