On a crisp November evening I ventured across the Cotswolds, best friend and baby in tow, to the gorgeous village of Paxford. We were off to The Churchill Arms, a pub which dates back to the 17th century. Stepping inside you’d never guess at how old the building is – it has a real contemporary feel whilst retaining subtle nods to its history. As with any good country pub a lovely log fire also features and, much to my delight, a pretty courtyard lit by fairy lights.
Head Chef and Owner, Nick Deverell-Smith, had fond memories of time spent in The Churchill Arms as a child having Sunday Roast with his family. Fast forward some years and the most recent owners had unfortunately not taken great care of the place resulting in it closing for about 18 months. Already being familiar with the local area Nick felt this was a great opportunity to open his first restaurant.
Born and bred in Warwickshire, from the tender age of 8 years old, Nick knew he was going to be a chef. By the age of 12 he was single-handedly cooking the all-time British favourite of Sunday Roast. Leaving school at 15 he went on to study at the Birmingham College of Food where he won Junior Chef of the Year. Following this he found himself invited on to the Gordon Ramsey Scholarship which led to a job working with Ramsey and Marcus Wareing.
Nick spent the next 11 years in London working under not only Ramsey and Wareing but also chefs such as Eric Chevot and, Nick’s ‘chef idol’ Marco Pierre-White. Most recently he worked for the Soho Farmhouse group before feeling it was time to move on which coincided with the opportunity to take on The Churchill Arms. The great thing about Nick is that he speaks with such passion about his experiences that led him to where he is today and his vision for his own restaurant which shines through in the dishes he produces. There are even a few nods to these experiences in the restaurant, with a signed chef white from Ramsey outside the kitchen and a huge image of Pierre-White outside the very clean toilets.
The evening began with an appetiser of mushroom arancini – now, between you and me, mushrooms are my nemesis so this was not something I was going to relish! However, if ever there was a time that I may be converted I figured it would be now. To my surprise I actually found myself enjoying this little dish.
Then arrived our starters – Smoked haddock soufflé with chive veloute and Cornish brown crab risotto with grilled calamari. The soufflé, Nick’s signature dish, was like heaven on a plate. The delicate flavours of the smoked fish, with a beautifully light and silky-smooth texture all complimented by the slightly sweet, yet tangy, veloute. I could eat this all day! The risotto had a nice bite to it with the crab the hero of the dish giving it a delicious meaty feel.
With starters demolished we were looking forward to what the mains would bring. Also known for the pies (there’s a pie night every second Wednesday of the month) we of course had to sample the Braised Venison Pie with mash, greens and gravy. It was delicious! Beautiful pastry with a rich, velvety filling full of flavour and the mash perfectly smooth and creamy. A hearty, filling option and possibly a bit of a rookie error for me as part of a three-course meal! We also went for the Pork T-bone with apple, sage and mash. Not something I would usually go for as I find pork can tend to be a bit dry however this dish goes to show you should never judge a book by it’s cover. The meat was juicy and tender, the crackling exceptionally crispy and the sweetness of the apple bringing it all together.
With the exception of the fish, which comes daily from Cornwall, all produce is from within 10 miles of the restaurant. The meat and game are from nearby Toddenham Farm and a butcher in Stratford upon Avon, with the veg produced by local farmers. “I want to treat the produce with respect and let the food do the talking” says Nick.
To finish our evening off we opted for the white chocolate mousse with honeycomb and clementine cheesecake. By this point, and having devoured the braised venison pie, I had to dig deep and make my way through dessert with several tactical breaks! The mousse had the delicious creaminess that often comes with white chocolate and was complimented by the flavour and zestiness of the berries. The cheesecake was presented as a more deconstructed version of the traditional cheesecake. The biscuit base had a nice subtle crunch to it, the cheesecake was melt in the mouth with a little sweetness and topped off by the clementine giving it a sharpness to contrast the rest of the dish.
Approaching their third birthday in February 2018, The Churchill Arms is certainly a restaurant worth visiting. Nick’s passion and experience is clear to see and each dish was presented perfectly. With The Churchill Arms right here on our doorstep in the Cotswolds there’s no need to venture further afield for top-notch dining with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Watch out for Nick on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen in the New Year!