IT’S impossible not to fall in love with Jacob’s Inn at first sight. It is in equal parts, village pub, restaurant, playground and Good Life-style smallholding – and it shouts fun.

Goats, a pig and chickens happily bleat, oink and cluck away in its huge beer garden – recently named best in the country in the Great British Pub Awards. There’s a table football game which asks for no cash, and a lavish patio festooned with strings of fairy lights. It’s all very magical.

The pub itself is the very definition of homely – a low slung Cotswold stone village inn with wonky slate roof and cute windows. There are climbing plants around the door and greenery spilling out of containers, and in the evening it’s illuminated, turning the cosy tavern into a beacon of warming gold at the end of the village green.

These days the place has competition from the neighbouring White Hart. The former dive is now a community-owned freehouse and the haunt of musicians, boaters and creative types. Jacob’s Inn’s predecessor, the cheap and cheerful Red Lion, never had that problem.

Yet, judging by the busy bar and packed dining rooms, the place is a magnet. It’s so busy indeed, it takes a while to establish that, yes, we have a booking and are eventually show to our table – past an alarmed-looking (as well it might be) stuffed fox.

We take a table by the garden door. Pole position!

It being evening and dark, you might imagine the garden would not be much of a draw. Not a bit of it. Despite not having set foot in the place for years, the kids have some shared collective memory of that free table football game, and they’re off – via the animal enclosures.

I was there to eat though, and relish a moment of peace to investigate the menu.

For a gastropub, it’s all fairly conventional fare, to be honest, and will seem very familiar to anyone who has eaten in any of their sister restaurants – Jacobs & Field in Headington, the Woodstock Arms in Woodstock, Red Lion in Islip and Jacobs Plough in Bicester. Though it does evolve.

Having chosen, I went on a tour of the garden to get the kids’ orders, tracking them down by the goats – one of which, a beautiful bright-eyed creature, seems very keen to make friends. It’s mate is more standoffish and perches atop a little knoll looking on with disdain when he sees we have nothing for them to eat.

Grateful there was no goat on the menu, the eldest lad and I chose a butchers board – a platter of honey roast ham, ham hock and chicken terrine, braised beef cheek croquette and prosciutto to share (£16.50). It was excellent and very generous. The ham went down particularly well and the terrine was pleasingly textured and delicately flavoured compared to the game-rich strips of prosciutto. There was not enough bread for the quantity of protein, though, and, conversely, too many little bullet-shaped gherkins – all of which went uneaten.

A mushroom soup was also satisfying – hearty, so thick you could practically stand a spoon in it, and served with good toasted bread.

Then there was time for another run around the garden and a quick, though heated, knockout table football tournament for them, and, for me, a chance to enjoy a fresh, fruity glass of Bodegas Borsao’s ‘joven’ Garnacha (amazingly good value at £16.75) in peace.

For a celebrated gastropub, the choice of main courses was solid but a bit limited in imagination, with little to really get excited by.

The steaks, ordered by all but me, turned out to be excellent though. Huge perfectly-cooked slabs of 28 day, dry-aged beef from Aubrey Allen (the Queen’s butcher, no less) with a rich bearnaise sauce, watercress and roasted tomatoes – plump bombs primed to explode in a spurt of juice. Thick chips came in a metal cup on the side. For £19.50 it was very good indeed, far better than similar cuts tried in more celebrated Oxford establishments recently, we agreed.

I fancied fish though, my eye caught by the promise of sea trout – always a favourite and far tastier than salmon. It came as a huge grilled slice, firm and flaky in a pleasingly natural shade of very light pink and with lovely crispy skin and. It was served on a pair of thick asparagus spears on mashed potato delicately flavoured with roe – genius!

It would have been a magnificent dish had it not been so dry – a problem not helped by the super-absorbent potato on which it rested.

This would have been easily remedied by a little pot of sauce of its own. As it was, the wine took one hell of a bashing along with a jug of tap water.

We finished by piling into a pair of puds – a fine sticky toffee and a berry fruit pavlova (both about £6.50). The former was pure comfort food, topped with toffee sauce and with a scoop of cooling vanilla ice cream.

The pavlova was also great, a zesty riot of sharp fruit and sugar; a fun contemporary twist on a pub classic – much like Jacob’s Inn itself.

* Jacob's Inn, Wolvercote,

01865 514333 or