A night out with the girls

EATING OUT LAMB INN Sheep Street, Burford, Oxfordshire OX18 4LR. Tel: 01993 823155. Open Sunday lunch 12.30-1.45 and every evening for dinner 7.30-8.45. Sunday lunch, pounds 17.50. Three-course set dinner, pounds 2 3. All cards except American Express
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The Independent Culture
THE LAMB - an ancient flagstone-floored inn in the picturesque Cotswold village of Burford - is a lovely spot for a meal or mini-break. With its inglenook fireplaces, low ceilings and pretty walled garden it is cosy in winter and cool and pleasant in summer. My friends Sharon and Tracey and I were running 15 minutes late for our dinner reservation, what with having our toenails to paint and everything, but we were a little surprised - when we rang to apologise - to be told really quite strictly to come as quickly as possible. It was probably no bad thing - preventing us applying even more make-up - but it did seem odd, having rushed, then to be kept waiting for a full half-hour in the drinks lounge.

A tense lady in purple who took our order kept reassuring as that we could go through as soon as "chef" was ready, which made us giggly wondering what "chef" was going to appear dressed up as. Eventually we were led into a candlelit dining room which, with its plain walls and pale wooden floor, was atmospheric and historic-seeming - just a hint of monastery - without being fussy.

We had chosen from the Lamb's three-course dinner menu at pounds 23, offering four choices for starter and main course and a half a dozen for pudding. No sooner had we settled when "chef" finally gave birth, as it were, and our starters arrived simultaneously, borne by two ladies looking, in their long white flouncy aprons, like Victorian midwives.

"Mmm they're good. They taste very rangy, I mean gamey," said Tracey of her warm salad of forest mushrooms. There was a scare when we noticed the salad wasn't dressed properly - some of the leaves were practically stark naked - but a species of "mushroom slime" was discovered below, which made a much more delicious arrangement. "The thing about mushrooms is that often the taste gets drowned in a garlicky sauce but this is just essence of mushroom. Mmm."

My tomato soup with basil was fresh-tasting and lovely, but Sharon was reserved about her salmon and smoked trout mousse - "nice, but not as nice as Marks and Spencer's" - and considered the lime and parsley dressing "a bit bland". At this point my friends became self-conscious about being "dining companions", worrying that I might gain amusement at their expense, perhaps inserting spiteful verbs to make them seem bimbos, drunks, bitch queens or metropolitan snobs. I assured them I wouldn't dream of such a thing.

When our main courses arrived we agreed that Tracey had done best on the ordering again, with her sauteed sea bass, though Sharon's honey-glazed Norfolk duckling on a confit of roasted apples and shallots and Calvados sauce came with the most things. "Well, as you'd expect, it is a bit fatty isn't it?" sneered Sharon. "It was supposed to come on a bed of apples or something," she slurred, "but this Calvados sauce is just like gravy - with a couple of bits of apples on the side."

"More like a futon of apples," snickered Tracey. "I've got a Chinese vegetable melange with ginger in it, stir-fried," she tittered. "Mmm, it's tasty and the fish is tasty."

My supreme of chicken en croute with a tomato and chilli coulis was disappointing, though in hindsight it was a stupid thing to order after tomato soup - of which the coulis was strongly reminiscent. Call me a bigot, but I don't think chicken en croute is a good idea unless the pastry is light as a nightie and lined with a mouth-watering sauce, neither of which was the case.

At this point we noticed a recurring theme: a sprig of dill garnish. Tracey suggested we should tag our dill sprigs and see if they turned up on our puddings.

"You can't go wrong with summer pudding," said Tracey decisively while I dithered between white chocolate and ricotta cream on raspberry coulis or cinnamon meringues with blueberries and creme fraiche on a blueberry and kirsch coulis. Sharon plumped for apple pecan and soured cream pie because it didn't have any coulis. "It's coulis hell here" she said. "It's got more coulis than Jewel in the Crown," agreed Tracey, musing. "You can't go wrong with summer pudding."

I enjoyed my coulis and blueberries, but wasn't so keen on the cinnamon meringues; nothing wrong with the execution, they just seemed a weird idea when it came to it. Sharon took against her apple pie with extraordinary vehemence "Yours are so glamorous and mine's a great slab like something you'd get on a community centre trolley," she said. "Ooh, look, it's got little heart-shaped coulis things," enthused Tracey over hers. "And it's the same colour as our toe-nail varnish. It's very good. You can't go wrong with summer pudding." "Tracey, are you working for the Summer Pudding Marketing Board?" said Sharon.

As we made our way back to the waiting-for-chef lounge we agreed that the food had been very good in parts only, and that the simple things worked the best (which, as Tracey pointed out, is just another way of saying you can't go wrong with summer pudding). It was a lovely place and the service had been excellent, and despite the fact that we were dressed like lascivious new divorcees in a roomful of quiet couples there had been no fuss, or "Ladies" this, that or the other.

Unfortunately, as we sipped our coffee, the others started reading my notebook and high spirits rather got the better of us. Tracey began to cough and go bright red in the face, but Sharon and I thought it was just hysterical laughter and carried on giggling. But Tracey had a chocolate lodged in her windpipe and was not chuckling but choking to death. Then suddenly... she threw up very neatly on a side plate right in the middle of the coffee lounge.

"Could you take this away, please" I barked bossily at the waitress. The service, as ever, was excellent and discreet, but I don't think they'd have us back in a hurry.