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The Marlborough, Witney: Overlooking Market Square
THERE is a great buzz in the centre of Witney on the third Wednesday of every month, as this is the farmers' market day. The market used to be held on Church Green on a Thursday. Its move to Witney's attractive Market Square has made all the difference to the amount of customers now visiting the market.
It was great to see Bruce Young and his wife Amanda there selling their award-winning Shaken Oak mustards. On arriving at his stall, Bruce thrust a jar of raspberry jelly and tasting spoon into my hands: "Try this, it's made from raspberries from our own garden," he said proudly. Gosh, it was good. It had a superb tart edge, which heightens its flavour perfectly.
Tasting cheese made at Simon Weaver's Cotswold Organic Dairy proved a fascinating experience too, and I was pleased to catch up with Valerie, the herb grower from Kingston Bagpuize.
Actually, visiting the Witney farmers' market is a really social affair. The traders are friendly and willing to explain just how they produce their wares, and tastings are all part of the day.
Perhaps readers will assume that after raspberry jelly, blue vein cheese, and a few other tastings along the way, I wouldn't need lunch - but I did. I'd planned to visit the Three Horseshoes, in Corn Street, but I found it closed for business. Builders were busy taking out old fittings when I got there, which I found rather disconcerting.
I learned later that it's been taken over by the owners of the highly successful Hollybush, which is just a stone's throw away, and should be open for business any day now.
So - there I was in the centre of Witney, and in search of lunch.
My friend Liz suggested we try The Marlborough, as it overlooks the Market Square.
"We could sit at a table near the window and watch the market as we eat," she said, which is exactly what we did.
The Marlborough, which dates back to Georgian times, when it was a coaching inn, has survived several reincarnations in recent years, having changed management frequently - however from what we experienced during our visit, it's now in sound hands.
The bar area is spacious and consists of two adjoining rooms, furnished with assorted tables and chairs, some painted green with touches of green which matches the deep mushroom pink of the walls. The wooden floor gives it a modern minimalist feel, and the bar staff's friendly welcome adds a homely touch.
It would have been nice to have seen a Wychwood brew on tap here, particularly as the brewery is but a stone's throw away. Indeed, when the wind is in a certain direction, that delicious hoppy aroma from the brewery, which occasionally escapes into the town, can be sniffed in the Market Square. Unfortunately, Wychwood brews were not available, so I ordered a half of Theakston bitter, which proved a full-flavoured drink with a bittersweet balance, but I admit I'd have preferred a half of Hobgoblin.
The lunch menu offers six different filled baked potatoes, at £4.95, and six different panini and baguettes, at the same price. There's soup of the day, at £4, freshly beer-battered cod-and-chips with mushy peas (£7.95), home-made cheese-and-bacon burgers (£6.95), mixed grill (£11.95), rigatoni and meatballs, at £7.95, and loads of interesting specials, listed on the specials board.
Liz chose the spiced coriander chicken with red lentil and coconut curry (£7.95) from the main menu, which is served with pilau rice and naan bread, and I chose the crispy duck salad special with walnuts and mango, pictured, which tasted really good.
Having enjoyed our meals, we then sat back and relaxed as we watched the market traders packing up their stalls.