Review: The Killingworth Castle
"The pork belly is butchered less than 20 miles away at Paddock Farm, and is lent a sophisticated sweetness by half a roast peach and baby turnips"
The Killingworth Castle – a picturesque, Cotswold stone, village gastropub a stone’s throw from Woodstock – has recently undergone something of a reinvention. I last visited the ‘Killy’ (as it’s affectionately known) almost exactly a year ago, and whilst the pub was hardly in need of major renewal back then, owners Claire and Jim Alexander clearly have great aspiration for the place – an extended dining room, a lick of paint and the appointment of new head chef Chris Ellis have brought the Killingworth Castle into a different league.
So, where to start? Chris’s menu brims with confidence, with enough ambition to make the dishes truly exciting whilst keeping the ingredients seasonal and without straying into the realm of showiness for its own sake.
The crab starter is sensational: the crustacean itself hails from Salcombe, with its white meat dressed in the sharp tang of buttermilk, with a plate of properly sweet, tricoloured Isle of Wight tomatoes and rich crumbed biscuit fashioned from its own brown meat. This theme of ‘familiar flavours pushed that little bit further’ continues with a rare breed pork croquette served wide and flat, with fragrant and moreish celeriac remoulade, shavings of Granny Smith and the lightest of crackling. For something a little simpler, bacon and Hispi cabbage potato soup is complex yet comforting.
Onto the mains, and the flavour combinations start to become a little more elaborate. The fish choice is ludicrously indulgent: trout comes adorned with oily squid ink linguine, charred cucumber and crunchy samphire, finished off with a generous handful of mussels and the kind of shellfish bisque that you can still taste four days later. The pork belly is butchered less than 20 miles away at Paddock Farm, and is lent a sophisticated sweetness by half a roast peach and a scattering of baby turnips, balanced out by the savoury graininess of thick black pudding. If you’re after something a little simpler, the ‘pub’ section of the menu provides the classics: haddock and chips, beef burger and steak, as well as a Cotswold white chicken Kiev that takes some beating.
Attention to detail is impressive across the board here, whether you opt for the pub classics or the more outlandish dishes. Desserts continue the same vein, with an aromatic Pimm’s jelly and seriously indulgent white chocolate sponge, finished with Cheddar Valley strawberries and palatecleansing cucumber sorbet. For food of this quality the prices are entirely reasonable, with mains never reaching the £20 mark and many very good wines available below £30. It’s incredibly refreshing to see a dining pub aim so high in terms of quality but keep down to earth on price. It may not have been broken, but The Killingworth Castle has certainly been fixed – and what a fix. You’d be mad not to give it a try.
Related Articles: Thank God for Celery