Review: Hitchen’s Barn
26th November 2020
Local Living reviews the award-winning Hitchen’s Barn, on Burley Road in Oakham
It was Wednesday 4 November that we went for lunch at Hitchen’s Barn – a date that might mean a little more when I explain that it was the day right before the second lockdown. How fortunate we felt at being able to enjoy a meal out just in the nick of time; we were eating out with my parents, too, giving us a lovely last chance to see them both together before the new lockdown rules kicked in.
It was a gorgeous bright autumnal day, and the rustic Hitchen’s Barn looked a picture against a clear blue sky. In we went, where we were warmly greeted; temperatures were taken, hand sanitiser applied, masks in place, contact details noted… all very 2020! And then… time for lunch!
A plate of Hambleton bread and Lincolnshire Poacher butter kicked things off, as we studied the menu. My previous meal at Hitchen’s Barn was excellent, and since then they’ve been stacking up rave reviews and accolades, most recently winning ‘Casual Dining Restaurant 2020/21’ in Great Food Club’s annual awards.
With a table of four, there was plenty of chance for owner/chef Neil Hitchen to showcase his talents. For starters, dishes ranged from my mum’s wild mushroom soup with tarragon and truffle cream (‘silky, delicious, lovely light foam on top’), to dad’s indulgent twice-baked creamy Red Leicester & Lincolnshire Poacher cheese soufflé (‘a fabulous cheesy hit’), to Nick’s crispy egg, with Parma ham, watercress, apple and celeriac remoulade (‘a perfect combination of contrasting textures’), to my Long Clawson stilton cheesecake, with red wine-poached quince and walnuts. My dish sounded like a bit of a gamble on paper, but, trusting in the acclaimed chef’s ability – and tempted by the inventiveness of it all – I went for it anyway. This bold move paid off… it was fabulous.
Then it was on to the mains… for me, roasted breast of chicken with creamed leeks, fondant potato and wild mushrooms; a more classic choice than my starter but equally scrumptious (super-succulent chicken). I loved the rustic presentation and the gorgeous texture of the crispy veg on top. For Nick, the honey-glazed duck breast with butternut squash, red cabbage and red wine sauce was exquisite to look at (typical of owner/chef Neil’s stylish creations – interestingly, so different from my rustic-looking dish) and wonderfully tender. Dad had the local venison with root vegetable gratin, savoy cabbage and game sauce, a winner of an autumn dish and a riot of colours of the season, while mum had the pork fillet with black pudding and braised pig’s cheek, with apple cider sauce – perfect comfort food… just right for the day before a lockdown!
In the gap between the main course and pudding, Louise came over to chat to us and to check that all was well (the service here is excellent – attentive and slick but always inobtrusive). We congratulated her on the recent award, and she was buzzing with the news. We caught up on where they source their excellent produce – as far as possible, Louise told us, this is local: lamb from Launde, poultry from Alfreton, beef from Hinckley and game from Thistleton. The menu changes frequently and is a wonderful reflection of the seasons.
Hitchen’s Barn portions are very substantial (doggy bags were offered, which is a nice touch), and the dishes are rich (strong French influence), so we could only manage two puddings at the table rather than four. Nick and dad opted respectively for the buttermilk panna cotta with poached quince, fig, pear and blackberries and for the Norfolk quince and walnut crumble with vanilla ice cream. Nick’s dish was incredible… a light marriage of creaminess and fruity tang. Dad (a puddings connoisseur) was fully focussed on his dessert, which was clearly a big thumbs up!
We finished with coffee and went off into the sunshine, sated with food and good company – as ready as we could be for the forthcoming solitude of lockdown. By the time you read this, we’ll (hopefully) just about be coming out of that, and, if you’re ready for a break from home cooking, however good at that you are, then an exquisite meal at Hitchen’s Barn is definitely recommended.
12 Burley Road, Oakham, Rutland LE15 6DH, 01572 722255, hitchensbarn.co.uk