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The Pheasant at Keyston, Cambridgeshire

Clifford Mould found a mixed bag of cooking in a rather upmarket country inn

The Pheasant is one of a group of four inn restaurants on the edge of East Anglia. They're owned by John Hoskins, who holds a rare and elusive qualification, that of Master of Wine. The Pheasant is all thatch and oak beams, and unlike The Hoste Arms or The Crooked Billet, which we also reviewed on this trip, the atmosphere throughout is more restaurant than pub. The large bar area can be used for more casual eating, and an informal approach is the keynote. We were greeted by a cheery restaurant manager who ensured that the quality of service remained high during our visit.

The chef is Clive Dixon, who has a track record of country house hotel cooking, including the much vaunted Lords of the Manor at Upper Slaughter.  We liked his crab served on a colourful cucumber jelly, and his pan-fried ox tongue was a welcome change, but sadly obscured by a rather too fresh horseradish dressing applied to a nice fennel salad. Macho vindaloo fans would probably love it. The steak tartare was good and coarse in texture, it doesn't want to look like mince, and the goat's cheese salad was a good rendition of this perennial favourite, but its greenery had also been bullied into submission by more of the rampant horserubbish. 

The meat for our rib-eye steaks(£13.50) was well sourced and served simply but properly  (exactly as asked for, rare) with marvellous "fat chips" that are a byword locally - we were told by our hosts that  we simply had to try them. Eat your tiny hearts out, French Fries! By contrast, some of the dishes are ultra modern. There was an extraordinary post-modernist deconstructed "Shepherd's Pie", (£13.95) complete with inverted commas to signal its arch-voguishness. The main components were lambs' kidneys and sweetbreads (great!) circling warily around a centrepiece of both mash and disembodied pie-crust (silly!). I had the shin of beef, which I expected to be in a stew of some sort, but this was a generous round of beef that had been welded back together into the shape of a tournedos  topped with mushrooms complete with a slick and tasty reduction.

I liked the sound of strawberry trifle with lavender custard and pistachio biscotti, but was less then delighted at the kiddie's concoction that arrived looking like one of those layered coloured sand souvenirs from Alum Bay. The custard did not taste of lavender and there was jelly in it! Aaagh! Heresy!! For the authentic and unadulterated experience, take a look at Simon Hopkinson's recipe in the Prawn Cocktail Years. But the strawberry sorbet and biscotti were both excellent, as was the lemon crème brulée with rhubarb sorbet. The desserts are priced £5.95, and I checked out others on their way to neighbouring tables and they looked very well made. I expect there are many diners who love the Alum Bay aberration.

As  you'd expect from an MW owner, the wine list is extensive, and John Hoskins has been adept at hunting out bargains so there are plenty of good ideas under £20. Amongst the dessert wine selection I was delighted to see Sherries from Lustau. Where else could you get a glass of San Emilio PX for three quid? We indulged ourselves gratefully.

The Pheasant, Keyston, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire PE18 0RE

Tel:  01832 710241  

The Huntsbridge group also operate The Falcon at Fotheringhay, The Three Horseshoes at Maddingley and The Old Bridge Hotel at Huntingdon. For more information email

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