KATHERINE MACALISTER discovers the best chips in Oxfordshire at her new local

There must be something in the water in Woodstock, perhaps in the rivers and streams that run through the Blenheim Estate or hailing from the Duke Of Marlborough’s mineral water range.

But a foodie revolution has occurred in the West Oxfordshire town of late, and the locals can scarcely believe their luck.

Latest to get in line are the Jacobs Inn boys Damian and Jonny, who snapped up the Greene King pub, quicker than a croc after Ramadam.

Not content with running the Wolvercote pub, Jacobs & Field in Headington, where it all began, and Jacobs Chop House up the road, the House of Jacob as they now rather grandly call themselves, have now raced into the old-fashioned Woodstock boozer and turned it around faster than a cheetah at sports day.

Anyone reading my recent review of the previous premises will have gathered that it needed an overhaul, buying its food in ready-made and failing to impress.

Nicking Fishes manager Owain Llwyd Jones to provide the necessary bonhomie, they have managed to maintain its real inn status, rather than converting it into a gastro pub which Woodstock is already rammed full of.

So when we popped in of an evening, The Woodstock Arms felt cosy and welcoming rather than dashing, with a Scottish hunting lodge theme to it that makes you want to unwrap your scarf, buy a pint and sit by the fire for the whole weekend, which I nearly did.

There is a tremendous brunch menu, thanks to the Jacobs and Field set up, and word has it that the Sunday lunch is also a crowd puller, so if this is a preamble so be it.

But that’s the great thing about The Woodstock Arms, you can do what you want there. Fancy a pint and a chat with the locals, help yourself. Want a full blown dinner, there’s a restaurant at the back. Fancy some nibbles while you chat and drink, but not a full sit down affair, Bob’s your uncle, and that’s exactly what we did, reclining in the snug leather armchairs in the saloon.

We ordered numerous nibbly bits to wash our drinks down with and provide some sustenance, getting rather carried away when we viewed the menu and ordering almost every starter, small plate or snack we could see which absolutely fitted the bill.

Some delicious Devon crab fritters served with a kaffir lime and chilli mayo (£7), the sautéed mushrooms on toasted sourdough with Oxford Blue cheese (£6.50), huge hunks of chunky funghi in a suitably creamy sauce which softened the bread beneath, the duck and watercress salad with heritage beetroot, and a hazelnut and orange dressing (£7) was a big hit, and some smashed avocado on toasted sourdough with chilli crème fraiche and a poached hens egg (£7) which filled the four of us up admirably.

I nearly forgot the chips! The chips were the piece de resistance, served as they were with bearnaise sauce in an enamel pot, the crisp, crunchy exterior casing the soft insides then dunked unceremoniously in a heavenly sauce flecked with tarragon and worth the trip alone. Best chips in Oxford.

The only slightly off centre dish were the pork scratchings with apple sauce which were almost burnt when they arrived.

The drinks were also rather under par. Having asked for a cocktail menu, which was found somewhere under the bar, my champagne cocktail was rather shall we say sweet and the bloody Mary made with Big Tom’s tomato juice.

However I can heartily recommend the beer selection and have spent many a happy hour at the bar with friends since, making new ones and chatting to the lovely Owain, a bear of a man, whom you fully expect to barge through the door, deerhunter on, red trousers respendent, snow swirling around him with an elk over his shoulder.

So The Crown, Star, Kings Head, Kings Arms, Bear and Feathers better watch out because there is a new pub in town and it’s already heaving.

It looks like the House of Jacobs magic is already working.