If Essex is one of my favourite counties for GBG pubs, Oxon is well down the list. Nothing to do with Light Blue/Dark Blue rivalry, I just find the pubs too food-focused, outside a good cohort of boozers around Banbury.
20 years ago, the county was noted for some of the most unspoilt pubs in the country.
The Old Hooky in the Peyton Arms was still nectar on my last visit, but I see the North Star has dropped out of the Guide. Some basic Brakspear and Hook Norton houses have fallen to housing developers, killed by 2007 and all that.
The new Oxon entries in the Guide follow a pattern familiar to GBG-goers. On the southern edge of David Cameron’s former constituency, the Red Lion in Northmoor looks exactly like you know it will.
You actually have to go through a dose of gritty Witney on the way, passing the industrial estates of Eynsham, and gravel pits of Standlake. For reasons unfathomable, we brought our young sons here to see banger racing once; you could have sworn you were in the Fens.
It gets suddenly very posh as you enter Stanton Harcourt, a village keeping the thatching industry alive single handedly, and reach Northmoor via a row of magnificent weeping willows.
Here’s a photo of the regulars I found on the community website; it was obviously a karaoke event or something. CAMRA members dress better herethan they do over the border in Reading Branch.
The village has obviously taken over their pub from that nasty Greene King, so the community pub can now offer such delights as Brakspear Original and Hobgoblin.
The Brakspear (£3.40), the only possible choice, was decent without being the thrilling pint it can still be round here (see: The Reformation, Gallowstree Common). Service from the usual cheery young uniformed staff was good, but you did feel like you were invading someone’s house party.
If there’s a checklist for the horrors of Ember Inns, then there’s surely one for the Home Counties pleasant dining pub. Perhaps Simon can add to this list;
- Children running about near open fires
- Huge dogs tripping you up on the way to the loos
- “Witty” 1980s carved signs for the loos
- Lengthy waits for service as staff fetch butter spoons and condiments
- Discussions about “huge jars of gherkins”
- “Balazu” olives advertised on a giant blackboard
- Locals sitting at the bar so you can’t see the beers (a particular community pub trait)