The Ben Jonson at Weston on the Green has been on our radar for about a year. Eager to visit, we were a bit concerned when the new owners asked us to wait and then along came lockdown and we had to wait a bit longer. It was frustrating to say the least.
This village eaterie has quite a history, having been through various owners and has many stories to tell but now under the new ownership and watchful eyes of Kayleigh Beadle and Lee McEvoy it deserves a place on the map of best places to eat in Oxfordshire, and it really has been worth the wait.
Keen to establish The Ben Jonson as a restaurant, the team is doing a grand job. It is a beautiful old building that has been lovingly reinvented for modern dining and the staff are clearly enjoying rising to the challenge of creating a covid-safe dining experience.
Our date night dinner was all the more special as Inspector Morsel has strong family connections with The Ben Jonson. As his grandfather’s and great grandfather’s local, his uncle took his first steps in the bar and then Inspector Morse’s youngest daughter did the same some years later. There seems to be a bit of theme emerging…
Some of the pictures on the walls show family members enjoying the pub at a very different time, so it was good to be there dining among some family history and keeping the connections alive.
The menu is impressive and Kayleigh and Lee pride themselves on using local, fresh produce. Kayleigh told us: “We work closely with local businesses to source the majority of our ingredients locally and we make a conscious effort to source sustainably. We are excited to share that 95% of our menu does not contain gluten ingredients and we pride ourselves in providing a fresh food menu that caters to everyone. We are now serving healthy smoothies and alcohol-free options too and have just released our festive menu.”
It is easy to say that the menu looked so good it really was hard to choose, but it really was and as we observed other diners receiving their choices it became apparent that this was not going to be easy.
We had to have the halloumi fries to nibble while we deliberated for quite some time before choosing our starters.
So there are halloumi fries and there are the Ben Jonson halloumi fries and they cannot be compared. Just because a dish is everywhere it does not mean it is always good. These were the best halloumi fries we have ever tasted and trust me on this one – we have tasted a lot. It’s cooked cheese – of course we have tasted it a lot.
These were divine. Chunky, crispy golden bars of utter loveliness with just the right amount of squeak and deliciously soft in the middle. There were lots of them, so we were glad to be sharing (on this occasion) and served with chilli jam. The ultimate autumn comfort food. I could write a whole review on the merits and life altering impact of a top-notch halloumi fry but I must press on.
For starters we went for the red wine baked pears with walnuts and vale of Camelot stilton and the baked mackerel fillet with beetroot, roquette and red pepper. The bar had already been set pretty high – did I mention the halloumi fries? – so we had high expectations and were not disappointed.
Both dishes were bright, vibrant and fresh with a bit of a zing. I could have eaten a whole massive dish of the pears – they were so delicious and for a fan of a cheese, fruit, nut combination I was impressed. Inspector Morsel’s mackerel was a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds and a generous starter that was pretty much inhaled.
A little rest, deep breath and a good red wine and we were on to the mains. This time it was the rump of lamb with fondant potato, savoy cabbage, baby onions and red wine jus, and from the specials board I went for the gnocchi.
The lamb was cooked to pink perfection and according to Inspector Morsel “melts in your mouth it’s superb” gnocchi can go either way, a bit like risotto. It can be deliciously comforting or utterly bland. This one was hot, delicious and plentiful and a great choice for a vegetarian main course.
Puddings were required – not because we were still hungry but because we couldn’t resist. An apple and cinnamon crumble with custard and the most beautiful panacotta emerged and both were demolished in silence but with knowing looks that we had just eaten one of the best suppers ever and that we would be returning very soon.