Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Nut Tree

Kitchen pans - The Nut TreeBut hush - Earth's valleys sweet in leisure lie;
And I among them wandering up and down
Will taste their berries, like the bird or fly,
And of their gleanings make both feast and crown.

Harvest - Edmund Blunden

With a mix of unintended but welcome British artists and eclectic groups from the States, the drive to Oxfordshire can only be described as restful. Sensitive to J-Mac's mellower predilections, I selected tunes aimed to soothe but not lull him to sleep behind the wheel. Once clear of Heathrow, one enters a landscape of rolling fields bordered by woods, and trim little hamlets. Elbow, Adele, Morrissey, Billy Bragg, and Bob Mould serenaded us along our scenic way.
Arriving at Charlton-on-Otmoor, I was introduced to our hostess, Jude. She was a pure delight. She is one of those classically British women who must have nobility somewhere in the family tree. There was a casual elegance about her accompanied by that tireless wit which only a Brit possesses in any great measure. She could not have been a more welcoming host. I have a hard time of it around new people. I am petrified of doing something completely inappropriate and thus sealing my fate as the unwelcome intruder. It took all of eleven seconds (I clocked it) for Jude to make me feel completely at ease.
Over a glass of wine, Jude and J-Mac caught up. She directed questions my way and seemed genuinely interested in hearing the answers. She wanted to know all about my trip, and when the conversation got around to You Gonna Finish That?, she began to talk excitedly about our dinner plans. Up to that point, I had been expecting a quaint meal of roast beast and pudding accompanied by cool ales or a claret at the local pub. I was laughably uninformed.
The Nut Tree
From all outward appearances, The Nut Tree is simply a traditional village pub in the English countryside. And to be sure, the denizens do frequent the bar for a pint or two after a hard day in the fields. Once one enters the dining area, however, all similarities to your local watering hole end.
Along with partner Imogen Young, Chef Mike North - already a darling of Britain's hospitality industry - opened the Nut Tree in January of 2007. Raised in the area, North had always dreamed of owning the Nut Tree. In 2005, at age 25, North made headlines as one of the youngest Michelin starred chefs at the Goose in nearby Britwell Salome. Lightning struck again when, this past January, Mike and Imogen were awarded another Michelin star at the Nut Tree.
The Nut Tree Degustation Menu

Ballottine of foie gras with cherries and fresh almond

Grilled diver-caught scallop with lemon curd and fennel salad

Pavé of Nut Tree smoked Orkney salmon with whipped horseradish cream, Avruga caviar

Risotto of wild mushrooms with Parmigiano-Reggiano and summer truffle

Grilled fillet of aged Oxfordshire beef with triple cooked chips, baked tomato, onion rings

Roast breast of Barbary duck with sautéed Jersey Royals

Pan-fried fillet of seabream with crushed Jersey Royals and confit tomatoes

Raspberry soufflé with raspberry sorbet

Sticky toffee pudding with caramelised apple tart and praline ice cream

Bitter chocolate tart with almond milk ice cream

Vanilla crème brûlée
Jersey Royals in expert hands - The Nut TreePurée of zucchini soup - The Nut Tree
Ballottine of foie gras with cherries and fresh almond - The Nut TreeGrilled diver-caught scallops - The Nut Tree
Pavé of Nut Tree smoked Orkney salmon - The Nut TreeGrille fillet of aged Oxfordshire beef - The Nut Tree
Baked cherry tomatoes - The Nut TreeSticky toffee pudding - The Nut Tree
I will dispense with all my usual histrionics when excited. Without exaggeration, the tasting we experienced at the Nut Tree was, unreservedly, the best meal I have ever had. Ever. Meats were perfectly grilled, the sauces flawless, seasonings were expertly balanced throughout. Chef North and his staff executed presentation exceptionally well. Between courses, Imogen or one of her young hostesses came to the table to make sure everything was going well. They were all effortlessly charming. At one point Imogen hefted out the Catey Award the Nut Tree had just won for Best Newcomer. The Catey is Britain's culinary equivalent to our Oscar. It's a tremendous achievement.
The staff at the Nut Tree
Finally, lingering over our port and dessert wines, Chef Mike came out to receive his well-deserved praises. We talked over top of one another like starlings, trying to out do each other in our adoration. I must admit, he took it most graciously. Imogen and Mike are Hospitality's Ideal. Mike is unassuming and wants only to find the best ingredients, and prepare them the best he can. Imogen runs the front of the house like your favorite luxury hotel. Her enthusiasm as hostess is genuine and infectious. They've both worked very hard to get where they are today. They deserve every success.
The Nut Tree
Main Street, Murcott, Oxon, OX5 2RE
United Kingdom
01865 331253
Dining Room
Monday - Saturday
Lunch 12noon - 2.30pm
Dinner 7pm - 9pm

Lunch 12noon - 3pm

Reservations recommended
There was a trip to the city of Oxford the next day with a soggy tour of some of the colleges and lots of photos of Tudor and Edwardian architecture. There was a rather underwhelming lunch at Jamie Oliver's restaurant, Jamie's Italian (although the mushrooms and scamorza cheese appetizer was outstanding). I couldn't have ended my visit to Britain on a higher note than the Nut Tree though. It would not be possible. I too now sing the praises of England's cookery. The entire encounter was a revelation, one I'll treasure always. As they say, if you're ever in the neighborhood...
Hanging pots - The Nut Tree
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
All photos generously provided by Judith Ghilks, with my gratitude.

1 comment:

Jeff (UK) said...

The food was bliss. The company perfect. "Like starlings"? Apt I'm afraid - but pleased you've been converted to the surprises of British cooking. Hope that you'll come back for more.