Eating out has its challenges. Often it is a case of visiting a restaurant that may be new or unfamiliar to give it a try and then suffering the embarrassment of poor food or bad service among friends. It can ruin what is meant to be a pleasant evening.

And then there is the expense, especially in these straitened times when enjoying yourself comes at a premium.

The alternative, of course, is to eat in with the hassle of preparation, cooking and clearing up, which can also stand in the way of enjoying a relaxing occasion.

The answer, according to Jules Thomas, is to eat out by eating in — at her house to be exact.

Ms Thomas runs the Secret Supper Society which involves her doing all the cooking and clearing up while guests sit in the pleasant surroundings of the dining room of her farmhouse in the tranquil surroundings of Somerton, near Bicester.

So while she does all the work, you get to devote all your time to your guests, eating and drinking to your heart’s content.

The business fits in nicely with the demands of being a mother to James, 12 and ten-year-old India.

While she is not a trained chef, Ms Thomas has always loved food and the business gives her the opportunity to do something she has a passion for without it impinging on her family life.

She said: “I heard about home restaurants becoming very popular in London and decided to try running one myself, first of all using friends who then invited their friends and so word spread.”

Ms Thomas only operates on Friday evenings and guests are presented with a set menu, although she consults with them on their likes and dislikes along with allergies, so there are no disappointments on the night.

“Most customers do not want to know what they are having — they are excited by the mystery,” she said.

She also uses the freshest ingredients taking salad, vegetables and herbs from her own garden in season while husband Nick is dispatched to catch crayfish from the Cherwell when required.

He is then employed as a waiter on the evening along with 16-year-old Lauren Webber.

Up to 16 guests book through the website and are seated at their own table, rather than being put together with other people who they have not have met before, as happens in some other home restaurants.

Ms Thomas provides an amuse bouche, starter, main course, cheese, dessert and coffee for £27 a head.

As it is not a licensed premises guests bring their own wine, which Ms Thomas believes actually works out better.

“People tend to bring a much better quality of wine and sometimes have different wines with their starters, main courses and desserts.”

Just because the business is the only home restaurant in Oxfordshire does not mean that Ms Thomas can escape the authorities.

Her kitchen has been inspected by Cherwell District Council and she has fulfilled all the requirements of being a professional chef, without really considering herself in that category.

But she feels reassured that she has all the paperwork in place should there be any complaints — not that she has received any since starting two years ago.

Back in the kitchen, Ms Thomas has a collection of about 200 cookery books which she reads before testing new recipes.

She said: “I had always had a dream of running a little restaurant but talking to chefs now I realise what a hard life it is.

“Doing this once a week is ideal as it does not impact too much on the children.”

And she has not even had to buy too much equipment to boost the domestic kitchen. All the food is cooked on a Rayburn and preparation is the key.

“I always loved cookery and dinner parties so I have lots of plates for lots of people. All I had to buy when I started the business were two new tablecloths.”

Guests are also welcome to pop into the kitchen for a chat, making it more an intimate experience than a standard restaurant.

Since starting in March, Ms Thomas has built up a regular clientele, with guests visiting from a wide area ranging from Burford to Northampton and she has been virtually fully-booked every week.

Occasionally she stretches to a Saturday, for example with a hen night she catered for recently, but again only when it is most convenient for the family.

She receives a lot of ideas through Twitter, which has also provided a major boost for her bookings and she also uses it to fill tables, for example if there has been a cancellation or if she just has room for two.

“Twitter has been amazing in terms of getting the name out there,” she said. “And we have a lot of people coming back time and again — it becomes their own private dining room.”