Disgruntled villagers have been won over at a renamed local where the food is sublime, says Katherine MacAlister
Framed on the noticeboard by the front door is the Oxford Mail’s article about The Black Sheep’s controversial decision to change its name from The Ben Jonson. Weston-On-The-Green villagers are pictured, up in arms about the decision while voicing veiled threats about boycotting the pub as a result.
“All publicity is good publicity,” manager Mark Godfrey sighed as we entered the calm, clean, refreshing interior and wondered what all the fuss was about. The place is busy already, even though it has only been open for three days. Older villagers chatted happily at the bar, while families dined at the wooden tables. “Luckily people are voting with their feet,” Mark smiled.
The brainchild of Weston Manor, which recently took over and refurbished the local pub, under the guise of giving its patrons an alternative to fine dining, but really to offer its Kirtlington Polo Club-playing owner somewhere to bring his muddy chums, The Black Sheep is already a success.
Because while people always resist change, the pub’s sympathetic transformation can be nothing but a good thing. Gone are the dark rooms and pokey atmosphere. The light, bright, natural colour scheme has opened the pub up, giving it a cosy, relaxing feel.
It’s now the kind of place you want to come and read the papers, have a Sunday roast and potter slowly home again. And this is exactly what we did.
Appearances aside, it’s what’s going on in the kitchen that counts and all the Farrow & Ball paint in the world can’t mask a bad spread. But all the right signs were there – a great kids menu that included starters, colouring sheets and pens and a weekday menu to accompany the two Sunday roasts – pork belly or beef sirloin (14.95).
As soon as Mr Greedy spotted the beef, he went still, like a lion waiting to pounce. He just wanted the roast, it was as simple as that.
Being less hungry than him I ordered mushroom tagiatelli, the kids the hotdog and chips (£4.50). It was all a great success but it was the roast that won the plaudits, marking The Black Sheep down deep in Mr Greedy’s subconscious as somewhere to return to. The beef was beautifully cooked. The potatoes, sweed, carrots, leeks and green beans side dish, and Yorkshire pudding, were generous and elegant.
The hotdog was good, more of a sausage in a bun than its US counterpart, and veg of some sort would have been good for us pushy parents who can’t let our children have a day off their five-a-day. The pasta (£14.95) was delicious, creamy and served with tiny al dente broccoli and almonds.
Puddings were tasty although I did think Mr Greedy might cry when he discovered the sticky toffee pudding with gingerbread ice cream (£5.95) had sold out.
The ice creams, sourced from The Milkshed up the road, were remarkable, and worth the trip alone. But the desserts shone, and when the chef emerged from the kitchen Mr Greedy shook him firmly by the hand.
The Black Sheep, Weston-on-the-Green, Bicester
Call 01869 351153 or see blacksheepweston.co.uk