THE challenge is on, the gauntlet thrown down. Among aficionados of comfort food, the search is on for Oxford’s best fried chicken.

Of course the standard takeaway joints (no names, but we all know who we’re talking about here) don’t get a look in (though, of the lot, Chicken Cottage is surprisingly okay considering how grim the premises). And after some substantial research, and the punching of fresh holes in my best leather belt (no January detox for me), I am pleased to unveil my interim winner is (drum roll...) The Big Society.

The Cowley Road bar divides people – some annoyed by its hipster-lite trappings, the heated outside smoking area where you can’t smoke, stupid use of two-third pint schooners for ale and the tired and clichéd practice of serving cocktails in old jam jars (give us proper drinks in glasses!). But I happen to like it regardless – the staff are friendly and the food is top-notch for the price.

All the American regulars are here: hot dogs, burgers, nachos, macaroni cheese (though, in the name of all that is decent, please stop calling it ‘Mac & Cheese’... it’s just wrong).

But the best is the chicken: four succulent pieces of sweet poultry heaven for £5.85 (or with fries for £7.45). The trick, they say, is soaking the meat overnight in milk. That certainly keeps it tender, but the quality of the produce is also key, the subtle blend of spice with which it is rubbed, the crunchy breadcrumb mix and, crucially, the cooking – which keeps the outside crunchy but not hard and the centre cooked-through but still smooth – flakes of white meat falling effortlessly from the bone, with no sinew or gristle.

Served with a schooner (grrr!) of the hoppy house pale ale, it is divine, and I challenge any other establishment in this town to do better.