Hugh Bonneville, aka Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey, was spotted in No1 Ship Street twice last week. Giles Coren reviewed it in The Times this month, and we gave it our Best Opening restaurant award last year.

It is the name on everyone’s lips and a year into it’s infancy is going great shakes.

To be honest, we had all been a tad worried when Ross Drummond, formerly of The Crazy Bear, announced he was opening up an independent restaurant on a little used street in central Oxford.

It was just before Christmas, when numerous chain restaurants had given dire warnings about the future, and the Westgate had opened, luring diners away from the traditional city centre.

It seemed a brave time to strike out alone in a city famed for its lack of independents.

That No1 Ship Street has not only defied the odds, but thrived, customers flocking from far and wide to taste head chef and partner Owen Little’s food, and enjoy some proper brasserie-style hospitality, is heart-warming news.

Rumour has it that Ross and his new wife Alexia are already thinking of expanding.

Here's what we thought, first time around:

It means that getting a table there is harder than it used to be - loiterers huddled around the cocktail bar upstairs waiting for the next available space. The cocktails were rather bizarre though and needed a little tweaking.

The welcoming, dark dining room on the ground floor awaited, so we ordered some wine and sat back to enjoy the menu; always refreshing, seasonal and unrepentant - think Oxtail ravioli, steak, devilled kidneys, herring, rabbit stew, lamb faggots, and lots of fish.

Owen isn’t afraid of flavour, or British fare, and his specials board agreed - oysters aplenty (available every day), cod fillet with steam clams and a surf n turf platter.

After that the starters were almost superfluous, although we mopped up several portions of wild mushrooms with soft egg and truffle on sourdough. The sourdough was rather tough, though, the sauce failing to render the bread soft and unctuous.

The fish soup with gruyere, rouille and a crouton was more cathartic; its rich, oily depths much more satisfying. The ravioli with snail butter, spinach and celeriac were as robust yet delicate as one imagined.

Once the warm up act was over, we waited impatiently for the headliner - No.1 Ship Street’s infamous surf ‘n’ turf, comprising a 30 day dry aged rib of beef, a whole grilled lobster, truffle mayo and fries, to be shared between two to three lucky people and priced £100.

Cooked to perfection it arrived splendiferous on a huge wooden board, the lobster cracked open and glistening with herbs and butter, the steak carved but still pink, our knives slicing through. No chew, no gristle - just a spectacular cut of meat.

The chips were thin, hot and salty - perfect in fact, meaning we had to continually bat away marauding fingers, as we dunked them into the silky mayo.

The confit chicken with butter beans and pancetta (£14.50) provided proper comfort food but still played second fiddle. The panzanella with cauliflower didn’t really work, but was replaced instantly with piping hot arancini with squash, goats cheese, parmesan and chilli oil.

How we managed dessert remains to be seen but the prune and quince bakewell tart with creme anglaise was worth the discomfort (£8) and the chocolate dome (see pic) a necessity.

I hope Lord Grantham liked it. We certainly did.

Life after Downton:

But one thing’s for sure - the word is out about No 1 Ship Street. Quite rightly so.

Katherine MacAlister

No 1 Ship Street, Oxford