The Mole at Toot Baldon, Oxfordshire

I am sad to admit that the term ‘gastropub’ now fills me with disappointment. What once was an expression of great food in a cosy pub has now become a bucket term for all pubs serving food no matter how good or bad. Our last pub meal was a real disappointment so it was with some trepidation that we set off for a pub meal after work yesterday evening. We had a delivery to drop to Keble College in Oxford and so we headed to The Mole at about 7pm.

Toot Baldon is a picturesque village on a common, typical of Oxfordshire. It’s a short drive from the main road through Nuneham Courtenay out of East Oxford towards Henley and Reading. Mere moments from Abingdon. Food is served lunchtime and evenings and the pub has a great reputation in Oxfordshire.

We walked in, from the bitter cold, to a lovely warm welcome. The staff were friendly and personal and showed us to a table (we’d sort of mis-booked!) in a lovely cosy corner of the beautiful beamed pub. I ordered a prosecco and Mum ordered a freshly pressed orange juice. It’s not often that we get such exciting trips out so we both spent a long time umming and ahhing over the menu and deciding what we’d like and in what order.

I thought I might have a couple of things from the Specials, the ham knuckle, poached egg and black pudding (about £5) being seriously tempting, and the pork with apple fritters (in the region of £15) being something I thought I’d really enjoy. I also considered the rillette (£6.50), from the starters, and the cod but eventually settled on the calamari, also from the starters, Baby Squid Calamari with aioli and rocket (£7.50 sml, £14.50 lrg). I had a serious craving for something green so I also ordered the house salad with house dressing (£3.50) and the fat chips (£4) because I’d have been desperately sad without them! The Mole’s starters are all available in main course size which is a nice touch as it allows to have something lighter. Mum dithered between the Saltmarsh lamb (£16.95) and the cod, finally settling on the Roast cod with Lime Creamed Spinach and Garlic and Rosemary New Potatoes (£16.50).

We chatted for about 15 minutes and our meals arrived looking delicious. I managed to hold Mum off her food for a couple of minutes so I could take a photograph.

Mum’s verdict on her cod: She doesn’t like fish skin unless it’s crispy crispy and this was perfectly crispy. In fact so crispy, she named it twice. The fish was a huge piece and flaky and thick and went perfectly with the creamy sauce beneath. The spinach was perfectly cooked and the potatoes could have fed a whole army. She announced that she didn’t hold with putting things like a sun dried tomato on top of dishes but it worked really well with the dish because it lent a tartness to it and brought all the flavours together. I stole some, oh it’s bliss eating out with parents who think nothing of an intrusive fork into their meal, and it was absolutely delicious. The lime stopping it all from being too fishy and the spinach was bliss. I love spinach.

Perfect calamari needs two things: firstly to have a viciously crunchy outside coating and secondly to have an inside as soft as butter. This was both. The tentacles and the rings of squid were lovely and fresh and were coated in a good thick breadcrumb. The aioli had the perfect amount of garlic to go perfectly with the fish (is a squid a fish or a shellfish?)..

The house salad and the chips were enormous as was all of the other food we saw being brought out. This is a place where you get plenty of food on your plate. Since when did good food equate to meanness with portions?! The house salad was simple but beautifully presented and fresh and crunchy and the picture below doesn’t do the chips justice. Fluffy on the inside, jaggedly crunchy on the outside, they were seriously moreish.

I nipped off to the loo at this juncture and I must say what nice loos they were. Snigger on, those of you in the back seats, but these things are important. I always remember my father having a map of the Norfolk Broads with nice loos marked on it!

When I returned, we had a look at the puddings and I was going to give it a miss but my meal so far had been so nice and I had been so impressed by the honest, good food, I decided to add a pudding to the evening.

Mum and I agreed to share a mango and passion fruit pavlova (£6.50) as the freshness of the fruit appealed although the sticky toffee pudding, chocolate tart with orange cream and the trio of creme brulees from the specials menu sounded pretty good too. The girl who took our order gave the choice a thumbs up which is either a canny piece of customer service or a sign we made a good decision, I hope it was the latter.

The plate arrived and again, it was enormous. A large disc of meringue, topped in fresh cream and then lashings of mango and passionfruit. It was deliciously simple and simply delicious and we agreed that this was the perfect kind of supper out. We weren’t too full or too impoverished by the bill. The staff as we paid were falling over themselves to help and we’re going back next Wednesday for a staff night from the shop. I have only just officially become a staff member again but wild horses, or moles, couldn’t drag me from coming again so soon!

So are there any ‘gastropubs’ (gasp at the phrase) that you would recommend? Will travel. Must eat.

The Mole Inn at Toot Baldon, Toot Baldon, Oxford, OX44 9NG. 01865 340 001. http://moleinntootbaldon.co.uk/

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