The George Inn, in the lovely village of Barford St Michael, is a joy to visit in the sunshine at this time of the year, with autumn hues lending enchantment to the landscape.

But it was at night that Rosemarie and I chose to make our first visit in an age to this ancient hostelry. What looked a doddle of a drive on Google – straight up the A44 to Deddington, swift potter to the village – turned into something quite other.

Sudden turns, tight squeezes and dead-end lanes defined the last stage of a trip that delivered us to . . . Barford St John. So back we went.

A sign to the church seemed likely to point also to the pub, with godliness and booziness so often found side by side. Thus it is here.

Looming out of the darkness was the severe Hornton stone frontage of the George, a building that has been quenching the thirsts of locals (and visitors) since the end of the 17th century.

Directed to the large car park at the rear, we entered the building from the back, passing as we did so a recently added extension containing seven en suite letting rooms (there are two more in the main building).

We were to admire their tasteful decoration in a post-prandial visit with staff member Sarah Thornley, who had supervised the serving of the meal. These mark a new stage in the development of the pub, which is now under the control of Canadian Michael Regan on a 25-year lease from owners Louis and Laura Holtzhausen.

For the past four years Michael has been enjoying great success at The White Horse, in the nearby village of Duns Tew. I reviewed it very favourably in these pages soon after his arrival. Concerning The George I can not, as yet, strike quite so entirely positive a note.

Certainly it is delightful in terms of its rustic decor, with a ‘pubbiness’ entirely to my taste, reflected in a tempting range of hand-pumped real ales – Blunder Buss, from Gloucester brewer Clavel and Hind; Black Sheep from Masham in Yorkshire; and Hook Norton’s Hooky. Beer-tester Rosemarie pronounced the last in perfect condition.

That it’s a popular local was seen in the number of regulars, young and old, in the flagstone-floored bar. Some had dogs, the handsome boxer Roger among them.

Respecting the food offering, however, this cannot yet be considered up to the standard required at a place where, for instance, fish and chips costs £13 and rib-eye steak £22.

While I have not much to complain of about taste and presentation, there was a marked disjunction between what we expected and what we received.

Choice was somewhat limited, too, especially over starters, where the one I wanted, shell-on prawns with chilli and garlic, had sold out. That left only three options.

Ruling out tomato, basil and mozzarella salad, I went for the garlic mushrooms on toast. I enjoyed the buttery mix of shiitaki, oyster and button mushrooms but wondered over a garlic flavour that was undetectable. Had garlic been forgotten, or administered in homeopathic ‘trace’ quantity?

Rosemarie ordered the “charcuterie board, pickles and sourdough”. This brought assorted olives, which she never eats (I enjoyed them); chutney, which she doesn’t much like; slices of slightly sweaty salami Milano, pepperami and chorizo; and rather elderly sourdough bread with seeds. “I might have expected at least a slice of Parma ham,” she complained.

With her main course, fish pie, she certainly expected greens, because that’s what the menu said she was getting. Instead came roasted beetroot (purple, of course), not a suitable accompaniment to a fine pie such as this, featuring smoked haddock, hake and salmon beneath fluffy, crispy-topped mash.

There could be no faulting my main course, though, a roasted fillet of hake, with squishy red peppers, chunks of chorizo, tenderstem and a classic salsa verde. Full marks.

Scoops of moist Stilton, with tangy marmalade and lots of biscuits, were a fine finish to my meal. Rosemarie had a lovely lemon curd tart which was said to be home-made but which, in its perfect construction, really didn’t look it.

We drank good-value South African chenin blanc.

  • The George Inn, Barford St Michael, Banbury, OX15 0RH, tel: 01869 338160,
  • Opening times: noon to 11pm. Lunch noon-2.30pm; dinner 7-9pm
  • The people: owner Michael Regan, chef Alex Edwards.
  • Parking: large car park at rear
  • Do try the . . .charcuterie board (£7), garlic mushrooms on toast (£6), roast hake, red peppers, chorizo, tender-stem broccoli and salsa verde (£16), fish pie and greens (£12), lemon tart with double cream (£6), Stilton, marmalade and crackers (£7)