Take one 19th century pub, add a huge garden, great food and kids 12+ in the dining area, and whaddya get? A brand new gastropub to add to your must-try list!
Nestled in the heart of the quintessentially English village of Kirtlington, 6 miles west of Bicester and 10 miles north of central Oxford, is this stripped-stone, 19th century gastropub owned by husband and wife team Bryn and Oxana. Patron chef Bryn Jones moved to Oxfordshire from London in 2002 after falling in love with the area, opened The Oxford Arms in 2003, and has been manning the kitchen ever since (it’s true, I saw him in his chef whites!), with Oxana front of house. The old honey-coloured building offers a grown-up, yet homely atmosphere with a real focus on UK and locally grown produce. The big garden is complete with a Kitchen Garden (and Trevor the scarecrow) where Bryn and Oxana grow herbs, salad and veg.
A traditional country pub to a tee, you walk into find lovely stripped-stone walls and dark wooden ceiling beams. The double sided log fire that separates the more intimate dining area on the left (that can be hired for private dining) from the large bar area adds a homely, charming feel.
The atmosphere civilised, yet non-pretentious, filled with grown-up families (the pub dining room is 12+), groups of friends, couples and a few locals. Decor is traditional and no-fuss but not without the quirks that make for a good old English pub.
The other side of the bar area (that was hosting a small group of locals) flows through to a more open, communal dining space with a few tables and two large comfy leather sofas where you can park yourself just for a drink.
We were lucky to arrive just in time for the Christmas decorations, a (real!) tree snuggled in between the sofas decorated to the nines that, coupled with the dark crimson walls, made for a very festive feel. I can imagine that in the evenings when it’s dark out the space can feel quite magical.
There’s also a big garden out the back with a heated patio area and a larger gravelled area which looks fantastic for a G&T in the sun. Right at the back is the Kitchen Garden where Bryn and Oxana grow ingredients used in the Kitchen; diners can pop in and have a look which I thought was a lovely idea.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Bryn really knows his stuff when it comes to food and whilst the menu isn’t extensive (which I actually prefer) it’s varied and changes seasonally. The menu also offers tips on what to eat for the season which adds a personal touch. For starters I opted for Buffalo mozzarella, vine tomatoes and Mediterranean veg, whilst my mum chose baked fig with Blue Perl Las cheese and air-dried ham. My mozzarella was melt-in-the-mouth and came drizzled in a superb balsamic glaze whilst, as a recent pescatarian convert, even I was tempted to try mum’s starter.
Mains included a mix of classic flavour combos like wild mushroom and truffle oil tagliatelle (the best my mum has ever had) and the more unusual pork belly and puy lentils; there are also limited portions of daily specials. There was only one roast option on for my Sunday lunch, beef, which reflects the more restauranty fine-dining vibe at The Oxford Arms, so check the menu before you descend en masse expecting the full gamut of meats.
I chose fillet of wild sea bass, caught by the pub’s fisherman Mark who visits weekly from Salcombe. Loads of local ingredients, many grown on site or made by village locals. Portion sizes were generous, but not overwhelming (good because the food was quite rich), and presented in stylish big bowls.
We were too stuffed for pudding but ordered anyway, and oh boy, I’m glad we did. My sticky toffee pudding was amazing (and huge) and my mum’s crème brûlée had a crispy top with subtle notes of blueberry and banana.
OUT & ABOUT
Just 10 minutes down the road in Woodstock you’ll find Blenheim Palace (check out its illuminated light trail until New year’s Day) or 30 mins in the other direction, in Bucks, you’ll find National Trust’s jewel in the crown Waddesdon Manor. If you’ve taken your teens for a grown-up lunch, you can head 10 minutes north to Rousham House and gardens (15+ only) for a stroll or there are some great walks around Kirtlington (the canal and lock for starters) and the Cotswolds. For a post-prandial shop, Bicester Village is just round the corner.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: A grown-up pub lunch with top quality ingredients and service. Cold winter evenings inside, or alfresco summer dining. Parking on site.
Not for: Families with young children might struggle with the menu.
The damage: Really good value for the quality of the food. Starters all £6.50 to £8 whilst mains range from £15 for a handmade venison burger, up to £25 for a rib-eye steak and triple cooked chips. Desserts on par with starters or you can get a scoop of ‘Made by the Chef’ Champagne sorbet for £3. Sunday’s set menu mid-range £25 for two courses, £29 for three.
The Oxford Arms, Troy Lane, Kirtlington, Oxfordshire, OX5 3HA. Tel: 01869 350208 .
Words: Nancy Serle