Like Orwell, I frequently muse about what makes a pub perfect - as can be seen in my previous ramblings on the Royal Standard of England in Knotty Green, having recently enjoyed another lovely lunch there with my sister. If you haven't read Orwell's essay, The Moon Under Water, you probably should. Suffice to say after you've finished reading this.
I imagine the Fox and Hounds would be an Orwell kind of pub. For a start the setting, hidden on the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire border, is impossibly picture postcard pretty. As is the pub itself, a handsome building covered in rambling greenery and dating back to 1643. Inside is a cosy front bar with inglenook fireplace, and a larger open plan dining area. It's proved a pretty versatile space through the years, the 2010 election even saw it used as a local polling station, but the main draw on such a glorious day was the chocolate box garden at the front.
Shaded picnic sets, a pile of dog bowls piled by an outside tap and a perfectly manicured herb patch - where the sous chef appeared intermittently to collect fresh sprigs of rosemary - make this a perfect spot to while away an afternoon. Like mad dogs and Englishmen, we braved the glare of the full midday sun, unable to predict quite how long this fleeting good weather may last.
To slake my thirst was a glimmering pint of Breakspear's Oxford Gold. Is there anything better on a summer's day in a sunny pub garden than a classic cask beer? I've yet to find it. A quintessentially English drop and a well kept example of this eminently quaffable golden ale
I could tell the burger- glazed with a thick slice of Stilton that properly melted over the top - was going to be good when I held it aloft and a stream of juicy goodness spurted down my sleeve (steady).
The patty itself was hefty, and grilled perfectly to retain its pink and juicy centre, although I did have to ditch most the salad inside as the rather weedy bun struggled to contain its ample cargo.
The Ewing, attempting her first solid meal post-abscess trauma, went for the lasagne and salad -spookily mirroring my first meal post-abscess trauma, eaten on an American Airlines flight somewhere above the Atlantic with plastic cutlery and a grimace. Thankfully this was much nicer.
While baked pasta may not illicit too many oohs and ahhs this was classic pub grub; tasty, generous and well made. I could tell it was going down well as every crispy crust of garlic bread and crunchy mouthful of salad was greedily braved by the patient, and all assistance offered with my hovering fork in hand being firmly rebuked.
We finished off with a post-prandial walk around the rolling countryside, that lead - unsurprisingly, even with a map in hand - to us becoming hopelessly lost. Thankfully the feeling of good cheer from our lunch remained, despite the attempts of a fearsome pack of horseflies tried their hardest to drain every drop of blood from me, and we managed to retrace our steps without descending in to either stony silence or noisy admonishing.
Of course as you get older you realise setting any sort of arbitrary rules about what makes anything great - pubs or otherwise - often leads to anembarrassing loss of face when you change your mind, or, much worse, stubbornly missing out on things. But, as so very often, I think George was right;
'If anyone knows of a pub that has draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio, I should be glad to hear of it.' Well, the Fox and Hounds may just be the one.