Katherine MacAlister reviews The White Hart in Wytham

It was Christmas in a bite. Genius really – the orange caramelised top smoky with a hint of orange, then the slick, creamy custard brûlée, and at the bottom a tiny scoop of rich, not overly spiced, but discernible Christmas pudding, the perfect last note.

There was an accompanying spiced plum ice cream and a cinnamon shortbread, but it was almost superfluous such was our devotion to the main attraction.

We had pitched up last minute like Mary and Joseph, breathlessly asking if there was any room at the inn, in this case The White Hart in Wytham.

Drive-by bookings are all well and good, but leaving it to fate can often backfire, especially at this time of year when family reunions and office parties can commandeer an entire venue overnight.

Wytham was lit with Christmas lights, its ancient walls and historic houses welcoming as we rode into town on a wing and a prayer. Could they squeeze us in? Just one tiny three course meal? Maybe some wine? No stable required?

We nearly wept when they ushered us to a table by the fire and yes Martin Sherriff was in the kitchen, the planets were aligned it seemed.

And looking around the 16th century pub I enjoyed the balance between the locals thronging the bar putting the world to rights, while the dining room at the back was full with happy customers, the bar tables in the main bar, more comfortable and relaxed.

But don’t be foiled because The White Hart serves some really astonishing food.

Martin’s menu was predictably enticing; smoked Jerusalem and artichoke soup with a caraway biscuit and artichoke crisps or Christmas tree cured Loch Duart salmon with mulled wine jelly and walnut bread?

And then I glimpsed the twice baked Stilton soufflé with toasted almonds and broccoli veloute (£7) and I was solid gone.

Joseph ordered the roasted cauliflower and pancetta salad with roasted turkey jelly, pickled walnuts and bacon foam (£8) and we sat back and waited for the magic to begin.

The soufflé didn’t disappoint, oozing with salty cheese it was resplendent on the plate, the soft thick veloute the perfect base for the sharper slithering puffed souffle, the almonds providing a crunch, a nice alternative to the more traditional walnut.

The cauliflower salad was “excellent and inventive,” the pancetta hearty and defiant against the roast brassica, the pickled walnuts giving it a nice acidity, the jelly melting into a gravy. Clap clap.

Then the leek and potato tartlet with gruyere, fresh truffle and watercress, (£15), the pastry flaky, the filling unctuous. You needed a days skiing after eating that wonderful combination.

But the special of the day, a seafood mornay with a crab croquette, had all my attention. It arrived smothered in creamy mash, the sauce burnt around the edges and oozing out the sides. Stuffed with prawns, large and small, mussels, salmon and white fish, it was a generous portion at best. The crab croquette, was one wafer thin mint too far and difficult to eat in a silly ramekin which no fork could access.

How we managed dessert I’ll never know, but once I set eyes on the Christmas pudding brulee I was doomed to running around my village for the entirety of Yuletide trying to shift the extra pounds.

Joseph enjoyed the lightest sticky toffee pudding – light as a feather and accompanied by a well salted caramel sauce and vanilla flecked ice cream.

So don’t forget this festive inn when searching for respite over the Christmas period. If in doubt just ask Mary and Joseph.