The Plough, Kingham

Christmas and - happiness beyond measure - I've found a wonderful place for you to eat. Don't say I never do anything for you.

Christmas and - happiness beyond measure - I've found a wonderful place for you to eat. Don't say I never do anything for you.

Actually, I cheated a bit. Not because I went in there yelling, "I going to do a review so this had better be good." No - I wore my Groucho Marx glasses and false moustache, inconspicuous as always.

I cheated because I chose somewhere I knew would be good. The downside is that you probably already know about it. But you won't know about my cow incident, and that's a major element of this review.

Connect with your food! That's the zeitgeist, and last week I connected with it in a very real way. I was driving along the common in the dark when I spotted cows in the road and stopped. Only the driver coming the other way didn't, and sent a cow flying towards me. It was one of those moments - and I've spoken about them before - when only a few seconds pass. But during those seconds, you feel you could go out, have a few dates with some nice people but not really click; then meet someone perfect, settle down and start a family - and still return to your car to find a cow hurtling towards you. During this exceptionally long interlude of a few milliseconds ("Did you duck safely beneath the steering wheel?" Ian asked. "Of course not; I was too busy watching the cow."), I reflected on an irony: I was about to fly to Africa - somewhere my mother assured me was absurdly dangerous and did I really have to go - and here I was, a mile from home, with a cow about to end up on my lap, a prospect that surely appealed more to one of us (if only marginally) than the other.

My guardian angel was concentrating for once and, in an astonishing last-minute about-turn, the cow glanced off my bonnet, got up and walked away, and I survived (both that and the astonishingly undangerous-by-comparison Africa).

Oh the sheer, sheer and unique joy of being able to go home with a badly-damaged car and explain to Ian that it wasn't my fault.

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Though I was vindicated (the cow admitted full responsibility), Ian is not happy to be travelling to Kingham with a bovine-shaped bonnet. "It's not good, is it," he points out, irked, "to be arriving at the Kingham Plough with a car that looks as if you should be prising spare parts off it rather than driving it?" It's not good, is it, I refrain from pointing out, that we've a gardenful of cars, yet the most decent of the lot is still the one with the bovine-shaped bonnet.

(It's something of a relief, therefore, on entering the pub to bump into a middle-aged man wearing pink socks. It's easy to forget, sometimes, that really upper class men wear pink socks and red trousers; a beaten-up car pales into insignificance in the face of such sartorial faux pas).

What I forgot to say is how utterly nice the Plough's staff are. When I ring up to book, the 'nothing's-too-much-trouble' answerer sounds genuinely excited and even asks me if I've any dietary requirements. I almost feel rude that I don't and momentarily toy with developing a challenging and interesting intolerance: to foods with the letter P in them, for example.

We start with half a pint of Hooky each, and while Ian looks at the menu, I people-watch - various couples with beautifully-behaved Boden babies, two American tourists, an extended family, and two sawdust-clad workmen: good eclecticism.

I've been here before and I know that whatever co-owner Emily Watkins cooks will pretty much be fab. You can quote the fact that she's a former sous chef to Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck. Or you can say that most of the ingredients in her kitchen are so local, you could walk to pick them up. I prefer the latter. It's all so fresh that you'll probably find a couple of dishes different from lunchtime to evening simply because someone's strolled in with a brace of pheasant. Certainly, the menu changes all the time. Last time, I had the Evenlode lamb pudding and I've dreamed of it ever since. It's comfort food - suet-crusted, sweet and rich - and I loved it, especially served with heaps of curly kale. As a starter - the diet starts next week - I choose an omelette of wild mushrooms and organic Daylesford eggs, yellow and sizzling in its own pan. "An egg is an egg, isn't it?" asks Ian. Oh no; this is beyond egg.

He has Lower Swell pressed pork with watercress and piccalilli, followed by lamb two ways (one of which is a delicious faggot), with which he orders chips. While I'm in raptures, he's enjoying it - but with slight reservations. Bigger portions would go down well, he says. Surprisingly, the Americans at the next table are also muttering - about the price. Our bill is just over �80 for two - by no means exorbitant in this day and age.

I absolutely love it here, from the local cheese board (Alex James and Juliet Harbutt's Blue Monday, Roger Crudge's Revolution, Windrush Goat, to name but a few), to the baked Alaska with quince ice cream and the apple charlotte with cinnamon ice.

Deck the halls and dine at Kingham, tra la la la la, la la la la. And do avoid cows on the common. (The serious message is that people drive too fast and the wonderful graziers can't afford to lose any more.) Oh, and four-legged or two, do have a very Happy Christmas.

Ambience 6

Service 8

Food 8

Value for money 7 (portions a bit small, says Ian)

The Kingham Plough is at Kingham, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, OX7 6YD, 01608 658327,

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