There is a long and glorious history of eccentricity in British country pubs, but few can boast decor quite as quirky as The Boot Inn, near Eynsham. Its walls are covered in famous footwear, from one of Ian Botham’s old cricket boots to Michael Heseltine’s flipper, as well as shoes from the Bee Gees, Roger Bannister, Jeremy Irons, Freddie Laker and a host of other celebrities. It is a fascinating collection, although the one conclusion I drew from it is that a lot of famous men have rather small feet.
Just as importantly, it’s a popular, splendidly run Cotswolds pub: I went for Sunday lunch recently, and am happy to report that the tenderness of my roast beef in no way reflected the toughness of the boots. There is an excellent wine list and several well-kept beers on tap; staff are friendly and efficient. Do book ahead, though.
Some of The Inn’s boots – especially Jeremy Paxman’s brown Oxfords – would pass muster on Savile Row, the Mayfair street that’s been synonymous with bespoke tailoring for 200 years: Gieves & Hawkes, Huntsman, Ozwald Boateng and their ilk continue the tradition to this day. The Row’s only restaurant, Sartoria, has recently been (rather beautifully) refurbished, while owners D&D London have taken the unusual – for them – step of hiring a well-known chef to run it: Francesco Mazzei, formerly head chef at L’Anima.
Mazzei is from Calabria, but his menu is from all over Italy. There’s the Milanese orecchia di elefante (“elephant’s ear”), a giant breaded veal cutlet so named because the meat is bashed until very thin. Like several dishes on the menu, it’s served for two, a style that happily suits the generous and inclusive nature of Italian food.
Sardinian fregola – like giant couscous – is paired with seafood; the broth for tortellini is infused with marsala; Puglian burrata is matched with intensely flavoured torpedino tomatoes, smoky aubergine and fresh basil. Mazzei’s version of steak tartare – battuta di manzo – is loosely chopped Black Angus beef flavoured with anchovy, and is deeply moreish.
Next a saffron risotto for two, the classic accompaniment for ossobuco alla Milanese, but here topped with a scattering of plump, juicy, quick-fried chicken livers: simple but sublime. And another dish to share: a whole wild seabass cooked in a herb-spiked salt crust, the flavour fragrantly permeating the flesh of the fish. A tricky dish to get right, perfectly accomplished. There is a fine, predominantly Italian wine list too.
Traditionally, Savile Row frowns upon flamboyant Italian style – classic British tailoring eschews ostentation – but, when it comes to food, Sartoria seems somewhere to which Mazzei is very well suited.