The Muddy Duck, Hethe (mid Oxfordshire)
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Just before Christmas I took my mum to The Muddy Duck in small village of Hethe, a few miles north of Bicester (Aha! Proof I don’t always use her as a glorified babysitter!) This place opened to rave reviews just over a year ago, and it’s been on my ever-increasing hit list of pubs ever since.
There are slim pickings around Bicester for good gastropubs (um, if you’re one of the ones I don’t know about, get in touch), and The Muddy Duck has expanded into the available space with ease.
It was developed by a local couple with money to burn on a local project, and no expense has been spared. It’s all very tasteful with gorgeous open fires, muted colours and exposed beams, but there are some quirky asides to set it apart from being just another country exercise in good taste – a taxidermied foxy fox, a stunning pheasant tail wreath, a humorous ‘Quack’ theme running via the napkins and toilet signs which I can’t decide whether I think clever or irritating, a giant carved wooden duck in the garden.
I love a pub that really thinks about its customers and the Muddy Duck has put some circular walks up on its website (which I think all country pubs should do actually). I was planning to use my iphone to access it on the walk but of course, in typical pro blogging style, had forgotten to charge it *sigh*. So the nice Muddy Duckers printed one off, and we strided off for an hour or so around the fields and lanes. As someone who has map reading dyslexia, it should come as no surprise that I managed to walk the entire route the wrong way round, giving more ammunition to my mother’s fire that I do not possess a single practical bone in my body.
Our walk was incredibly ‘green’, pretty in parts, and sooooo quiet. It’s a peaceful part of Oxfordshire, rural and remote. We didn’t come across a single person on our walk which took us through fields, little lanes, across bridges, and eventually came back through Cottisford, the real life ‘Fordlow’ of Lark Rise to Candleford, written by local girl Flora Thompson of her childhood upbringing in the village.
The tiny church of St Mary is unchanged since Thompson worshipped there as a young girl, adjacent to the War Memorial which bears the name of her beloved brother, Edwin Timms, killed at the battle of the Somme in 1916. There’s a fabulous looking Manor house in the village too that you can see from the road if you like peering at gorgeous properties as much as me.
We made it back to the pub in perfect time for lunch. The bar area was particularly charming – cosy but relaxed (ideal for lunch) and I imagine a good vibe on a weekend night for drinks.
The more ‘restauranty’ eating area is set away from the bar and up the stairs. We were at the edge of the balcony, so we could look down into the kitchen downstairs, which is always a good sign – nothing to hide!
The food is in typical gastro-pub territory – fresh ingredients, well cooked, nothing too flourishy or experimental, and a good range of favourites (burgers, fish n chips, pork belly) to keep traditionalists happy.
I had crab cakes for starters (lovely – not too crabby)
… followed by smoked haddock with leek mustard mash, spinach poached free-range egg & cheese sauce. Delicious.
We ran out of time for dessert but I’m not sure I could have fitted one in anyway. We knocked back a quick espresso just for the hell of it, and I legged it back for the school run.
Overall, a very enjoyable experience. If you’re in the area, check it out.
But wait, what’s that I hear you cry? ‘Don’t finish the post just yet. Where’s the famous Muddy toilet shot?’
Ah yes, of course, I’d hate to disappoint. Here are the Muddy Duck facilities, with added Muddy Mum for good measure. Honestly, the things I do for you lot.
The Muddy Verdict:
Good for: families, groups of friends looking for superior pub fare, walkers looking for a hearty lunch, daytrippers to Bicester Village looking for a pleasant country retreat for lunch. Possibly better to go over the winter months so you can luxuriate next to that lovely open fire.
Not for: anyone in a massive rush (service was a bit slow, though excellent when it arrived), or those who like their food with a fine-dining flourish. The Muddy Duck plays on its relaxed ethos, so informality is the key here.
£££: On the more expensive side I’d say, with starters £7-8, fish mains around £14-19, meat mains £19-25ish and desserts £6.50. But if you’re in the mood for a good quality blow out in peaceful surroudings, you’re in the right place.