This week found me staying overnight in the vicinity of Oxford for a meet with a pair of girlfriends with whom I share dimming but fond memories of borrowing and yore (“Can I borrow your shoulder-wrap/blouse/brooch/high-heels/boyfriend …?).
This gathering of the distaff clans inevitably involved my first-ever visit to Bicester Village, the ‘chic outlet shopping’ centre about a dozen miles north-west out of town. In the world of retailing (both sales and therapy) I am reliably informed that it is a veritable Mecca to which coachloads of committed devout worshippers from home and abroad – I am not joking, apparently up to a tenth of all visitors are affluent Chinese seeking to buy luxury items minus serious amounts of home purchase tax – travel happily en masse.
I can understand the concept. High-end retail chains, upmarket cafes, bistros and restaurants all cheek-by-jowl set in well laid-out pedestrian boulevards backed by sizeable car parking areas – all this in relative countryside barely 90 minutes (with a fair wind) from central London and less than that from both Gatwick and Heathrow, let alone all points west and north. What’s not to like?
Since a sense of direction is not an attribute that would normally feature prominently on the Colthard CV (ask my husband), I would not have been able to describe the journey upon which the most local of our party took us to the picturesque village of Hethe and thence the family-run Muddy Duck pub-restaurant for lunch.
Leaving our car laden with the fruit of our morning labours, we imposed a limit of one course (plus dessert, naturally) upon ourselves as we caught up upon family news and renewed our friendships. From the wide-ranging and inventive menu I accordingly opted to try ‘Our much-loved Provenҫale fish stew’ and a glass and a half of very-acceptable white wine chosen by our hostess, with a portion of the baked almond and apricot frangipane with apricot compote, plus a cup of chai tea, to follow. Both dishes were delightful – not too heavy, easy on the taste buds and just what the doctor ordered for those slightly weary from a combination of adrenalin rush and significant foot-slog but not yet done with yak.
I was mightily impressed with the Muddy Duck, right from its décor, atmosphere to its service and its unfussy but excellent gastro-pub fare. For Rust readers who might be interested, here is a link to the website’s MUDDY DUCK MENU