My Pub: the Mole Inn, Toot Baldon, Oxfordshire

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

A great mole model: the Mole Inn believes united staff make for happy workers and create an atmosphere that makes customers want to return
A great mole model: the Mole Inn believes united staff make for happy workers and create an atmosphere that makes customers want to return

Related tags: Pub, Public house

Sarah Holt, licensee of the Mole Inn, reveals how this food-led pub and restaurant is making people sit up and take notice

The pub

Facts 'n' stats

Name: the Mole Inn

Address: Toot Baldon, Oxon, OX44 9NG

Licences: Sarah Heather-Holt and Charlotte Dunne

Wet:dry split: 30:70

Year opened: 2003

The Mole Inn is a beautiful two AA Rosette country pub and restaurant set in the stunning Oxfordshire countryside just five miles from the historic and cultural city of Oxford.

The current owner of the Mole Inn is Alan ‘Moley’ Heather (my dad) and has been for more than 15 years. After he acquired it, he totally renovated it to the stunning destination gastropub it is now, prior to this, it had always been a local spit and sawdust boozer and was called the Crown.

­The Mole received significant investment to totally renovate it and make it what it is today and our customers will tell you that the refurb has stood the test of time, think country chic, exposed beams, open inglenook ‑ replaces, stone walls, neutral paintwork and wooden floors.

It is tastefully done and oozes comfort from every part of its being. The Mole is always buzzing and has a character about it that makes you feel warm inside when you see customers enjoying the surroundings and the amazing food that comes from within it.

I know I am biased but the Mole Inn is an absolutely stunning gastropub with beautiful gardens. People travel to the rural destination for the amazing food, service and cosy warming nature. In the winter, customers cosy by the fireside with a pint of Hooky (local beer from Hook Norton brewery) or mulled wine and, in summer, they bask in the glorious lavender and butterfly-filled garden while enjoying a cold, rosé or glass of Champagne. ­ e garden is a beautiful oasis that, on a sunny day, you just don’t want to leave.

­There is plenty to do when you come to visit, whether that be visit the nearby Arboretum, enjoying a leisurely walk or visit the cultural city of Oxford and, at this time of year, a walk topped with a pint by our cosy ‑ reside couldn’t feel any more relaxing, perhaps how we managed to feature in The Telegraph’​s top 30 winter pubs, which we are so proud of.

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The publican

Myself (Sarah Holt) and Charlie Dunne are a sister team, who are the daughters of Moley, and are the current landladies. When the previous managers left we jumped at the chance to get involved in a new challenge and keep the gastropub in the family.

I’m from a market research background and Charlie was in marketing. We have been on the most amazing adventure over the past year and have been on the steepest learning curve in the history of the universe. No joke, it’s been stressful, but we have enjoyed every moment of it.

I have developed skills I never knew I had, or that I thought I would need in this role, and am still learning new things every day, which is great and extremely rewarding. But the main reason we have enjoyed it so much – and been so successful – is because we have an absolutely amazing team around us running the back and front of house, day to day.

They are like a family. They care very much about the Mole and we care very much about them. They work so hard to ensure customers are always happy and each person that works with us always put in 100% to make sure the food and service are top notch and that customers are given the best experience from the moment they walk through the door.

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The trade

We are a very rural pub – set in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside. We have all sorts of diners but mainly those looking for a relaxed dining experience with delicious and beautifully presented food and friendly, knowledgeable service. We are very fortunate to be located in a fairly affluent area and have visitors from far and wide as well as from the village and surrounds.

We are lucky enough to have business visitors entertaining clients at lunchtime, retired people who want to enjoy a relaxed long beautiful lunch, and families and friends who want to enjoy one of the best Sunday lunches around.

We are a food-led establishment but are open all day and have a steady stream of those popping in for a beer or coffee by the cosy fireside.

The current front-of-house team is very proud of the extensive and well-put-higher wine list, which features Moley’s choice wine and the great local ale and gin collections too. We even have a cocktail list and serve a mean Espresso and Pornstar Martini.

Mole (2)

The team

We want to be employers who have happy, enthusiastic staff that stay with us for the long term and we have been extremely lucky to find an amazing team of dedicated staff.

We have mostly full-time team members to run the front and the back of the house and I am in most days too.

Back of house is a five-strong brigade headed by executive chef Johnny Parke, head chef Darryl, and sous chef Ieuan and chefs de partie Elliot and Matt, and let’s not forget our other kitchen stars Luis and Omar – our brilliant KPs.

The kitchen team is ambitious and hard working, and always working to evolve the menu and try new things. The team gained a second AA Rosette in the past year and retained it also for this year, which we are really proud of them for and we are made up by the accolades, compliments and articles that have been coming our way since Johnny joined the team.

He is a great person to have at the helm and is brilliant and producing food that is classic and then adding a twist, to make the dish different and fun, though he will be the first to admit that the success of the kitchen is because of the work of the team as a whole and how they all come together to deliver the best standards and consistency of serve day to day.

Front of house is headed by general manager Jess Nixon. She was recently and very deservedly promoted to the position from assistant manager after our previous GM Ross moved to Australia.

Jess has an amazing team of staff working with her, which she trains on how to deliver the best customer experience and product and menu knowledge.

Jess is supported by assistant manager Dimi and Carmen, our restaurant supervisor. Each member of the front-of- house team is extremely passionate, hard working and loyal and they have lots of fun too and are a credit to the team, everyone has a role to play that is very important.

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The drink

We are very lucky to be a freehouse so we have the pick of the crop when it comes to the products we would like to stock.

When we took over, we worked with our wine supplier to rewrite the wine menu to improve GP levels and to offer a list that complemented and supported our menu and seasonal dishes. Because we are such a strong food-led establishment, wine makes up a very large proportion of drink sales.

We do also have a strong ale and lager offering and, on tap, we have local beer Hooky, which has been a staple on the menu since we opened. We also have a regularly changing guest ale and we pride ourselves on our great local well kept ales.

Our current tap lagers are Asahi, Peroni and Amstel and we also have Guinness and Cornish Orchard cider on tap. Our gin selection is also very wide and we have a good stock of local gins from the Oxfordshire area, such as Toad and OX44.

At this time of year, we sell a lot of mulled wine and our cocktails are also popular. Because of our location, we also do well on non-alcoholic drinks and we have some good non-alcoholic drink options, such as Bees Knees – a non-alcoholic, sparkling wine, plus a non-alcoholic gin, and non-alcoholic and gluten-free bottled lager too.

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The food

We are certainly a food-driven destination gastropub, people love the inviting ambience and surroundings of the amazing Grade II-listed building, the cosy log fire, low beams and solid wood bar but the food and attentive service is what they come for.

Executive chef Johnny has an amazingly intuitive flair for creating tasty seasonal dishes that are well-thought-through in flavour and presentation.

The menu is predominantly British with a splash of Far East inspiration. Our menus change regularly, using local seasonal produce and there are daily specials on the board. We always aim to use the best British ingredients possible.

We use Flying Fish for our fish, Aldens for our meat and Mansfield for most of our vegetables. But we also use lots of smaller local supplier such as Sandy Lane and D’Oyleys Farm for different local meats, game, veg, cheeses and eggs, and other seasonal produce.

In terms of the food itself, we are famous for our amazing Thai fishcakes, duck and pork salad and the regularly changing flavoursome food that the kitchen teams produces.

We have a lunchtime and dinner menu that both have nibbles as well as starters, mains and desserts, daily specials and we, of course, have our Sunday lunch menu, this being one of our busiest days, people love to come and enjoyed a cosy, lazy family Sunday lunch with us, it’s always best to book, especially on a Sunday.

On the menu

icecream

Starters:

Crispy duck and pork salad, bean sprouts, pickled daikon, herbs and peanuts - £8.50/£17

Steamed Fowey mussels, lemongrass, ginger, chilli, coriander, coconut - £8.50/£17

Duck and chicken liver parfait, apricot gel, pistachio, poached rhubarb, toasted brioche - £10

Mains;

Sandy Lane farm pork belly, Cornish scallops, celeriac, cumin carrots, mash and shallot - £22

Beetroot and herb gnocchi, wild mushrooms, spinach, pinenuts, shallot cream, Parmesan - £15

Grilled Cornish plaice, brown shrimp, hazelnut and caper butter, greens and new potatoes - £20

Desserts;

Apple tarte Tartin, salted caramel ice cream - £8.50

Dark Chocolate delice, honeycomb, vanilla creme fraiche - £8.50

Orange and cinnamon panna cotta, medjool date purée, caramelised chestnuts - £8

The events

We do a cracking Burns Night at the Mole and last year we were featured on BBC Radio Oxford talking about the event. Dimi, Johnny and I spent time explaining bits about the night and what it involved.

We also do regular other events such as wine tasting evenings, tapas nights and a good knees-up for new year. We are locally famous for our Sunday lunches and beautiful alfresco dining experience. We also make an ideal wedding venue and, in the summer, the gardens are truly stunning.

The future

We would love to be able to offer rooms at the Mole. We’re always up for a challenge and it would be a great opportunity for the business to grow. Rooms would definitely go down well in the area with local businesses and travellers to wanting a chic country retreat in the Oxfordshire countryside.

But, at the moment, we will keep up the hard work and keep delivering more of the same.

Related topics: Marketing

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