If you have guests from across the pond who want to see (or even stay in) a typical quaint English country pub, the Talkhouse is perfect. With its Cotswold stone exterior, exposed wooden beams and roaring log fires, there's much to like about this cosy, welcoming pub located in Stanton St. John. Does their food live up to this idealistic image?
To start, I opted for the cheese bon bons. The crispy outer coating was pleasant to bite into, and the use of smoked cheese apposed to cheddar was refreshingly different. The salsa accompanying the bon bons provided a much needed freshness - the pomegranate seeds were particularly lovely. As a dish, it did seem like an odd combination of hot and cold elements, which were both nice when consumed separately but a little strange when eaten together.
Companion No. 1 thought that his starter of the wild game and chestnut sausage roll was well seasoned, and bigger than the other starters, which he thought were too small in comparison. Companion No. 2 said his chargrilled squid with broccoli, toasted pine nuts, sweet chilli and crème fraîche was tasty but didn't leave a lasting impression.
Continuing a theme, as my main I chose another fried delight: a smoked haddock and cod fishcake, topped off with a poached egg and parsley sauce. I really enjoyed the presentation of the dish, but was a little concerned that I would be left hungry. Fortunately, the fishcake was crammed tightly with potato and fish, so there was no need to call for chip-shaped reinforcements. The addition of a parsley sauce (in an adorable jug) was a stroke of genius and the egg was poached to perfection.
No. 1 said the hand pressed beef burger was a bit well done for his liking and so it was too dry, but much like the sausage roll it was well seasoned. I tried a little of the meat, which tasted to me like a lamb kofta - amazing! No. 2 said the cod supreme with butterbean and tomato ragout was nicely cooked and the two elements complemented each other well. The portion sizes varied quite a lot, especially in the starters and the mains we tried, so some uniformity between the sizes would be good, even if it's just to make those with smaller portions feel a little less jealous of their fellow diners' generous servings!
Dessert was a playful treat; the chocolate fondant with an orange cream sauce was still gooey in the middle (as it should be) and the dehydrated bits of orange on top added an interesting texture. The chocolate bread and butter pudding came concealed, covered by a milk chocolate shell which melted away when the server poured crème anglaise over it, revealing a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a squidgy bread and butter pudding underneath. It was certainly an impressive looking pudding which disappeared from No.1's bowl at some speed. The coffee ice cream with marinated raisins, a shot of Pedro Ximinez and biscotti was well received by No. 2. I got the sense that this was where the chefs were able to experiment the most with their dishes, trying out different techniques and having fun with it.
Overall we enjoyed the food we were served, which seemed to go from strength to strength with each course, and would happily return for another meal. The service throughout was very accommodating without being overbearing - a tough balance to strike. The bar has a decent selection of Fullers' ales, wines and spirits. We felt very at home in the Talkhouse and decided to extend our evening with a game of Trivial Pursuit by the fire. What a relaxing way to round off a delightful evening out in the countryside.