Like a starving greyhound in the traps chasing the eternal rabbit, I am on a permanent mission, reporting back from the war-torn culinary landscape of Oxfordshire occasionally bearing fruit. First world problems.

But I also have a bank of favourites, a culinary little black book, in which to fall back on, which I tend to save for myself, having reviewed them before, in case I get lambasted for favouritism, nepotism or sheer repetition.

But a new chef can tip the balance, able to swing the kitchen scales irrevocably between success or failure.

And while The White Hart in Wytham has had to tout around for a new kitchen leader, it has come up trumps with Martin Sheriff, formerly of The Boot Inn, in Barnard Gate near Witney.

I reviewed it back in 2014 when his food certainly struck a note. Back then it was more rustic, his aspirations peering out behind the ‘steak night’ style menu of the lovely old hostelry.

He has now replaced the excellent Jan Chmelicek, who jumped ship, no doubt on the endlessly itinerant merry-go-round circuit of roaming chefs, always on the look out for the next-best-thing.

But Martin’s obviously been practicing since then, if our dinner was anything to go by, a seamless meal which was an absolute joy from beginning to end.

Owner Mark Butcher must be chuffed to bits, because Martin’s cooking is divine – just the right side of experimental, his dishes are novel, honest and inspired.

He doesn’t fuss over the more straightforward options, allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves unadorned. Take the venison burger served with Oxford Blue cheese, fries and spiced mushroom ketchup. It wasn’t meddled with, but the burger had a satisfyingly rich, gamey flavour, perfectly cooked and seasoned, the chips piping hot and crispy, the mushroom ketchup home-made and the bun soft but firm with that slightly sticky glaze.

Other dishes such as the white truffle gnocchi cake with Jerusalem artichoke puree, grilled artichoke hearts, crispy capers, lemon balm and an artichoke crisp, from the enormously surprising new vegan/vegetarian menu, which was as carefully formulated as possible, each component balanced, it’s sheer inventiveness awe-inspiring.

The gnocchi cake (why not?) while undeniably filling was offset by the piquant vegetables in their varied forms, and a vision to behold on the plate.

The a la carte menu offered up another amazing starter; a gleaming strip of grilled mackerel with pickled baby beetroot, horseradish snow and charred cucumber (£9) another hybrid of utmost simplicity and complicated methodology, deceptively pared back.

I of course had to appease my souffle penchant with the double baked Wensleydale with pickled baby vegetables, turnip veloute and micro cress (£13) which triumphed (see pic above).

There was also an immense specials menu, commandeered by one of our party who went for the Shetland king scallops (cue much eye-rolling) with Jerusalem artichoke puree and pancetta £11, the fillet steak with garlic roasted mushroom, fries, salad and chimichurri sauce (£28) which was absolutely spot on, her silence continuing through the cherry and frangipane tart with fig puree and amaretto ice cream

The rhubarb custard tart with rhubarb sorbet, compressed rhubarb and lemon verbena (£8) as seen above, was far more delicate than it’s title suggested, and beautifully composed, the subtlety of the flavours matching the exquisite composition.

But perhaps the dish that proves my point best is Martin’s take on a creme brulee, which arrived as a capuccino, complete with milk art, short bread biscuit and a side of condensed milk ice cream; the perfect mix of fun, mischief and attention to detail Only when you tapped the froth did one discover the brulee lurking beneath.

Not bad then for a pub hidden away in the countryside off the A34,whose reputation for food continues unabated, as does my patronage.

The White Hart of Wytham


01865 244372

Opening times:

Monday - Thursday: 12:00pm - 2:30pm, 6:00pm - 8:30pm

Friday - Saturday: 12:00pm - 3:00pm, 6:00pm - 9:00pm

Sunday: 12:00pm - 4:00pm

Try the: New and inspired vegetarian and vegan menu being served everyday.