Why anyone would take on a restaurant is beyond me. Apart from women’s dress shops they are more likely to fail than any other retail business and much harder work.

To take on a village pub that has been derelict for six years therefore veers on the side of madness, but that’s exactly what Sue Hawkins and her niece Rachel have done, dusting off The Hare in Milton Under-Wychwood and bringing it back to its former glory.

They’ve had a bit of practice mind, running 10 pubs, and most recently selling The Bell in Stow-On-The-Wold, before taking on the mammoth project of The Hare.

To give you an idea of what they were up against, apart from managing it they had to decorate and equip the shell of a building from scratch before even beginning to think about the infrastructure.

So here we are six months down the line, The Hare opening in March, arriving at the charming pub in what has really become a foodie neck of the woods, with the similarly re-opened Wychwood Inn (former Red Horse) nearby and other well known hostelries including The Lamb, The Feathered Nest and The Swan, Kingham’s Plough, Wild Rabbit and the Chequers at Churchill all within spitting distance for a well trained camel.

In short, The Hare had to fit in, and hit the reclaimed, distressed nail right on the head for the Chipping Norton/Cotswold set and as you enter the welcoming, rustic, comforting,mix of old world and contemporary decor, you know instantly they have done just that.

Endless pictures of hares in various genres on the walls remind you exactly where you are. The bar was packed with locals and numerous tables busy with nearby residents, all no doubt delighted to have somewhere so fantastic opening right on their doorstep.

This was further enhanced by the wonderful Henrietta Stanley, a gift of a front of house, who treads that fine line between friendly service and discreet professionalism usually only managed by the French.

Fish it seemed was the pub’s speciality, an odd choice considering that nearby Chipping Norton is as far from the sea as anywhere in the country. But with vans arriving from Cornwall and Dartmouth every morning, it’s as fresh as anywhere else and chalked up immediately on the specials boards. The paper menu includes everything else – baked Camembert, chicken liver parfait, steaks, duck, pork belly...

As Henrietta advised that the current favourite was the wild thyme and shallot Scotch egg served with wild garlic mayonnaise (£6.50), which the staff eat on their lunch breaks, I couldn’t resist.

I now see why, it was the size of a beach ball with a soft par-boiled oozing egg inside which broke when you cut into it, reminding you what a real Scotch egg should taste like, none of that powdery flavour you get from their supermarket imitations but moist, juicy, well flavoured meat, with a whiff of stuffing about it, shaped and deep fried. The garlic mayonnaise was lovely until I made the mistake of eating the flower and stank for about a week afterwards, but a small price to pay.

As I’d ordered the tagine for mains however I didn't eat it all, fearing I’d need to be rolled home like Violet Beauregarde before I’d even reached the main course.

The fish cakes on the specials board were a lovely mix of salmon, cod and haddock, as a start or main (£6.50/£14.50) all perfectly proportioned with a tasty mash, all perfectly nice if not wildly exciting

Then a beautifully dressed crab which came with salad and chips on a board (£17.50). But while the crab tasted delicious, the board rather hindered things as you had to dip into the rather high bowl of salad on the rather high board and then into the bowl of chips, rendering it more complicated and elbowy than it needed to be so we resembled the very creatures we were eating. What happened to good old fashioned plates? Serving suggestions aside it was a lovely dish.

The aubergine and chickpea tagine with harissa couscous, coriander yoghurt and flat bread (£14) was under cooked however. The chickpeas need to have a bite with soft insides and the aubergine should be silky smooth not chewy. It was a well thought out and adventurous dish but needed a lot longer in the oven.

It was only when the puddings arrived that we realised where the kitchen's specialities lay. That chocolate and orange mousse , with honeycomb and popping candy (£6.50) was absolutely delectable. I could only finish half of it, still a regret, but what a wonderful marriage of sweet and sour, creamy, crunchy and fleshy all at the same time.

Not that my friend even noticed, so ensconced was she in her espresso crème brulee (£6.50). Now I personally don't believe you should pollute a good crème brulee and have tested many that have fallen by the wayside simply because people try to be too clever. Give it a good tappy top and a creamy vanilla custard and I’m anyone’s.

But the espresso version served with a tiny pile of sugared doughnuts was heaven. The doughnuts were beautifully light and sugared while the brulee was magnificent and the best dish of the night by far.

So, fish and pudding then at The Hare, which lets the other furred friends with bunny tails off the hook, and sounds like a perfect night out to me.

And with ambience like this and Henrietta on hand, the locals don’t know how good they’ve got it. Or maybe they do. Another big tick then for the Chipping Norton set then. As if they needed any more.


The Hare

3 High St, Milton-under-Wychwood, West Oxfordshire OX7 6LA

Phone: 01993 835763


Noteables: Sue Hawkins and her niece Rachel

Opening hours: From midday until 2.30pm and 6pm until 9pm every weekday

Fri/Sat: 9.30pm

Sunday 12-9pm

On Sundays, we know you like to forget the traditional dining times, so the main menu is served from midday straight through until 9pm - we actively encourage a late, long, boozy Sunday lunch!

Our Specials Board is always packed full of the freshest fish & seafood dishes and runs alongside the main menu.