I just got back from 2 weeks of mixed business and pleasure in London, Oxfordshire, and The North (mostly Weardale). While exceptional chow was not on the agenda most of the time, there were a few stand-outs.
Thanks to folks who recommended St. John Bread and Wine. The restaurant's sensibilities are indeed of a kin to Chez Panisse -- and this would have been the cafe version. The room was very informal, with friendly service and a daily changing menu. While my husband was not enthusiastic -- there was nothing he particularly liked that day -- I enjoyed the things we tried with the exception of the salad which was too plainly dressed in only a bit of lemon.
Being a mushroom junkie, my favorite dish was the copious amount of girolles (small chanterelles) that were sauteed and served on toast. It tasted like the chef had added a bit of port to the dish, which gave it an extra hint of sweetness. Also exceptional to my taste was the simple dish of goat curds (sort of a goat milk fromage blanc served with grilled scallions and mint julienned in a mustardy dressing.
A delicious piece of brill was grilled on the bone and served with a salad of samphire, capers and cucumbers. We also had a roasted quail with very good pickled cherries.
We finished with a bit of excellent Mull Cheddar and Benleigh Blue, a cheese new to me, which was a bit too salty for my taste although it went well with the delicious raisin bread served along side.