Two Oxfordshire eateries have been secretly taken over for the next series of Raymond Blanc's reality TV series The Restaurant, the Oxford Mail can reveal.

Sahara in Blue Boar Street in Oxford city centre and the Ben Johnson pub in Northampton Road, Weston-on-the-Green, near Bicester, have been handed to budding restaurateurs as part of the BBC2 reality series.

The two venues are among eight which have been given to couples vying to prove their skills as businesspeople to the celebrity chef.

Couples have to attract customers, draw up a menu, and cook and serve dishes during a succession of challenges.

After each challenge, one of the couples is dismissed. The winning pair is given a restaurant financially backed and supported by Mr Blanc, the celebrity chef who owns the Michelin-starred Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Great Milton.

Sahara, renamed The Blue Goose for the show, reopened yesterday under its temporary owners - a couple from outside Oxfordshire.

A barmaid at nearby pub The Bear, who asked not to be named, said she was also working at The Blue Goose but could not comment because she had signed a confidentiality agreement.

Linda Jones, a hairdresser at Blue Boar Hairdressing salon, said: "We knew they were filming The Restaurant but we haven't seen anything."

Ciaran McErlean, co-owner of Sahara, said: "We were approached by the BBC, and they took it for a period of four to nine weeks.

"It is good publicity. It is high profile and will be on BBC TV at prime time - though not until September."

The first series of The Restaurant - and Mr Blanc in particular - was a hit for the BBC when it was aired last year.

That series was won by former Army chef Jeremy Hooper and his wife Jane.

Mrs Hooper was reduced to tears during the programme but the couple were rewarded with the opportunity to take on the Eight at the Thatch restaurant in Thame, last November.

However, the pair quit after just seven months.

Last night a BBC spokesman admitted Sahara and the Ben Johnson were being used in the series, but declined to reveal the other locations, or whether any couples from Oxfordshire were involved.

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