WE needed an excuse to move further afield from the county town to discover more of Northamptonshire’s culinary hot-spots.
When the in-laws decided, well in advance of their dotage, to move to Norfolk, a suitable meeting point for lunch needed to be established, to save on excuses for not visiting more often.
A good reason then to try out the much lauded Tap and Kitchen at Oundle, about halfway-ish between them and us.
The T&K isn’t so what you’d expect in your usual riverside-gastropub – no historic thatched hostelry here – more an odd industrial-looking barn in a corner of a sports field, albeit that happens to be beside the Nene.
Inside its odder still; a big shed on levels, with flocked wallpaper and eye-popping carpet, with big wooden tables and paraphernalia on the walls that confuses: is it an old ‘50s station waiting room? Post-industrial mock-hipster? Whatever. Good loos though.
The food is what we came for – and there’s an ambitious daily menu update, so whatever we had may not be the same when you visit. But I’ll tell you anyway, y’know, as it’s a review an’ that.
The impressive menu makes a point of sourcing locally, and it does a magnificent job, giving detailed provenance on all areas of the menu.
Our party began with starters of King Scallops with corn and mango dressing and parmesan crumb (you got about four), charred baby gem lettuce Caesar salad and local home cured ham with mulled wine peaches. So far, so much posher than garlic dough-balls.
Mains options included more conventional salad, sandwich and pizza options, but all a touch grander than your Friday night Deliveroo, where you’re less likely to find salt beef in locally-baked sourdough or fennel, balsamic beetroot and caramelised orange. The meat and fish options that tempted our party were the 10oz hanger steak, with an acidic chimmicurri pot and a pile of watercress; pork belly with blue cheese boxty (a sort of potato cake) and red cabbage; and Atlantic Coley, with cauliflower, olives, peas, broad beans and sweetcorn with herb oil. Our teens chose burgers and pizzas.
While the meat dishes went down a storm, and would have horrified any nearby vegetarians (who are very well catered for on the menu, incidentally), the fish dish did not work as well. After much cajoling, the diner finally admitted she just didn’t like it., and found it dry and tasteless.
The service up until this point hadn’t been particularly rapid, but as soon as our waiter realised something wasn’t right, he flew into action, apologised and offered a replacement. This time it was a spiced cauliflower starter with cannellini bean mash, peanut pesto and crispy shallots. They took both dishes off the bill. Was it just the odd combination that didn’t quite work? They dealt with it well.
The criticism I would raise is the additional £4 charge for each side-dish – you did need them and it felt a lot on top of the £19 steaks, even if they were very good hand-cut chips. The panache of buttery greens was also lovely, although I’d probably just call it a bowl.
The desserts are very good – and reasonably priced at around the six quid mark and I’d heartily recommend the lemon posset or Eton mess pots with shortbread on the side. I’d find an excuse to stop for a coffee and a repeat of those any day.
The final bill was around £35 a head before drinks. Yes, that’s a fair whack when there’s lots of you, but there is a very reasonable set menu for lunch at three courses for just £15, and a well-thought out children’s menu, (we just ended up being a bit more random with our choices). I particularly favour the attitude of whoever wrote: ‘Any unattended children will be fed Skittles and Espressos…
You can see why the Tap and Kitchen has attracted diners from further afield – yes, it’s an odd building, and no, we didn’t get to sit out by the river in the sunshine with a sample of their own-brand beer, which I’m told is a treat worth having. Maybe we’ll need to visit the in-laws more often.