A four-year renovation of The Harcourt Arms at Stanton Harcourt, carried out with impeccable style and at lavish expense, has created a pub, restaurant and hotel fit to compare with the best in the county.

The wonderful 17th-century building – in which decades ago some of my happiest hours were spent – is once again in the business of giving us all a good time. Its purpose, as promotional material makes clear, is the provision of proper food, proper drink and – through the addition of 10 luxury bedrooms – a proper night’s sleep.

In that respect – were I to be staying in the splendiferous Blenheim suite, with its four-poster bed, copper bath and rainfall showers – I’d be rather too excited by all the swank to get much kip.

The transformation of a building that once looked yet another sorry loss to the world of catering owes everything to the determination and drive of developer Steve Ward, of the nearby hamlet of Sutton.

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“Sutton needs a bypass NOW!” was a sign that always struck me as hilarious in the late 1970s driving to the Harcourt for landlord George Dailey’s amazing Sunday lunches. Oysters, garlic prawns, lamb spit-roasted in the inglenook fireplace and ‘Aunty Renee’s treacle tart’ are treats I can still taste.

Sutton’s bypass never came, though rather more houses, which might have helped make a case for it, were eventually erected around a new green by Mr Ward.

My first sight of his work at the Harcourt came on a Saturday visit a month after its October 30 opening. Our plan was merely to have a decko and a drink and, we hoped, to book a table for the next day to revive the Sunday tradition.

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In the event, so impressed were we by the creature comforts on offer – and the warm welcome from manager Olivier Bonte and his team – that we stayed to eat in the bar. For Rosemarie there was a double-patty cheeseburger – sensational meat and great chips – and for me a first-class (and very long) Cumberland sausage coiled over bubble and squeak with onion gravy.

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Our excellent first impression of what is being achieved here by chef Alan Gleeson – whose earlier ‘gigs’ included a stint at Carole Bamford’s White Rabbit in Kingham – was confirmed the next day.

Lunch was enjoyed in the company of pals Joe and Martin, plus their loveable Labrador Bella, with whom we travelled by cab. (The chenin blanc was to be hit again!)

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At this busy session, kick-off had necessarily been fixed early, so shortly after 1pm we were well stuck into our starters, selected from what is, on Sunday, a fixed-price menu: £25 for two courses, £30 for three.

Actually, there was a pre-starter in the shape of a nduja Scotch egg split four ways (the ‘nduja’ being the fiery Calabrian salami employed in the casing).

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My starter proper was two perfect baked scallops served in their shells with a topping of hazelnut pesto. Rosemarie enjoyed chicken liver parfait with sourdough toast and fig chutney, and Martin his citrus-cured trout, sea-reared, with creme fraiche – so much so, complained Joe, than no-one else got a taste.

By contrast, he was most generous in sharing the delights of his “sensational” crispy miso pig’s head with pickled shallots and mustard ketchup.

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He continued, as did I, with a Sunday roast. His was roast rump of Angus beef, “nice and pink with splendid Yorkshire pudding, though two slices of meat seemed mean”.

There was no problem on that score with my wonderful chunk of succulent belly pork, with apple sauce and amazing crackling. Both came with duck fat and thyme roasties, fine beans, confit carrot and braised red cabbage – always a bit ‘Marmitey’, but I love it.

Vegetables are a strong point here, as was seen in the generous bowl of buttered tenderstem, green beans and peas with Rosemarie’s delicious fish pie, long on smoked haddock.

Martin went for roast cod, fresh and glistening, with tenderstem and cider and dulse (seaweed) butter.

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He finished lunch with dark chocolate pot with cocoa nib crisps, caramel and pecan ice cream.

Rosemarie ordered apple crumble, which was a fine accompaniment to cheeses: Rollright, Barkham Blue, Quicke’s mature cheddar and Clara.

This is a seriously good place.

  • The Harcourt Arms, Stanton Harcourt, OX29 5RJ, tel: 01865 416516, theharcourtarms.com
  • The people: chef patron Alan Gleeson, general manager Olivier Bonte.
  • Breakfast served daily 8-10am (including full English and ‘veggie full’ both at £14, eggs benedict, American pancakes, and smoked salmon and scrambled eggs).
  • Lunch noon till 2.30pm (3pm Fri and Sat and 4pm Sun). Dinner 6-9pm (10pm Fri and Saturday; no food Sunday night but bar open till 10pm).