Katherine MacAlister did not lose any sleep over choosing her favourite eaterie

You’d have thought that having to choose just one winner for the first Oxford Times Restaurant of the Year would involve endless sleepless nights, pen-chewing and pensive thought, locking myself away for hours on end until I could make a decision, racking my brains for the right answer, waiting for divine intervention, spoilt as I am by the enormous breadth of choice.

Yet, while Oxford is currently bursting at the seams with fantastic new restaurants and places to eat, it was an easy decision to make.

Indeed, for me there was only one contender, so I’ve been sleeping like a baby. Because The Killingworth Castle is absolutely superb on every level. Not only is it friendly, local and inclusive but the food and service are, in my opinion, quite excellent.

It’s certainly my favourite restaurant of 2013, without doubt, which is why I am making it the first Oxford Times Restaurant of the Year.

Looking back, it’s actually embarrassing the amount of time I spend there.

The wonderful staff are far too polite to say: “Oh, it’s you again” when I walk in, but they might as well. In fact, it would be easier to unfurl my sleeping bag under the table and settle in for the night, waking only for the lunch service to begin, than venture home in between.

I’m not alone in my assumptions about The Killingworth either. It has been awarded the Bib Gourmand, (the junior Michelin) and a double AA rosette already, unheard of in under a year of opening.

But that’s the thing, even though it’s located in the middle of nowhere in Wootton, near Woodstock, word got around pretty quickly that Jim and Claire Alexander were not only undertaking a major restoration job on the 17th-century hostelry to restore the ‘Castle’ to its former glory but that reinstating the pub into the heart of the village was their mantra.

And it is this, above all else, that brands it indelibly on my heart, because however many of us flock there to eat the legendary food in such lovely surroundings, there is always a healthy crowd of locals drinking, chatting and laughing at the bar.

These locals are rightly oblivious of the gourmets around them awed by the splendour of Andrew Lipp and Phil Currie’s food.

Which is why, when I need a night off from reviewing, or there is something to celebrate, you can find me there, for birthdays, a deux, with the in-laws, the outlaws, family, friends, you get the picture.

Which meal to report therefore is a lucky dip, but as I still have the receipt for Bonfire Night so let’s start there, which might go some way to explaining why instead of standing in a wet field I was ensconced at the cosy bar, slobbering over the specials board.

It’s not pretentious The Killingworth, so settling in with a drink first we chose to eat in the bar because it’s more atmospheric, although the dining room is equally as charming.

The specials had us in raptures before we’d even sat down, and we took ages to choose, only managing a decision several bowls of olives later.

Luckily restaurant manager Lidia Dhorne and front of house Yohann Thuillier are as knowledgeable as they are delightful, and guide you through the menu, utterly au fait with the minutiae of the dishes and the wines that match, their pride tangible.

And so we began, eagerly, like greyhounds released from traps, tantalising dishes being dangled in front of us like the endlessly elusive hare.

Wild mushrooms and scrambled eggs with truffle oil on brioche, (£6.50) chicken liver parfait (£7), celeriac soup with sage and walnut oil (£6) and the crab and haddock scotch egg (£6.50).

The scotch egg won hands down and caused considerable food envy, served as it was on a pea and rice bed with a bisque, but the scrambled eggs are also an all-time favourite of mine now.

The soup was a tad too mild and the parfait slightly wet, but nothing to fall out about.

The mains, however, shone. The plaice roasted celeriac with cockle popcorn (£16.50) was brilliantly textured and delicious.

However, the pork belly with scallops (£1http://www.thekillingworthcastle.com6.50) took all our breath away, such were the subtly balanced components and flavours, a perfectly executed dish.

The beetroot and thyme risotto with lemon cream (£12.50) was a rich, dark, creamy red and all enveloping in its wintery seasonality, while the partridge with onion and thyme dauphinoise (£17.50) again was perfectly cooked.

We managed two plates of cheese (£8 each), a brownie with a salt caramel ice cream (£7) which defied belief, and a frangipane and blackberry tart with toffee ice cream (£7) which silenced me once and for all, washed down with several bottles of wonderful wine before we staggered out replete and restored before having to make our way home.

You see, a sleeping bag would have been a much better idea.

* The Killingworth Castle Glympton Road, Wootton, OX20 1EJ 01993 811401 thekillingworthcastle.com