The Snooty Fox, Lowick, Northamptonshire

If you're a Private Eye reader, you may already have heard of The Snooty Fox in Lowick. Last year the Eye took up the cause of Geoff Monks, the former landlord, who was prosecuted for food hygiene offences after a piece of mouldy ham was allegedly found in the pub's kitchen. Ludicrously, Monks ended up serving a prison sentence, and subsequent ill health forced him to sell the pubs he owned, including The Snooty Fox.

If you're a Private Eye reader, you may already have heard of The Snooty Fox in Lowick. Last year the Eye took up the cause of Geoff Monks, the former landlord, who was prosecuted for food hygiene offences after a piece of mouldy ham was allegedly found in the pub's kitchen. Ludicrously, Monks ended up serving a prison sentence, and subsequent ill health forced him to sell the pubs he owned, including The Snooty Fox.

Now the Fox has broken cover once again, in a relaunch that trumpets the foodie credentials of its new owners loudly enough to eradicate any lingering memories of that contentious piece of ham. Chef and co-owner Clive Dixon built his reputation for unusually fine pub cooking at the Pheasant in Keyston, Cambridgeshire, and before that was head chef at The Lords of the Manor in the Cotswolds, where he held a Michelin star.

He has refurbished the kitchen, and installed a rotisserie, so that guests can watch their meat rotating through a plasma-screen-sized viewing window. Other than that, not much has been changed; this is one of those country pubs that exudes comfort and well-being, and the handsome wood panelling in the bar seems to have absorbed the glow of contentment from generations of happy customers.

Set in a flat, watercolour landscape, the sandstone building, once home to the Countess of Peterborough, dates back to the 15th century. I arrived in a screaming hurry, having misjudged the drive up the M1, to find the car park thronged with ruddy coves dressed in green tweed. Only when I stepped on a hound did I recognise them as the local hunt. But why were they giving me funny looks? Of course! In my wild-eyed state and scruffy outfit, I must have looked like a hunt saboteur preparing to attack.

Inside, the pub's hunting connections are reinforced by that weird decorative tradition, pictures of anthropomorphised foxes; foxes wearing hunting jackets, driving cars, flicking through old copies of Private Eye, and so on. Otherwise, it's all in the best possible rural taste, with low ceilings, buttermilk walls and a flagstone floor. A chalked-up menu of bar snacks, including hot pork and stuffing sandwich with fat chips, showed they've got the comfort-food angle covered. Even more promising is the display of raw produce by the kitchen, including gleaming whole fish and well-aged, fat-marbled beef. Short of putting up a sign saying "Look! Nothing mouldy here!", they couldn't have done more to reassure us.

The two dining rooms are comfortable and notably child-friendly; any more so, in fact, and they would constitute a crèche. Only two other tables were occupied on this (late) Saturday lunchtime, both of them by big groups of multiple families. For some reason, my friend and I were shown to a table sandwiched between these two superpowers, and our subsequent attempts to catch up on 20 years' worth of news since we left school were conducted over a chorus of Busted ringtones and rattling plastic machine guns.

Unfortunately, my guest, unlike the pub, is not very child-friendly. She'd warned me in advance that she'd been practising interested facial expressions for when I brought out the inevitable kiddie snaps. Now, grimly sardined between two tables of gibbering youngsters and their slightly pissed parents, she looked ready to start a local chapter of the Friends of Herod.

The monthly changing menu focuses on crowd-pleasing roasts, grills and simple fish dishes, with just enough of an experimental edge to appeal to the cosmopolitan Kettering crowd. Our starters were OK rather than knockout. Deep-fried brie came folded into a scroll of filo pastry, like a spring roll, and was a bit of a gobstopper, while mixed salad with crumbled goats' cheese and shaved fennel was let down by the dressing's unpleasant aftertaste.

But the main courses were faultless. A generous span of impeccably moist skate-wing came roasted to a crisp, golden finish. Barnsley chop - a double lamb chop served on the bone - was an outstandingly full-flavoured piece of meat, pink inside and topped with a little crown of its own fat. We weren't so sure, though, about the "fat chips" they sounded great, but in practice, had a disappointing ratio of flabby interior to surface crunch.

There's no such thing as a bad hot chocolate fondant, and when Hoppy declared that the Snooty Fox version reminded her of our school chocolate pudding, I knew she could offer no higher praise. My lemon polenta cake was a warm and springy delight. "IT'S FROM SALLY CLARKE!" yelled a voice from the kitchen area as I tucked in. One of the chefs, apparently giddy with excitement at the end of his shift, had decided to make his presence felt.

Not to be too humourless about it, but when you're paying upward of £25 a head for lunch, you don't want to be shouted at by a character apparently auditioning for the remake of Crossroads. Still, the culinary map of the East Midlands isn't overcrowded with great places to eat, and if you don't object to other people's children, hounds or stir-crazy employees, The Snooty Fox is well worth hunting down.

SECOND HELPINGS: COUNTRY PUBS WITH GOOD FOOD

The White Swan

No ugly duckling, but instead a refined version of a pub that sticks its neck out on the food side. There's a separate room for dining; dishes draw inspiration from way beyond the Brecon Beacons.

Llanfrynach, Powys (01874 665276)



The Pheasant

Relaxingly cottagey but smart with it. Flexible feeding (the way pubs should be) means everything from ploughman's lunch, posh fish and chips - whiting in beer batter - to langoustine ravioli.

Keyston, Cambridgeshire (01832 710241)



The Olive Branch

A gastropub that's an all-round champion. It feels comfortably lived-in but is nevertheless stylish, offering excellent frill-free food that maintains its pub credentials. All in all, it's not so much posh as near-perfect.

Clipsham, Rutland (01780 410355)



Sun Inn

Unstuffy, family-run inn, with a restaurant that is a bit more Sunday best. The chef has earned his spurs and stars in hotels, but favours simplicity over frills and woos the local farmers with outstanding lamb.

Marton, Shropshire (01938 561211)

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