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Review: First class Italian food served in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere
THE Plough at Winchmore Hill is still known for being run by Eastenders star Barbara Windsor, even though it has been years since she has been there. After two years of being closed new owner Raffaele Mercurio is hoping it will soon be known for quality, fresh Italian food, made with produce from the area. It also has a village shop, a cosy bar and a large restaurant.
Arriving at the pub it is wonderfully presented from the outside and even better inside. The bar is cosy and welcoming with low beams and comfortable lounging chairs.
There is a village shop at the front selling a selection of Italian cuisine but also more local produce such as jam and honey.
There are also cakes and bread for sale, which are made in the pub's kitchen.
Once we had ordered our drinks from the extensive drinks menu- a great selection of wine, beer and ales- we went through to the spacious restaurant. Raffaele took over the pub this year and is hoping to build up his customer base further.
He worked in Cheltenham for 25 years in the industry before moving to Tring, where he opened Forno Vivo with Peter Borg-Neal.
They then extended their enterprise and set up six units selling Mediterranean inspired dishes. But he said he wanted to get back to purely Italian cooking again so took over the Plough, which had been closed for two years. But he of course still uses local ingredients to combine the flavours of Bucks with the flavours of Italy.
It also mixes the tastes of both Southern and Northern Italy as Rafaelle is from the South and his head chef, Simone Scola, is from the north. For starters I went for the special of garlic prawns.
Three large juicy prawns were served to me on a bed of peppery rocket. The hunk of toasted bread soaked up the delicious garlicky juices well and the prawns were tender and delicious.
My boyfriend, Tom had seared scallops, celeriac puree and crispy pancetta (£8), which I sampled and was indeed delightful. The scallops were large, creamy, sweet and perfectly cooked. The slightly nutty celeriac complimented them extremely well, which I didn't expect, as did the crisp pancetta.
This was a winning starter. For the main I was torn between the pizza and pasta dishes so I went for something completely different- roast wild rabbit with garlic and thyme, saffron mash potatoes and curly kale (£13). I loved this dish. The rabbit meat was tender and so flavoursome and was beautifully presented. The mash was buttery and creamy, just as it should be and the kale added a new dimension to the dish.
Tom went for the 4 Stagioni pizza(£9.75) which is tomato, mozzarella, cooked ham, artichokes, mushrooms and salami. These are excellent pizzas, as you would expect. The base is light and crispy and they do not scrimp on the tomato and mozzarella, and it was loaded with toppings, which was spicy but not too hot.
The pudding was the only slight disappointment for me. I had Pannacotta alla Vanigila (£6) which didn't taste as vanilla as much as I would have liked. It was served quite differently to what I am used to. But it was still an enjoyable end to the meal.
Tom loved his Tiramisu (£6) which was everything you would expect from this classic Italian dish. Raffaele then brought us a taste of Limoncello and also his Rhubarbcello, which was delightful.
The Rhubarbcello was made by his wife from rhubarb brought into the pub. It was so nice and had a subtle taste of rhubarb.
I liked the atmosphere at the Plough.
It was relaxed yet busy and the staff were clearly knowledgeable about what they were serving.
There is a great selection of food and the pub also serves a breakfast menu. It really is pulling out all the stops to make this a thriving venture in this small village.
Tasty, home cooked, beautifully presented food, great atmosphere and a fantastic selection of drinks makes this pub worth a visit.