The Perch, Binsey Binsey Lane, Oxford, OX2 0NG 01865 728891


An unforgettable sound of the Oxford summer of 40 years ago was the stentorian voice of George Chitty, who prided himself on being the city’s rudest landlord, ordering children out of the well-tended flower beds of The Perch at Binsey.

These were commands issued with evident relish by the former professional opera singer, who stationed himself beside the wide window of his first-floor sitting room, the better to observe malefactors at play. It was happy sport for a curmudgeon, the unvigilant parents, of course, being George’s principal quarry.

Four decades on, what a very different character has charge of this beautiful riverside pub! He is a Frenchman whose cheery good nature is recognised by all who meet him. Why, he even managed to preserve his cool — just — when the 17th-century Perch was burned to the ground in 2007, a few months into his tenancy, and remained closed for a year and a half during rebuilding. He is Johnny Mignon. Those who believe a name can sometimes reflect the man will note that the French word ‘mignon’ translates as ‘cute’ or ‘dainty’.

This affable gentleman is at present enjoying leave of absence from his duties, on honeymoon with his bride Alexandra. Their three days of wedding celebrations at the end of last month turned into a big event for the village of Binsey. Festivities naturally focused on the pub, where the facilities include a lavishly accoutred ‘bedouin tent’ — very popular with other happy couples and their guests — large enough to accommodate 200 people.

Business goes on without the boss, however. Visiting for dinner last Thursday, Rosemarie and I found an admirable hostess in Charlotte. She proved warm in her welcome and well informed about The Perch’s ‘offering’, to use that curious modern expression, especially where the extensive wine list was concerned. Seeking a suitable aperitif, I was directed by her to a section of the list I would not usually visit for such a drink, the reds, and the light and spicy Grenache-Carignan blend from Monrouby, in the Eastern Languedoc. My companion, more conventionally, had a glass of Burgundian Aligoté. Venturing into the garden with these on this coldish night, we found that the only other customers amid the greenery were pals Paul and Portia, on a first trip out with their entertaining new huskador puppy, Ridley. The Perch is now as friendly to dogs (on leads, please) as it used not to be to children.

Returning to the busy restaurant (which these days occupies much the biggest part of the pub, to the regret of some long-standing customers), we settled at our table beside the inglenook fireplace. Our starters were soon delivered. Mine was a generous platter of excellent smoked salmon from the Coln Valley Smokery in Northleach. It came, as can be seen in the picture below, with caper berries (and buds), dressed green leaves and pain de campagne, which is promoted in the menu (online at least) into something sounding much grander by the addition of an ‘h’ early in the third word. Rosemarie had the same thing — this time more understandably styled ‘rustic bread’ — with her smooth chicken liver parfait.

Other starters on offer included tofu carpaccio with wild rocket and truffle, Burgundy snails cooked in their shells with garlic butter, steamed Cornish mussels with Madras curry broth, and crispy goat’s cheese salad with smoked pear purée. It might be noted that chef Stephane Pasquier, who trained with Michelin-starred chefs in Paris, shows flair in his fusion of French and English styles.

In my main course, the North African influence was evident too. This was a juicy lamb kofta and a lamb cutlet, marinated in Moroccan spices (ras-el-hanout), and served with a whole merguez sausage and hummous. It was delicious, as was the Californian Pinot Noir (McManis, 2010) I drank with it. The wine lasted into my cheese course, which again blended French and English. All in tip-top condition, the cheeses were Reblochon, Camembert, Stilton and Cornish Yarg. They came with crumbly oatcakes and bread rolls, both home baked.

Customers in search of a traditional ‘meaty’ dish — a steak, say, or a classic casserole or pie — might perhaps raise an eyebrow at the absence of anything like this on the menu. Bangers and mash does figure, though, on the lunch menu, costing £15 for two courses. Dinner visitors must choose from chargrilled sea bream, breast of free-range chicken with peas ‘à la francaise’, a bumper portion of mussels, soya protein patty with spring vegetables, or home-salted cod and crushed potatoes, poached egg and chives beurre blanc. Rosemarie went for the last. She enjoyed it, despite finding that it was (hardly surprising!) “rather salty”. But this was nothing that a glug of unoaked chardonnay (Le Roucas) couldn’t deal with. Chocolate and date pudding, with chocolate sauce and pistachio ice cream, completed a happy meal for her.

Opening times: Wednesday to Saturday, kitchen: noon-3.30pm/ 6.30-9.30pm; bar: noon-11pm. Sunday, kitchen: noon-4pm; bar noon-5pm. Closed Mon/Tues.

Parking: Large car park and unrestricted parking in road.

Key personnel: Licensee Johnny Mignon, general manager Celine Wills, head chef Stephane Pasquier, restaurant manager Sergio Fernandez Make sure you try the... smoked salmon platter (£8.95), half dozen Burgundy snails (£7.95), salted cod with poached egg (£14.95), Le Moorish lamb kofta (£16.95), cheeses (£7.50), chocolate/date pudding (£5.95).

In ten words: Oxford ‘classic’ perfect whether the sun is shining or not