White Horse, Oxford, pub review

Chris Arnot
White Horse in Oxford pub review - Matt Cardy/Getty

It was a pure coincidence. At lunchtime I was face-to-face with Inspector Morse – or rather a photograph of the late John Thaw, who played the cerebral sleuth on ITV. He was occupying part of the abundance of wood panelling around the ancient walls and below the sloping beams of the 16th-century White Horse in Oxford.

Yes, Lewis was there, too, in the form of the actor Kevin Whately. And over the bar was a shot of Shaun Evans, who plays the younger Morse in Endeavour. A few hours later I turned on the news and discovered that the writer who had created Morse, sequel and prequel, had died aged 86.

Colin Dexter would have liked the White Horse, I suspect. Not, perhaps, on a Friday or Saturday evening when its limited floor-space would be heaving with students from nearby Trinity College, but certainly at lunchtime, with little to interrupt the flow of thought: no jukebox or background music; no games machines; no TV.

Britains best pub lunches

For the man who turned Oxford into the Nineties’ definitive city of screaming pyres shared with his most famous creation a love of crosswords. And beer, of course.

Almost all the draught beers here were comparatively local. There was a White Horse bitter from Stanford in the Vale and a nicely balanced copper-coloured session ale called Oxford Prospect, brewed even closer to home. Plus the zesty Brakspear Oxford Gold from Witney, 12 miles away.

The Gold stood up very nicely to the curried chicken in my South African “bunny chow”. No, I’d never heard of it either, despite having been to Cape Town twice. It originated in Durban, apparently. Lovely big and spicy chicken chunks, served in a hollowed-out loaf; in the White Horse at least, there are some properly roasted potatoes in there, too.

Conversations at the tables running along this narrow and intimate bar were as hushed as those in Blackwell’s bookshop next door. Whether customers were talking about nuclear physics or Shakespeare’s problem plays it was difficult to tell. But let’s hope nobody was discussing the discovery of a battered body by the banks of the Isis or below the bell tower at Magdalen.

That should remain the stuff of fiction.

White Horse; 52 Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BB; 01865 204801

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