From a work-in-progress Katherine MacAlister is happy to report this country eatery now offers a stunning menu and beautiful surroundings
For nearly two years, The Perch pub has been inching ever closer to the pub Jon Ellse always envisaged, since buying it in November 2013.
And here we are, in this, its final incarnation (planning permission for the Grade II listed property being hard to come by), its transformation into a cherished Oxford riverside pub complete.
And it’s magnificent.
There can be no more quintessential English scene than The Perch on a hot summer’s day, the garden stretched out in front of us, full of weeping willows, quaint rowing boats, tables full of families, couples and friends all bathing in the heat.
And the charming verandah which beautifully solves that inside or outside dining quandary by offering the best of both.
I was absolutely enchanted as I sat watching the scene unfolding around us, and secretly proud of Jon, he of South Parade’s Mamma Mia and Portabello fame, for seeing his vision right through to the end.
The menu matches. Fun, light, reminiscent, it whispers of boaters, blazers and punts, and of long summer days spent on the river – Dorset crab on toast, ox cheeks, pressed chicken and black pudding terrine, river trout fishcakes, cherry custard tart. Very Enid Blyton.
Served by the wonderfully efficient Danish manager Henrik, (anyone who has met Mr Greedy will know I have a soft spot for the Vikings), we started off nibbling pickled radishes with smoked sea salt, so strong they almost made you cough, and some tiny devilled quails eggs.
Then the butchers board which was again entirely original, no chorizo and hummus here, but instead slivers of smoked goose which melted in the mouth, home corned beef, country pork pate, Kelmscott salami, pickle and bread, (to share £17.95) which had the men in raptures.
The chilled avocado and cucumber soup with roast red pepper was less of a success, but the devilled whitebait with tartar sauce which arrived in little baskets (£5.95) was another surefire hit.
The beer braised onion and cheddar tart with apple, beetroot and walnut salad (£12.95) was a simple dish done brilliantly. Firm, not too eggy, with deep rich flavours, the sweetness of the onions contrasting with the strength of the cheese and a lively piquant, fresh, seasonal salad to accompany it.
Triumphantly, the hits kept on coming – the chicken, ham and leek suet pie with spring cabbage, the ale battered fish with triple cooked chips, peas and tartar sauce. Mr Greedy rather predictably ordered the rump steak rather than the lovely sounding special of pan-fried mackerel, and regretted it, because however nice his was, once our mains arrived he was seriously jealous.
Our winning streak continued right through to the desserts, when I ordered the Queen of Puddings, one of my mother’s specialities and very hard to find.
It arrived perfectly plumped with waves of meringue topping the small enamel dish, the sweetness belying the sharpness of the fruit underneath and then the creamy, custardy biscuit base.
I can still taste it now, and when I do it takes me back to that balmy summer evening where the world stopped and everyone got to revel in the Perch’s Lewis Carroll type atmosphere.
So well done Jon for persevering. You got there in the end and The Perch is now a treasure of a pub as a result.
The Perch Inn, Binsey, Oxford,