I WALKED in purposefully, it had been a long morning, lunch was just what I needed. "On your own?" asked the seater and greeter. When I confessed I was, this young woman looked around the restaurant with concern, then allowed her eyes to fall on the tables and comfortable leather chairs tucked away, but close to the bar. "Perhaps, as you are on your own, you would be happier here," she whispered, pointing to a corner table. "But I'm a real person, you don't have to hide me. Can't I sit in the restaurant like everyone else," I said.
She looked so sorry for me, but finally conceded to my request and led me to a small table in the restaurant area. When I immediately ordered a half pint of Old Speckled Hen before checking out the menu, her confusion deepened. I think she'd expected me to order mineral water or, perhaps, a glass of lemonade.
It reminded me of the time (many years ago) when the landlord of a small country pub close to Abingdon refused to serve me until my partner arrived. When I informed him I was on my own, he showed signs of great unease. Similar things happened during my early years in Australia during the 1970s when women were not expected to walk into a pub without an escourt. Obviously that's all changed now.
So, there I was alone in a restaurant and quite happy to be alone. I had notes to write up while waiting for my meal and a couple of Restaurant magazines to read should my meal take a while to arrive, yet the waitress was feeling concerned for me.
The pub was The Greyhound, Besselsleigh, which can be found on the right hand side of A420 as you head out of Oxford towards Fyfield. I've been there twice before, but as I approached it I remembered a reader had spoken highly of the meal she'd had there recently.
The Greyhound is a stylish eating place these days, attracting a great many customers. I arrived just after 12pm and by the time I was ready to leave almost every table was taken.
I remember, however, that on my last visit the menu proudly boasted several dishes created from foods sourced locally. Not so this time. The steak was described as Welsh steak which had been allowed to mature for a minimum of 21 days, but no other meat, not even the lamb, was credited with an area of provenance and nothing was described as local. I chose the chicken Caesar salad (£9.50) as it's always interesting to see how chefs cope with turning a classic Caesar salad into a chicken Caesar salad, which is a popular dish that's evolved during the past decade or so.
Actually mine was very tasty. The chicken, which was placed on top of the salad, was warm and chargrilled and the croutons which decorated the edge of the salad tasted crunchy and fresh. I mention this because some kitchens make up items such as croutons on a weekly basis, which means they can taste quite stale at times.
The menu is large. There are, for example, 15 different starters listed including dishes such as potted pork with gooseberry chutney (£5.45) and 20 main course meals priced from £9.95. There are seven lite-bites from £6.95 and eight sandwich choices priced from £5.75. I was pleased to see a children's section with dishes such as cottage pie (£4.95) and ribs with BBQ sauce (£6.95) - these prices include a choice of four puddings. There was not a single chicken nugget in sight, just chicken goujons at £4.95 which I presume were made from unprocessed chicken flesh.
I didn't stay for coffee, I think that would have made my charming waitress just a little too anxious. Fortunately, I managed to take the photograph of my food while she was out of the room, as I don't think she could have handled that either.