The Fishes' website describes the place as a hidden gem, and it's certainly that. A large Victorian building on the edge of North Hinksey village, in a small patch of woodland that feels surprisingly rural, it combines an atmosphere of professionalism with a warm welcome. Our young children enjoyed exploring the lovely garden, including the cheerfully signed 'bridge of death', the little stream and various climbable features. The dining space is big, incorporating an indoor section with a conservatory and terrace, but still managed to be bustling and even a little cramped when we visited.
Apart from friendly staff, one of things that make the Fishes so welcoming is the inclusiveness of their menu strategy. The pub has unusually extensive and clear gluten- and dairy-free menus, and younger diners are treated with the same respect as adults. Eating out with boisterous small people always makes you feel a little wary, even at lunchtime in a family-friendly setting. The Fishes doesn't have a children's menu as such, but not only could they rustle up the usual kids menu staples without apparent difficulty - they were also prepared to offer anything else on the menu in a child's portion. This was absolute riches, and seems to strike a wonderful balance between the ideal of offering children complex and delicious food, and acceptance of the fact that something less challenging may be required. Our two fell upon the suggestion of fish goujons, and will probably continue to request ubiquitous breaded items with chips for a couple of years yet, but it's fantastic to know that this is a place where they'll be encouraged to try a range of exciting food as they get older.
The food is good; fresh, interesting, well-presented and with a level of choice that stops just short of being overwhelming. The menu focuses on seasonal British ingredients, with high-quality free range meat and carefully sourced fish. It may be specific to the selections we made, but our meals definitely had the heartiness of a pub lunch in a outdoorsy setting. Other dishes may have offered something more on the light and elegant side. Indeed, the fact that we paired a delicate crab salad starter with a side order of fries probably gives away the type of appetite we were looking to satisfy. The salad was fragrant and delicious, the house steak burger was sumptuous but manageable, lightly charred, and with a relish which I think just got away with unexpectedly containing capers. The goujons were perhaps a little heavily breaded, but were consumed with great delight, as was the mini pudding of gooey chocolate brownie and ice cream, shared between two children. The heartiness of the food may have gone a little too far in the treacle tart, which turned out to be more of a treacle cake, but it was still good and the meal overall was a great success. The prices are not especially cheap, but well within the norm for a gastropub these days. Lunch for a family of four came to just over £70.
Covering so many bases - offering such an extensive menu, generously catering to children's capricious appetites, having a large number of specials and different dining areas - ought not to work, but absolutely does in this case, and this is just a lovely place to visit for a family meal.