So let’s go back, way back to when Killingworth Castle first opened in 2012. Word spread fast that there was somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere brilliant, somewhere affordable to eat.

The great and the good flocked from far and wide to the country pub which had stood derelict for a year, brought back to its former glory by its new owners Jim and Claire Alexander, and the awards started flowing in, Oxford Times Restaurant of the Year Award among them.

As the years passed and chefs came and went, it maintained its reputation for great food, but the shine became rather lacklustre. The food was good but not great, the staff turnover was high, especially chefs, new managers flowing in and out in a steady stream. In short, it seemed to have lost its mojo.

And yet my lunch there on Friday was one of the finest I’ve eaten. So what had changed?

Two things it seems. Firstly, there’s a new front of house, Frank Green, who has known the owners for aeons. He could see that The ‘Killy’ was drifting and needed a steady helm and knew he was the man for the job. A lovely, friendly, centred man, as a former chef there’s not much Frank doesn’t know about the business.

Secondly, Chris Ellis has arrived in the kitchen. Former head chef of sister pub The Ebrington Arms while it won its two rosettes, which is equally well regarded. He knows Frank too, and was looking for a new challenge, somewhere else to make a name for himself.

Believe me it won’t take long if our food was anything to go by.

The menu has been simplified; classic, seasonal, uncomplicated English dishes – wild mushrooms, mackerel, mussels, cod, beef, lamb. But there are smatterings of ingredients in there to suggest the chef is going that extra mile: Oggleshield cheese, charred Hispi, Yubby Ale battered haddock, Braddock White duck egg, Bobby beans.

The food itself demonstrated just that. The most innocuous sounding dish being transformed in front of our very eyes into something quite extraordinary.

Take the Evesham radishes with aioli and smoked salt. Within one bite, I knew The ‘Killy’ was back on form. The aioli was smooth and creamy, rather than harsh, the perfect dip for the huge crispy radishes then dipped in smoky salt. The simple things.

The soup of the day was English pea with truffle oil (£6.50). My dining companion, a caterer herself, declared it ‘the best soup she’d ever had’. A glorious bright green, its flavour matched its zest, maintaining that sticky bite of the pea, with sourdough

Wild mushrooms on toasted brioche with truffle cream and a crispy hen’s egg (£8) was equally as gentle and disappeared before I could even get my fork over the table to sample a bit.

Then the Cotswold spring lamb rump with local peas and broad beans, asparagus and goats curd (£18.50) which was so seasonal it was screaming, the generous portion perfectly cooked.

My only criticism was that the jus could have been served in a jug because it tended to dissolve the other clever touches on the dish, the puréed pea dashes and goats curd, but otherwise an exemplary dish.

The beetroot main dish (£13)was given a makeover and paired, not with goat’s cheese, as is so common these days, but with a marinaded Parmesan polenta, braised chicory, Oxford blue cheese and thin slices of apple, an inspired combination of light, piquant, fresh, juicy and novel ingredients which sang. Accompanied by some skinny fries with garlic aioli I was in heaven, I tell you. The chargrilled broccoli with walnut pesto was less of a success and smelled funny.

I didn’t have room for dessert until I spotted the homemade raspberry ripple on the ice cream menu (three for £6). My friend, being far more refined, opted for the elderflower parfait with Cheddar Valley strawberries and honeycomb (£6.50), which was a vision on a plate. It shouted summer like a donkey ride on Bournemouth beach and tasted even better.

Thanks to Frank and Chris, now is the time to go to Killingworth Castle. My new favourite place all over again.

The Killingworth Castle

Glympton Road




OX20 1EJ

01993 811401

Open: daily 9am - close