Anyone with a bike or good pair of walking legs will know that the relative ‘countryside’ of Oxford can be reached after just a short venture beyond the city centre. Accessed either through Port Meadow or down a long, winding lane you might miss coming off the Botley Road, The Perch is hidden away beyond a Pick Your Own and a driving range. Either way, you’re sure to work up an appetite by the time you get there. And boy is the walk worth it. A huge sprawling garden with a terrace under cover to shelter from the sun is decorated with a mish-mash of local art and crafts and blends into fields stretching for miles.
The ‘Two courses for £15’ menu is hardly the best deal you can find amongst other lunch offerings, and with a very limited selection of two dishes per course you could forgive me for initially being a bit uncertain. That said, it was certainly a summery-themed menu, in keeping with the time of year, and you feel validated in paying a bit extra when the setting’s that idyllic. The deal also includes either an alcoholic drink or bottle of water (might you want a juice if you’re driving rather than being limited to water?). The waiting staff were very friendly and welcoming; the slightly ambulatory speed of service paled into insignificance and was very much au fait with the lazy summer afternoon.
I opted as ever for a starter and main course, and my mum even more reliably for a main and dessert. We shared the ham hock terrine (as well as the lovely complimentary home-made bread that came with it). Now I’m normally wary of terrines; often they come as more of a jelly, at other times they can be bland or, worse, void of any visible ‘ham hock’. Yet I’d already seen one arrive at a table nearby, and was reassured enough to take the plunge. The terrine was chunky and salty with generous amounts of Parma ham round the outside and not too fatty in the middle. It was the piccalilli dressing, however, that made it. Little pickled cauliflower florets and cucumber chunks dipped in the sharp, acidic sauce which you just can’t quite get from a jar.
My main was calamari with French fries, mushy peas and homemade tartare sauce. I use ‘French fries’ because unfortunately they fell into the trap of being soggy and uninspiring, perhaps because the chef was going for a light version of traditional fish and chips. Sadly there is no substitute for proper chunky chips in my opinion and I struggled to finish the pile (in part because the delicious calamari proved filling enough). Memory of the calamari is a tad obscured, not by the fact I was feeling a bit heady after a couple of glasses of wine in the heat, rather due to the impressive and delicious accompaniments. If I had to pick holes, the mushy peas weren’t mushy (real garden peas!), but otherwise both were fantastic and I could’ve eaten a bucket rather than a ramekin of each of them. The dessert menu had failed to excite me, as is not uncommon, but my mum went for the profiteroles. I happily sat back and watched her enjoy them, I could see they were made with vanilla ice cream in the middle (vanilla pod seeds visible and all) rather than whipped cream which I’m told was refreshing rather than claggy, and the chocolate was rich, smooth and bitter enough to cut through the cream.
I imagine the pub is equally pleasant during winter, but rather than sitting in the garden on eclectic furniture with twee table cloths it’d be more open log fires, thick cushions and low lighting; welcoming you in from the cold. We didn’t try what is a very extensive beer selection (what you’d expect from a ‘proper pub’) but they did look like they’d put a significant dent in your wallet, so perhaps it was for the best we went for food rather than attempting to nurse a pint. Strangely enough, although it came very highly recommended from a couple of sources I’ve also heard some very damning accounts; accusations of poor food and poorer service. This, then, is evidence of the limitations perhaps of a one-off visit, but equally we left relaxed and sated, and wouldn’t hesitate to return to see if it is an overall improvement or a one-off fluke. One to take the parents to, especially if you’re country mouse yearning for a bit of fresh air, or even a change of scene for the city rats amongst us.