Review: Feathered Nest, Nether Westcote, Oxon. (Mar 2020)

feathered nest ext

The Feathered Nest, a food-led restaurant with rooms, has been under new ownership with a new head chef since August 2019. Adam Taylor, chief executive of Nested Hospitality, and Michelin starred Matt Weedon are aiming to exceed the pre-existing high reputation for food, service and accommodation. Between them, they have a wealth of experience to make their new venture a success. Adam’s passion for hospitality, especially regarding polo events, has taken him across the world but The Feathered Nest realises his dream of having his own restaurant. In Matt Weedon he has a master chef of distinguished pedigree, having won Michelin stars at Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire and Lords of the Manor in Gloucestershire. 

Situated on the edge of the tiny Oxfordshire village of
Nether Westcote, six miles from the historic market town of Burford, The
Feathered Nest’s location in the heart of the Cotswolds boasts panoramic views
over the Evenlode valley, best admired from the attractive terrace and extensive
gardens. Off the beaten track, it became a destination restaurant with three AA
rosettes under the previous ownership, a status already retained under the new
ownership.

Housed in a handsomely restored 17th Century malthouse,
complete with oak beams and stone floors, The Feathered Nest is entered through
a traditional bar area leading to small lounge with leather chairs and sofas
around a stone fireplace. Beyond is the main restaurant with its well-spaced
tables, the lower level with banquette seating spilling out to the terrace. All
three areas exude a comforting, relaxed informality.

With a maximum of 75 covers across the various dining areas and a staff of 15, this is a serious operation. Changes have been gradual to minimise disruption but the decision to offer lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Saturday (as well as Sunday lunch) is an astute one, promoting a good work-life balance amongst the staff, helping to ensure consistency in the kitchen and front of house.  Community supper clubs and Sunday music nights have been introduced to retain existing patrons and encourage new ones.

Whilst retaining high-end cuisine, there is now a more flexible approach to the food offering. The same menu is available in all three areas, so patrons can opt for a six-course tasting menu or a single dish from the carte. Dishes from a bar board are also on offer.

Seasonality. sustainability and locality, given their
unquestioned quality of the region’s produce, are key facets of the menus.
Indeed, Matt, who lives in the next village, and has been a regular patron of
The Feathered Nest before becoming Head Chef, intends to extend the range of
local suppliers.

Matt Weedon’s cuisine is unashamedly classical, forsaking
faddish trends and gimmicky flourishes. There are some contemporary touches but
these are kept in moderation. Fundamentally, cooking techniques are highly
polished, with precise timing, judicious seasoning and accomplished saucing.
Dishes reflect a harmonious combination of ingredients, with balance in tastes,
textures and temperatures. Attention to detail, which helps elevate each dish,
is immaculate. Portions are generous whilst presentation is clean and
uncluttered, each item on the plate serving a distinct purpose.

The a la carte menu is extensive enough to showcase the chef’s
range but short enough to ensure consistency. Five starters (£14 to £22) and
five mains (£28 to £38) are supplemented by two steaks from the Josper grill (£29
to £70 for two) and four desserts (£9 to £18 for two) and a cheese option. (£12)
A six-course tasting menu (£65) featuring smaller portions taken from the
carte, is the best introduction to Matt’s cuisine. Prices are realistic and
fair, considering the quality of the produce and the expertise in cooking. Meals
will also include complementary amuse bouches, home baked breads and pre
dessert.

The wine list is ambitious and international, with a focus on France and Italy but with a good selection of New World vintages.

A weekday dinner in February captured the essential
qualities of the food and service offering. A warm welcome by owner Adam
Taylor, who also acts as front of house, put us at our ease and provided useful
background information on the new regime.

Anthony, the engaging Restaurant Manager, ensured the
seamless service was helpful, informative and unobtrusive.

The meal began with an amuse bouche of cornets of local
estate curried lamb breast, yogurt, apricot puree and cucumber. This proved a
delectable and dainty combination of savoury and sweet flavours with soft and
crisp textures. It certainly whetted the appetite for the subsequent courses.

Next came a silky smooth and deeply flavoured soup of
butternut squash and cauliflower, dressed with coriander oil for a contrasting
herbal hit. Of the two miniature loaves served with it, the warm Guinness
sourdough was outstanding in its malty sweetness and soft texture. These came
with soft home churned butter and marmite beef dripping and lighter rapeseed
oil and raspberry vinegar

A starter paired grilled chicken wings with home-smoked eel. The soft textured glazed boneless chicken worked well with the oily richness of the cured eel. The dish was enlivened by dots of hoisin sauce, the strong savouriness of which was moderated by the sweetness of the compressed carrot. Finely sliced cucumber and spring onion added freshness and crispness to this deceptively simple dish with Chinese influences.  

Next, pork was shellfish partnered with pork. Long, slow-cooked Oxford and sandy black pig’s cheek produced meltingly soft, full-flavoured meat in contrast to the accurately timed Orkney scallops with their seared crusts and sweet, translucent flesh. Celeriac puree gave a gentle aniseed taste, balanced by caramelised apple. The necessary crisp element was provided by crumbled pork crackling.

A beef main course was not for the faint hearted. A fillet
of Aberdeen Angus was cooked medium to maximise its elegant, subtle flavour and
tender succulence. Partnered with rich, boldly flavoured ballotine of oxtail,
this combination was a carnivor’s delight. Equal attention was paid to the
veritable cornucopia of vegetables:  smooth smoked mash and crisp potato wheel; sautéed
morel mushrooms; onions and carrots in beef dripping; and vibrant kale and
tenderstem broccoli. Finished with a powerful red wine sauce, this dish
exemplified classical cooking at its elevated best.

Equally accomplished was the seafood main course. A fillet
of roasted halibut – a fish notorious for drying out if not treated with
respect – was timed to perfection, giving firm flakes of delicately flavoured white
flesh. This was accompanied by a raviolo of langoustines, the thin, silky pasta
encasing the sweet crustacean bound in a shellfish mousse. But the star of the
dish was an exquisite shellfish bisque, light but fully flavoured and lifted
with the addition of vanilla and a well-judged degree of acidity to balance its
richness. Chargrilled leeks provided a smoky, mild onion taste and crisp
texture which complemented the other elements well.

A pre dessert of banana, apple and passion fruit curd,
topped with pina colada foam and coconut tuile proved a refreshing and light
palate cleanser.

For dessert we shared a tarte tatin of pear, well worth the
advertised 25 minutes wait. The puff pastry was exemplary in its buttery taste
and flaky texture, whilst the use of pear instead of the usual apple gave a
degree of acidity to balance the caramelised fruit. Pear sorbet rather than ice
cream and blackberry gel also helped to cut the richness of the dish. For those
who wished for further indulgence, two contrasting sauces – mildly bitter
caramel and vanilla custard were also offered separately.

Good coffee and chocolate teacakes by the open fire
completed a memorable meal which exceeded our already high expectations.
Clearly, Matt Weedon’s cooking goes from strength to strength, fully justifying
the accolades he has won.

The Cotswolds is a highly competitive market, bursting with
food led restaurants with rooms. However, only the best will survive as
destination venues, largely due to the quality of their food. The Feathered
Nest undoubtedly takes its place in this elite group. Fine Dining Guide enjoyed
its visit, will definitely revisit, and will follow with interest its progress
in the national restaurant guides. We wish Adam, Matt and their team every
success.

from Fine Dining Guide