Michelin and Good Food Guide success for the Fox & Hounds at Hunsdon
Bishop's Stortford foodies do not need to hunt far for Hertfordshire's only Bib Gourmand restaurant – the Fox & Hounds in Hunsdon is just a 15-minute drive away.
Run by chef patron James Rix and his wife Bianca, who is in charge of front of house, the couple in October celebrate 15 years serving modern European food in the stylish pub and learned they have retained their coveted accolade from the Michelin Guide for 2019.
The Bib Gourmand they have held since 2012 is diners' assurance of "exceptionally good food at moderate prices" – Bib (Bibendum) is the nickname for the Michelin Man, the corporate logo for more than a century – and I was invited to sample a typical set menu from an enticing selection that changes daily.
After a warm welcome from Bianca and her team, diners are offered James' home-made bread – a delicious focaccia, slathered with unsalted butter – to start their hearty lunch. His baking skills are such that the pub also sells his loaves to take away, in addition to a selection of chutneys and terrines and their line-caught fish with chips on Thursdays and Fridays.
The starter of a punchy fish soup topped with a rouille crouton, richly flavoured with garlic and saffron, and sprinkled with cheese, was a delicious taste of Provence.
On its own, it would have been a satisfying meal on a damp autumn day, but more was to follow.
The main was a generous bowl of spaghetti and mussels, spiked with garlic and chilli and dressed with olive oil. Two courses cost £18.50, but for those with a sweet tooth, the three-course menu at £23.50 offers delights such as the divine ricotta and sour cherry ice cream, served with a buttery shortcake biscuit, all obviously crafted in the kitchen.
A crisp glass of chilled house white was an excellent accompaniment, but James and Bianca also offer a daily aperitif for those looking for something different; when we visited, it was blackberry and elderflower fizz.
Each of their Bib Gourmand menus offers two choices for each course. The alternatives during our visit were a grilled goats' cheese salad, beef and cardamom curry and rice, and a gorgeous fig and almond tart, served with creme fraiche.
James previously worked alongside chefs Gary Rhodes and Alastair Little. The Fox & Hounds offers an extensive a la carte range showcasing his skills with dishes such as crab taco with mango salsa and Old Spot pork loin. Local ingredients, such as venison and partridge from Wareside, feature prominently.
This attention to detail has earned James and Bianca a place in the Good Food Guide 2020 as one of just 10 restaurants in Hertfordshire to make the cut.
The guide says: "This captivating pub is now firmly established as a relaxed neighbourhood eatery, the attractive blue and white façade giving out an air of sophistication that draws you in. The locals seem well aware of what a gem they have on their doorstep, judging by the happy throng. James Rix is a passionate chef, delivering a seasonal repertoire with carefully sourced produce and no little refinement."
James said: "I've been included in the guide since I became head chef at Alastair Little's Frith Street, then The Cow and, since 2005, at the Fox & Hounds. We're really happy with the write-up this year – it really sums up the pub, our food and what we're about as a whole."
The couple found the Fox & Hounds in spring 2004 following a long search for the right property out of London.
James said: "I always dreamt of opening my own restaurant, and the Fox & Hounds has been a labour of love from the start, from sanding down tables to designing my own kitchen."
After a summer of hands-on refurbishment, while Bianca was heavily pregnant, they opened the doors on October 4, 2004 – and their son was born just a few days before.
Bianca said: "What sets us apart is that it's our home as well as our business, which has enabled consistency and a hands-on approach to running the business. Customers love to chat to us about where we've been eating out on our day off and how the kids are doing.
"We're looking forward to the future. Who knows what the next 15 years will bring, but for now we'll continue to drive the business forward and keep doing what we do best."
James added: "It's been a long 15 years of running my own kitchen and I remain very hands-on to this day, driving my team crazy by always pushing up standards and evolving the menu.
"We've had some tough times but some great ones, too, and we look forward to continuing to serve our customers for more years to come."
For more details see http://foxandhounds-hunsdon.co.uk/