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The Bell, Hampton Poyle
Despite the recession, one area of Oxfordshire which has really taken off (excuse the pun) is the newly named London Oxford Airport.
Several new operators have started using it, with rising numbers of passengers preferring it as an alternative to the major London airports, thanks to benefits such as easy parking and no long check-in times.
As a result, it is becoming a hub of activity and, along with the Langford Lane developments, including the Motor Park, make Kidlington a thriving place for business.
And all of that means hungry people at lunch time. So where do all these people go? Kidlington is perhaps not the best endowed of villages when it comes to decent eateries.
But I think I have found the solution just a few miles down the road at Hampton Poyle.
Last May saw the re-opening of The Bell after a £1m refurbishment which has not only revived the fortunes of the village pub after a long period of closure, it has also transformed it into a small, upmarket hotel with nine bedrooms.
The inspiration behind it is George Dailey, who has previously enjoyed success at The Harcourt Arms in Stanton Harcourt, The Boot in Barnard Gate and The Eyston Arms, East Hendred.
The restaurant has been extended and there is a large bar where we took a seat waiting for a table, although we could just as well have eaten in this area.
The menus provide a wide selection of meat and fish dishes, as well as a range of pizzas specially prepared in an authentic wood oven.
It’s worth pointing out from the outset that there is a special lunch option offering two courses, a glass of wine and coffee for £10.
But given it was a Saturday, the main menu was tempting enough to warrant further exploration.
So, after sipping our glasses of dry, cool Pinot Grigio, one of a good selection of house wines, we were shown to our table in the restaurant.
Looking around, the fresh, modern style of the place was particularly impressive with olive green paintwork, smart wooden furniture and artwork on the walls.
Very quickly our starter arrived. I had ordered the chicken liver parfait that came with toasted sourdough bread.
This literally melted in the mouth and had a delicious creamy texture that complemented the Pinot perfectly. Really something to be savoured.
Across the table the choice had been grilled king prawns with aioli, which arrived on a skewer along with bread that looked like it had been fried lightly in oil.
Although there was the prevailing complaint that the shells had not been removed from the prawns, making them messy to handle, they were very tasty. And at least a finger bowl was provided, without us having to ask for one.
Meanwhile, the tables around us were starting to fill up quickly.
It appears Mr Dailey’s reputation has preceded him and soon the restaurant was full, although it never gave the impression of being overcrowded, and the service remained highly efficient, yet relaxed.
Before long the main courses arrived. After much deliberation, I had opted for a peking duck pizza with mushrooms, hoi sin sauce, cucumber and spring onions.
The pizzas come in two sizes — “sensible” and large. I had chosen the sensible alternative and was glad I did, as it took me a long time to finish it.
Nevertheless, it was delightfully fresh-tasting and, although I have had similar elsewhere, it still remains a refreshing alternative to the usual pepperoni or quattro stagioni choice.
My companion had chosen the chicken escalope cooked in breadcrumbs, which came served with parsnip mash and spinach in a butter sauce.
It looked very simple on the plate but sometimes the simplest dishes are the best, and this did not disappoint with the tender but well cooked chicken a surprising treat.
That just left room for a single dessert, a chocolate brownie to fight over. And it did not take long to demolish — enough to satisfy our hankering for something sweet.
This had been a highly enjoyable meal with some real highlights, not least the service which was prompt, courteous and efficient.
The Bell has been a real find and somewhere we will return to soon.
Chicken liver parfait: £6.95; king prawns: £6.95; chicken escalope: £15; duck pizza: £12; fudge cake: £5.50.
Pinot Grigio: £15 TOTAL: £61.40 Contact: 01865 376242. Web: www.thebellathamptonpoyle.co.uk