UPDATE 16/05/17: After three exciting years in the countryside, The Lamb Inn has now changed hands, with Matt Weedon appointed executive chef of the five-AA-starred, 61-bedroom Ellenborough Park hotel near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
A one Michelin star chef goes out on his own and opens a pub in the countryside. Not a well-trodden path for a renowned chef. But, surrounded by farmland and artisan suppliers, his wife running front of house, and a newly renovated outside area to incorporate a herb garden and raised terrace area; Matt Weedon, with The Lamb Inn in Oxfordshire, has done just that.
Formerly head chef at the Fallowfields Hotel restaurant, and before that a head chef at Lords of the Manor in the Cotswolds, Matt has fulfilled a life-long dream and opened his own place. While only open since 2014, word has spread as to Matt’s ability in the kitchen and the quality of the local ingredients used, with the spacious, traditional pub interior providing a perfect setting.
The couple have taken a brave step, and while it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, that bravery is now paying off. The Lamb Inn is arguably as perfect a pub as one could hope to find.
We spent a couple of days with Matt, Rachel and their three dogs to understand what it’s really like running your own restaurant business in the country.
Most mornings, after an early rise and a bowl of cereal, Matt is out in his Land Rover to visit his suppliers. He gets honey in from a local beekeeper, who keeps hives in his back garden. They came into a partnership after Matt started to host local beekeeping meetings in the pub. The pots are available to the public at the front of the pub, as is a whole range of eggs, goat’s cheese and milk from Southdown Farm and Dairy, just a few minutes up the road.
The Lamb Inn’s kitchen hosts three other chefs alongside Matt, who runs the pass and juggles the majority of the main courses during lunch and dinner services. Elaine, who majors as a pastry chef, and a commis named Mary Ellen both live in the spacious upstairs flat opposite Matt and Rachel. A third chef, Andy, lives locally and is something of an apprentice to Matt.
Mary Ellen is a first year college student from Canada, with Matt having drafted in many trainee chefs from across the pond for his various restaurants over the years. She, meanwhile, had begged her tutors for work experience at The Lamb Inn under Matt, despite the countryside location.
Matt, as he explained to us, has an affinity with pigs. He had them when in the Cotswolds, and his face lit up when some came to say hello at Southdown farm. He prides himself on the Oxford Sandy and Black pork on the menu, and holds a dream of once again keeping pigs, this time at the back of the pub garden.
Highlights of Matt’s considered menu include a starter of the goat’s cheese from the farm paired with beetroot, chicory, blackcurrant dressing and gingerbread. The Dexter beef sirloin steak and braised flank, homemade 8oz rare breed Longhorn burgers, and day boat caught Pollock (battered in Oxfordshire Brakspear beer) with home-cut chips have also all been big hits.
His experience in some of the best kitchens in the UK has made him a cool customer, even when under pressure. Mistakes and slow movement are met with encouragement and help rather than flying pots and raised voices.
“There’s no point ranting and raving, the clock is ticking!” Matt told us with a smile during a tricky lunch, “The customers are always waiting - being angry isn’t going to get things moving.”
Business has been steadily rising since they opened, with 40-50 covers arriving for lunch on that Friday, and even more for dinner. For a country pub, this is quite some feat. They have taken full advantage of being at the halfway mark of the walker’s trail in the area, with Matt devising two popular lunch options for the walkers for under £10.
Such is the freedom afforded to Matt and his team at The Lamb Inn that they have recently bought a wood-fire pizza oven for the garden. In the current summer months, with their renovated outdoor area, Matt is experimenting with pizza making. We were thrilled when the local goat’s cheese with artichoke and margarita versions came our way on the glorious Saturday afternoon.
Matt’s evenings are often spent with the three dogs, a black lab and two spaniels, in the pub proper, enjoying a pint after hours and discussing the day. Rachel and his chefs join him for daily bonding sessions as the absence of street lights outside really accentuate the countryside dark, with crickets heard in the near distance.
Matt never stopped smiling during our two day stay, and we must admit, neither did we.