IT’S easy to forget what a huge attraction we have on our doorstep – something which a lot of us eye with bemusement and suspicion, but which attracts visitors in their droves from all over the world.

What am I talking about? Blenheim Palace? The Oxford University buildings? No. I’m talking about Bicester Village.

Whether or not you shop till you drop, you cannot deny that the discount designer retail park has been a huge success and brings in thousands of tourists every year. It has undergone a huge expansion in recent years and has even had a train station named in its honour. So you can’t really blame local businesses for trying to cash in on the shoppers who are heading our way.

And that is exactly what the Lion in Wendlebury has done.

The pub in the picturesque North Oxfordshire village is using its proximity to Bicester Village – just two-and-a-half miles – to lure shoppers who want an overnight stay, with bed, dinner and breakfast packages from £170 per night, including discount offers and a personal shopper deal. To launch the offer, the owners invited my family and me to sample the menu.

On a chilly autumnal day, we were all looking for something to warm us up, and the long list of starters had plenty that fitted that bill.

My wife and daughter shared the whole baked rustic Camembert studded with garlic and rosemary, tearing brioche and apple chutney (£14.95). And while it’s difficult to imagine anyone ruining such a straightforward dish (although our waiter did confess to cooking one for himself and messing it up by microwaving it), this one was particularly well presented. The gooey cheese was studded with delicious cloves of sweet, roasted garlic and herby rosemary, while the brioche ring was lovely and warm and fresh. Silence descended on the table as people waded in, with my son and I getting dirty looks for daring to help ourselves. In my defence, I was obliged to as I was writing the review. My son’s only excuse was that it looked to good to ignore.

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He was soon distracted though by his Thai sesame chicken lollipops with a light, green curry sauce and bok choi (£7.50). The sauce was pungent and spicy, if a bit salty, and the chicken skewers were nice and moist. The bok choi was a lovely accompaniment, but unfortunately was lost on a boy who will never willingly eat his greens.

I also went for a bit of heat, with baked shell-on tiger prawns, garlic butter, chilli and toast (£10.95). These really hit the spot, although it’s a dish that’s impossible to eat without making a mess, so probably not one to order if you’re wearing your new designer outfits. Luckily I was in charity shop chic, so I was unperturbed when garlicky prawn juices splattered all over me. That’s the risk you take when you suck out the prawns’ brains (trust me, it’s the best bit).

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For mains, the children surprised us all by both going for sandwiches, although they did look pretty tasty when they arrived, on white bloomer.

My daughter went for the grilled chicken, smoked streaky bacon and avocado with gem lettuce (£9.50), promptly declaring it the best sandwich she had ever eaten, and the skin-on fries that came with it were excellent too – when she couldn’t eat any more I helped out by hoovering up any that were within arm’s length.

Her brother’s grilled dry-aged steak sandwich with braised beer onions and rocket (£11.95) went down well too, the meat nicely charred and the bread soft and yielding.

My wife and I went for pasta, and they were both a bit of a let-down.

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My pumpkin and pecorino tortellini with squash purée, smoked almonds, sage and watercress (£14.50) sounded delicious on paper, but failed to deliver on the plate. The sweetness of the pumpkin and squash overpowered everything else, and the pasta itself was not silky as it should have been. Not unpleasant, but disappointing.

Likewise, her king prawn and chorizo linguine with garlic, chilli, lemon and olive oil was not the taste sensation she expected, with overcooked chorizo, too much oil making the dish greasy, and no sauce to hold it together.

But then, if you’re off to Bicester Village, the chances are you’ll be giving the carbs a miss anyway.

WHERE: The Lion, Wendlebury Road, Wendlebury, near Bicester OX25 2PW

TEL: 01869 388228


open: 8am to 11pm, Sunday to Thursday, and 8am to midnight, Friday to Saturday. Lunch is served all week 12-5pm. Dinner is served Monday to Friday, 6-9.30pm, Saturday 6-10pm and Sunday 6-9pm.

OWNERS: Brakspear

ROOMS: It has 13 en suite bedrooms. Prices start from £170 per night including dinner, breakfast, and a Bicester Village VIP card giving 10% off.