Go-to place for ‘that special celebration’, The Thatch in Thame was hosting two such dos last Saturday when we dined, mightily and munificently, on a spur-of-the-moment – and damned lucky to get in – hit on a favourite destination.

Balloons and banners bedecked the main dining area – brighter and classier following a recent tasteful refurbishment – thereby identifying one happy family party at play.

Behind us – in the last of a succession of oak-beamed cottage rooms comprising the street side of this lovely old building – was an 80th birthday dinner more suitably sedate in comparison.

Being all things to all people, this happy hostelry, there were meanwhile clustered at the bar cheery drinkers enjoying a selection of the varied libations – hand-pumped beers notable among them – usually to be found in well-stocked British bars like this.

We would have joined them, except that this looked like being a somewhat curtailed dinner owing to Arriva’s 280 bus service. This seemed more a disservice when the 7pm departure from Oxford station didn’t turn up and we eventually left at roughly the time we had been expecting to arrive in Thame.

Fortunately, we discovered midway through the meal that there was a later bus home than we had previously thought, allowing us to take things a little more slowly.

No time constraint, though, was going to prevent our indulging ourselves in a gin and tonic which we ordered from manager Evelin Rae after she had taken us to our table.

Mine was Monkey 47 whose spicy excellencies I had rediscovered the previous evening before dinner at Oxford’s Randolph hotel. The ‘47’ by the way refers both to this gin’s formidable strength and to the number of botanicals involved in its creation. Rosemarie settled on the better-known Tanqueray.

While our brimming balloons were slowly emptied, we studied the latest menu created by chef James Durrant. This is a once-a-month task, eagerly addressed here, where seasonality is as important a consideration as the reliability of the (usually local) suppliers.

This has always been a firm principle with owners Peach Pubs, in charge just over ten years.

In a previous incarnation, as Thatchers, the place was famously trashed by Oxford’s notorious Bullingdon Club. They offered the usual payment for damage, but the owner preferred to prosecute, rejoicing in the extra business the publicity brought.

Starters of seaweed-cured salmon, ox cheek chipotle chilli and baked St Marcellin cheese suggest James’s eclectic approach. So, too, do mains like fillet of hake with cockles, roasted sea bream with shaved fennel, and a warm salad of roasted peppers, avocado, lentils and pickled fennel.

As for puds, what do you think of traditional favourites like lemon cheesecake, made zippier with rhubarb, and sherry and strawberry trifle with mascarpone?

My choice of starter, as indeed my main course, came from the day’s specials. This was a delicious ragu of king prawns (three big-uns, peeled) and juicy chunks of chorizo, served in a lidded pot with slices of carrot and thyme and rosemary crumb. There was truffled toast to mop up the juices.

Rosemarie went for a trio of good-sized scallops served in their shells with the coral intact on a tangy base of diced cucumber and sea fennel.

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For main course she went for the 14-hour braised beef and ale pie, with buttery mash and hispy cabbage. The meat was as melt-in-the-mouth as the length of cooking would imply, with the stickiness likewise achieved. The golden shortcrust pastry was perfect.

For me there was a richly flavoured round of slow braised shoulder of venison – most marvellous of meats! – with a bourguignon sauce in which woodland mushrooms were prominent, mashed potatoes and green beans, too crunchily undercooked for my taste. A powerful Malbec was a fine match.

Pudding was not a success, being a shared baked Alaska (with Amarena cherries) in which the baking appeared to have been overlooked. A rethink is required – as chef James admitted when he popped out to say hello.

  • The Thatch, Lower High Street, Thame
  • thethatchthame.co.uk/