Rising out of the fens and wetlands of Port Meadow, just a twig’s throw from the River Thames, The Perch is arguably Oxford’s most idyllic pub.

Indeed it is so beautifully located that it doesn’t feel like it is in the city at all – which, of course, it isn’t: it’s in the hamlet of Binsey. And even though it is just a quick trundle from West Oxford, its sense of calm and timeless rural beauty – the peace interrupted only by skeins of honking waterfowl – is a different world to the drab outlet stores, industrial estates and stationary traffic of Botley Road.

No wonder the place was a favourite of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland creator Charles Dodgson – aka Lewis Carroll. Visiting Binsey always gives a very real sense of disappearing down a rabbit hole and into a different reality.

Always a great place to pop in for a drink while out walking along the river, The Perch is also a justifiably popular place to eat. And that has never been more so than now, with the opening of its new dining room extension.

The airy conservatory-like structure, made of traditional materials and with lovely oak beams – as befits The Perch’s listed building status – occupies what was previously a temporary covered area, and adds a new dimension to the cute stone-built hostelry.

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It took a good two months to throw up the extension which holds an extra 60 people. I headed down on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon to see what was going on.

It’s always been a squeeze in the bar – that after all is part of the charm – but the new area is light, airy and spacious with sweeping views of the best pub garden within the ring road.

It wasn’t only the pub that had changed since my last visit: so had the menu and wine list.

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Indeed there were so many creative options it was genuinely hard to choose – and, to everyone else’s dismay, I made it my job to sample (okay, shovel...) mouthfuls of the rest of the family’s choices – all in the interest of research (and a little food envy).

We started, because they sounded so good, with some nibbles – Gloucestershire Old Spot pork belly bites with Bramley apple mustard, and Brixham crab devilled eggs (both £5.50).

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The pork, particularly, was great, and lasted seconds before being crunched away. The eggs, a ‘chefy’ twist on a nostalgic favourite, were fun and looked wonderful with their heaped fillings of sweet crab meat sprinkled with cumin pepper.

Then it was onto the starters which, for me was asparagus with poached egg. The generous spears came arranged as a mini Jenga puzzle around the perfectly cooked duck egg. They were just firm enough and bursting with flavour.

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The others went for a very fine, delicately flavoured watercress, courgette and mint soup (£6.75) and a more robust Butchers Plate – a spectacularly arranged selection of wild rabbit & smoked bacon terrine, smoked goose (hailing from Upton Smokery), salt beef brisket (also local, from Kelmscott), a curious fennel salami, home made bread and those all-important pickles (£9.95). It was a meal in itself – but the best was, very much, still to come.

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On a solemn recommendation from our cheery Portuguese waiter, we chose for our main courses the dish which most sets this place apart as a bastion of exceptional cooking: pot roasted ox cheeks (£17.95).

Arriving in heavy metal casserole pots, they looked earthy and hearty, and were hotter than the sun. The lids, lifted with ceremony, revealed a sprinkling of braised spring cabbage and carrots above a rich gravy within which lay the cheeks – so tender they flaked to the touch. They were, without question, some of the finest pieces of meat I have ever tasted – succulent, rich, busting with flavour and deeply satisfying but with a texture which melted away in the mouth. They were almost too good.

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They came with Jersey Royals but, so filling were the contents of our heavenly mini cauldrons, the spuds went uneaten.

That said, there’s always room for pud, and we finished with a fabulous sticky toffee pudding and a freshly baked enormous Queen of puddings (both £6.95). The latter was just too sweet for even my tooth, but the former was dangerously moreish.

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The whole thing was washed down with a reasonably priced, suitably beefy and pleasantly tannic organic Chateau du Cedre Camille Malbec from sunny Cahors (£26.95) – and was followed by a very slow amble across the garden, along a twisting path, beneath arches and through twisted old trees to the glistening river beyond.

Wonderland indeed!

The details

  • Where: The Perch is at the end of Binsey Lane, Oxford. Book on 01865 728891 or go to the-perch.co.uk
  • Parking: There is ample parking at the pub and beside the lane, though it can get busy on sunny weekends. If you can, leave the car at home and follow the Thames Path right to the pub’s door.
  • What to try: The menu is constantly changing, with plenty of new ideas, but if you are a meat eater, you will enjoy the butcher’s plate. And be sure to try the ox cheeks.
  • While you’re there: The Perch prides itself on its excellent real ales. Cheers!