The Nut Tree Inn, Murcott, Oxfordshire

I have a confession to make. It wasn't the shiny new Michelin star that drew me to the Nut Tree Inn in rural Oxfordshire, or the fact that this smart little dining pub won Best Newcomer at a recent industry awards. It was the Nut Tree's proximity to Bicester Village, the discount designer-shopping outlet, where according to legend, cut-price cashmere floats from the sky like thistledown and the roads are paved with cheap Louboutin .

Only 10 minutes down the road from Bicester Village, the Nut Tree is the perfect rendezvous for a pre-shopping ladies-who-lunch. But it is, not to be too ladylike about it, a real bugger to find. On the map, it lies just south of the M40 near Oxford, but with no junction nearby, the journey involves a scenic tour of Otmoor, down single-track roads and through isolated villages; the kind of trip that sat nav was invented for.

Once you've tracked it down, the 16th- century pub is straight out of central casting – squat and whitewashed under a thatched roof. Unlike its nursery-rhyme namesake, this little nut tree bears plenty; not just its newly acquired honours, but the growing reputation of its talented chef/ proprietor Mike North, who became one of the youngest Michelin-starred chefs in the country at the age of 25, while head chef of the Goose in Britwell Salome.

He and his wife Imogen, who looks after front of house, took over the Nut Tree in 2007, and set about doing things their own way. Gloucester Old Spot pigs roam the substantial gardens, to be converted in due course by Mike's butcher father into slow-cooked belly of pork and other porky treats. An old drinks fridge has been converted into a home-smoker, producing salmon to be served with whipped horseradish cream and Avruga caviar.

As you will probably have picked up, the Nut Tree isn't serving basic pub grub. This is Modern British cooking of a fairly evolved kind, with prices to match – mains range from £15 for a risotto of wild mushrooms to £24 for fillet of beef with triple-cooked chips. The food is presented with a Modernist dash, with sauces impastoed over plates. To use an analogy from The Archers – irresistible, this close to the Borsetshire border – it's as though Sid and Jolene at the Bull had brought in the talented but temperamental Jean-Paul from Grey Gables and let him loose on the menu.

Thankfully, the Nut Tree still feels like a proper pub. There's a small bar area, with local beers on draft, and tables and chairs for drinkers in the garden. But it's the food that's the draw. The couple next to me at the bar were eagerly debating the difference between bresaola and carpaccio, and most of the tables in the snug, low-ceilinged dining area were full.

We were seated in the small conservatory, airier than the main dining room, but with all the atmosphere of a retirement-home lounge. The Nut Tree may just have won a Best Newcomer award, but that category was long ago closed to most of our fellow diners, among them a honkingly loud gent, presumably hard of hearing, whose small talk was so huge, it stunned the rest of the room into silence.

The lunch that followed was frustrating because for every highlight, there was an element that was just a little off. A minimalist rectangle of chicken liver parfait, sprinkled with sea salt, would have been wonderful, had the toasted brioche that came with it not been burnt. Two plump and exquisite grilled scallops were partnered with a teardrop of lemon curd and an anaemic fennel salad; neither of which brought much to the party .

Pan-fried fillet of wild sea bass – immaculately cooked – came with crushed new potatoes and a simple sauce vierge featuring tomatoes briefly acquainted with some basil; summery, certainly, but not quite delivering on the flavour front. No such complaint about the roast breast of Gressingham duck in a rich foie gras and port sauce; crisp of skin and full flavoured, it was very good, if not the ideal dish for one about to hit the changing rooms at the Marni outlet shop.

Many pub-restaurants, understaffed and short on space, lack the resources to turn out proper desserts, but the standard of our puddings – a bitter chocolate tart with almond milk ice cream and a beautifully light strawberry cheesecake – was high enough to indicate the Nut Tree might even run to its own pastry chef. Bread, too, is marvellous – they sell it by the loaf, in a kind of foodie version of off-sales.

Tips are left to the diner's discretion, and the staff are efficient and super-friendly – our waitress spontaneously offered to move us when she noticed the sonic boom created by our noisy neighbour. Maybe our experience was skewed by being trapped in a small room with some of Ambridge's more tiresome elderly residents, but overall, though we liked the Nut Tree, we couldn't love it. After all, the great thing about The Archers is that when you get tired of the everyday tales of country folk, you can always switch the radio off.

The Nut Tree Inn, Murcott, Oxfordshire (01865 331 253)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 4 stars

Around £35 a head without wine

Side Orders: Gastro greats

Neptune Inn

Local ingredients have helped this new inn gain its first star within a year of opening. Try wild turbot with poached Thornham oysters (£22.95).

Old Hunstanton, Norfolk (01485 532 122)

Hand and Flowers

Rosemary-roasted leg of lamb with slow-cooked shoulder, aubergine and borage (£17.50) is one of stars at this award-winning gastropub.

126 West Street, Marlow, Bucks (01628 482 277)

Stagg Inn

Despite the excellent food, the atmosphere at this top pub is refreshingly informal; try the saddle of venison with horseradish gnocchi and kummel (£17.90).

Titley, Kington, Hereford (01544 230 221)

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
Review: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull
football
Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
film
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit