Village succumbs to haute cuisine and chips

8th March 1996 at 00:00
Egon Ronay approves, and so do the 95 primary pupils in a picture- postcard Oxfordshire village.

Landlady Jennifer Dixon's pub grub is food to die for - and school dinners have not been the same since she assumed responsibility for them. How many other schools offer salmon with fresh pasta, curries, quiches and chillies? Or banoffi pie, treacle tart and hand-made meringue piped with cream and topped with chocolate?

There is no strict rota of food she creates for Shenington primary, although once a week the children do get chips.

Mrs Dixon's culinary expertise has been recognised by Egon Ronay since 1994 and her pub, The Bell at Shenington, appeared in his Good Pub Guide three years running.

Duck in port with blackberries, spicy lamb and tomato casserole, Spanish pork and rice, and a parsnip and yoghurt bake were among the delicacies on offer there last week.

"Obviously I have to consider the prices more carefully when I'm working for the school," said Mrs Dixon. "And I don't think the children would eat pheasant, venison or duck. I have to consider what they would like, whether it's balanced, and I'm not allowed to have too much fatty food.

"I don't have to consider whether my pub customers get fat from what I'm cooking - that's up to them."

Waistlines have been expanding among the staff at Shenington primary since Mrs Dixon took over the meals contract.

Shirley Hartlett, headteacher, said: "You wonder 'What's for lunch today?' and it makes you want to come to work. And if it's treacle tart, I'm sunk."

Carmen Iversen, head of infants, added: "You can never lose weight in this place. That jam roly-poly she makes is absolutely wicked."

Puddings seem the downfall of adults and children alike at the school, which looked to the village pub for its lunches when it opted out in 1993.

Girls lining up for treacle tart last week all cited puddings as their favourites - sticky chocolate pudding, chocolate chip icecream, jelly and chocolate mousse.

Two-thirds of pupils take the lunches, which in line with the rest of Oxfordshire's schools, cost Pounds 1.15. Food is prepared at the pub, packed into a thermal box and delivered by Mrs Dixon in her Ford Capri at noon. The meals are regularly inspected by health and safety officials.

The school has no kitchen and with just three classrooms and one mobile is bursting at the seams. It is also hugely popular, with three pupils chasing every place.

Last month, The Sunday Times claimed Shenington was the most successful state primary for reading, with 94 per cent of seven-year-olds performing two years ahead of their age. Perhaps Mrs Dixon is producing good brain food, too.

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