Oxfordshire is rife with charming pubs, tucked away in tiny villages or sitting squatly on the side of main thoroughfares. Some offer simple fare such as sandwiches or scampi and chips, others fall under the gastro-pub (I do NOT like that term) umbrella, making the most of local ingredients to produce sometimes delicious and sometimes over-ambitious food.
The White Hart, Fyfield
The White Hart is my old faithful, the place I’m always happy to go. They consistently tick all the right boxes, and any slips are tiny compared to the quality of the food I have come to rely upon.
The building is quaintly beautiful, dating back to the 15th century apparently, and it has a large garden which is the perfect place to enjoy a summer lunch. They have their own kitchen garden and use many local suppliers to produce reliably delicious food. I have enjoyed succulent pork belly, melting confit duck, creamy crayfish risotto, delicate fish accompanied by a rich tart, chunky fish cakes, rich liver parfait, fresh bread and a wealth of more unusual dishes.
The Kingham Plough, Kingham
I’ve only been here once, and the reason is laziness. I’m too lazy to drive all the way out there.
It’s silly really. The food was enjoyable (I had a lamb suet pudding which was a smidge bland but incredibly comforting, and H has some awesome ice-creams for dessert) and there were two lugubrious little dogs that trundled around, stopping occasionally to stand and sigh near one’s feet. We preceded our meal with a visit to Daylesford Organic, and I can recommend pairing the two up, if you’re feeling flush.
The Nut Tree Inn, Murcott
I finally made it here only recently, alerted to its existence by my cruising of the Michelin star listings. They won my affection with freebies of virtually transparent cheese straws, a tiny cup of intense mushroom soup and a basket of 4 different types of made-that-afternoon bread.
Our ensuing meals did nothing to diminish my new-found friendship with the place, and my only regret is that I was too full to manage dessert. Who would have thought the day would come when I could forgo ” Warm 69% Weiss chocolate fondant, Cornish sea salt caramel, peanut butter ice cream” [shakes head in sad amazement].
The Mole Inn, Toot Baldon
Two meals down and I’m generally very happy with The Mole Inn. There have been a few misses (slightly tough prawns, a too-cold and therefore claggily fatty terrine) but some good successes (a tasty shredded pork belly salad, a Thai-flavoured salmon fishcake) so I would definitely return again.
The Beetle and Wedge, Mouslford
A hugely generous Christmas gift from H’s mum led to a night’s stay here with dinner included. Crispy duck with ginger risotto cake and a treacle pudding that was drowning in golden syrup are two memorable treats from our meal there.
Situated right on the river it has a wonderful view, and you can take a constitutional alongside the Thames after your meal, if you can stand up that is.
The Hinds Head, Bray
Heston Blumenthal makes me feel weak. This is not the result of any kind of attraction (not to diminish his charms), but because the sheer amount of effort and perfectionism that goes into his recipes makes me feel faint. The thought of trying to achieve those standards, that flawlessness, is just beyond me.
The only recipe of his I have ever attempted was the triple-cooked chips, and by the end of it all I had about six, following breakages, crumbling and collapse. Six sublime chips, though, to be fair.
The Hinds Head is the simpler sister of The Fat Duck. A few short steps away, it offers wonderful food for a fraction of the price, and the menu choices are a bit less palate-challenging than those at Blumenthal’s flagship. If it was nearer I would eat here a lot, as there are some intriguing and uncommon things on the menu, which features some historic British dishes.
The White Hart, Wytham
Not that far from my Fyfield favourite is this unrelated pub sharing the same name. Last time I was there I had some lovely scallops, and the food and setting are both very pleasant.
I’d like to be a bit more effusive, but I can’t think of anything stand-out to say. I remember the service was a little slow on our last visit, but I plan on going again, as it looks like it would be very cosy on a winter’s night.
The Crooked Billet, Stokes Row
The ONLY reason this is here and not listed as an option is that I went once, easily three or four years ago, and much may have changed since. At the time it was great, and their menu still looks fantastic so hopefully it’s still achieving the same high standard.
The Goose, Britwell Salome (elaborate, well-executed dining with a troubled demise)
Jesmonds, Highworth (a hotel restaurant to be accurate, but amazing food at wonderful prices, we were absolutely gutted when it closed down)