Thursday, 20 December 2012

Fishers, St Clement's

I grew up by the sea, but I've learnt by now not to miss the cry of the gulls, the salt spray in the air and all the other maritime clichés: Oxford must be about as far from any coastline as it's possible to be. So at first sight Fishers was a bit of a curiosity. It serves almost exclusively fish and shellfish (on a main menu of 23 items I counted two vegetarian dishes and a single meat option; that's not including the various shellfish platters), sourced and delivered daily from all over Britain.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Big Bang, Castle Quarter

The original Big Bang in Jericho closed in August 2011 and is currently a building site. It wasn't easy for Oxford's only sausage and mash restaurant to find a replacement venue but a few months ago it reopened in the Castle Quarter. How is it faring in its new surroundings?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Busaba Eathai, Bicester Village

Despite the cute clapperboard buildings and twinkling lights, the outlet shopping centre Bicester Village is never going to feel much like a real village, and it's a slightly bleak place where I wouldn't want to spend too much time. But I imagine that a lot of visitors make a day of it, which is probably why there's quite a wide range of restaurants and cafes, from the French-style Villandry to yet another Jamie Oliver franchise. After an hour or two of browsing we decided to try the Thai option, Busaba Eathai, which is part of a small chain owned by the founder of Wagamama (but I tried not to hold that against it).
'Eathai' is a combination of 'eat' and 'Thai'. I'm not sure about 'Busaba'.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

St Aldates Tavern, St Aldate's

I admit I was a tiny bit cynical about the St Aldates tavern. Another city centre pub, part of a bigger group (although you wouldn't know it), claiming to serve fresh, seasonal dishes? Aren't there enough of those already? But I was impressed by the good food and relaxed service, and the independent, busy feel of the place.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Mamma Mia, Walton Street

On occasion I'm asked which restaurants in Oxford I think are good places to take young families, but as someone with no children in my life I'm never sure what to say. So when I walked into Mamma Mia in Jericho one Friday night and saw several tables of families indulging in an end-of-the-week treat I thought I finally had an answer: surely a friendly Italian restaurant would be an ideal place to go with the bambini? But although the youngsters and their parents seemed to be enjoying themselves, I was disappointed.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

[Out of Oxford] The Pig, Brockenhurst

The Pig's website has a whole page devoted to the coverage it has received from publications like the Times, GQ and Vogue. This Hampshire hotel and restaurant is clearly becoming a very popular and fashionable spot (with prices to match) and certainly doesn't need me to alert more people to its existence. But the meal I had there was so impressive that I feel bound to commemorate it.

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Anchor, Hayfield Road

Update (May 2013): sadly the current tenants of the Anchor are leaving and the pub no longer serves food.

The Anchor is in a secluded corner of north Jericho and unless you live in Walton Manor, have a child at the primary school opposite or are on the way to Port Meadow, you're unlikely to walk past by chance. This is a shame, as displayed outside is one of the most appetising menus I've seen in Oxford, a whole page of interesting, tasty-sounding dishes at fairly reasonable prices. But the number of reserved tables shows that plenty of people are in on the secret.
(daily specials; there's another, longer menu too)

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Turl Street Kitchen, Turl Street

'The Turl Street Kitchen is an all day den of eating and drinking serving a limited selection of ethical British food with loads of wine and beer, some of which is also British.' This is from TSK's website and it's as good a way as any to describe the place. Part of the Oxford Hub social enterprise charity, which is situated in the old QI building in Turl Street, it's been open for about a year now. Some of the original hype has now died down and it's now a lot easier to get a booking than it used to be (and a few other things have been ironed out - I'm pleased to see that in the adjoining cafe/bar they've acquired the knack of clearing the tables). It was high time for me to try it out.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Victoria, Walton Street

The Victoria is a nice pub with a decent atmosphere, a good location for a summer's evening drink. However, this is a food blog, so I have to conclude that it's only worth eating in if you really like pies but have a small appetite.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

[Out of Oxford] The Jetty, Christchurch, Dorset

A couple of years ago I ate one of the worst meals I’ve ever had in an establishment that afforded a wonderful view of sunset over Loch Lomond. Situated in a similarly idyllic spot - especially so on a warm, still August evening - right on the edge of Christchurch Harbour in east Dorset, the Jetty could be forgiven for not trying that hard. But in a restaurant just across the water from a busy fishing port with a head chef, Alex Aitken, who is a former Michelin star holder (and ex-trawlerman), standards are higher. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

[Out of Oxford] Côte, Reading

There are some meals of which I don't have particularly high expectations. Although it was a sunny evening and the atmosphere in Reading's Riverside area was busy but pleasantly relaxed, I wasn't too taken with the plethora of identikit chain restaurants, which include a Slug and Lettuce, a Bella Italia and (shudder) a Nando's. My brother steered me towards Côte, an establishment with a vaguely Parisian air, recommending their three courses for £11.90 menu, but our arrival after 7pm made us too late for that. So I wasn't sure if the food was going to be either good value or impressive generally. Still, in the end we had a more than acceptable dinner, seated right by the River Kennet (I later found out this section has the charming name of 'Brewery Gut').

Monday, 23 July 2012

Byron Burgers, George Street

I'm not sure when burgers got so popular in the UK. When I was younger they were cheap, squashy but strangely delicious things you had in McDonald's as an end-of-term treat (until BSE happened, anyway). At some point they must have started turning up on pub menus and now there are whole websites devoted to them and several chains claiming to produce the 'best burger in town' at a price that would have bought at least half a dozen Happy Meals in the early 90s.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Old Bookbinders, Victor Street

At this time of year, when Oxford is cluttered with noisy teenagers and foreign tour groups eager to tick off the sights on their list, it's easy to forget that colleges, churches and museums aren't the only things worth visiting here, and that the city is more than a few well-trodden streets. Deviating from the usual routes can reveal surprises of all kinds - for example, a traditional English pub with a French chef producing mouth-watering bistro fare.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Organic Deli Cafe, Friars Entry (breakfast)

I’m not sure how interesting an ‘Oxford Review of Breakfasts’ would be: most of the time one cafe’s £5 fry-up looks very much like another’s. But there are a few places that devote more creativity and care to the first meal of the day. I’d noticed the loaves of expensive but tasty-looking bread in the windows of the Organic Deli Cafe in the passageway between Magdalen Street and Gloucester Green but had never thought to try eating there until I heard the rumour that they did a very good breakfast. The rumour was correct.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Pierre Victoire, Little Clarendon Street

It's well known that if you go to a restaurant in France a good way of maximising your chances of eating well at a reasonable price is to choose from the set menu du jour. Such menus have of course made their way to the rest of the world; still, it may not be surprising that lunch at the French-run Pierre Victoire (three courses for £10.90) represents the best quality/price ratio that I've found so far in Oxford.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Gino's, Gloucester Green

Gino's is not found in one of Oxford's more glamorous locations: situated amid the glorious 80s brickwork of Gloucester Green, it affords an excellent view of the bus station. Still, the garish turquoise exterior hides a rather pleasant dining room with an impressive map of Italy on the the ceiling and in any case the restaurant is usually busy and offers a good value 'two courses [or, more precisely, one and a half] with a drink for £8' lunch deal. However, our meal didn't exactly outshine the surroundings.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Gourmet Burger Kitchen, George Street

I can be a bit inconsistent sometimes. Only the other week I was complaining about all the chains on George Street and here I am reviewing one. In my defence, GBK isn't quite like any other restaurant in Oxford and has enough quirks (good and bad) to make it worth commenting on.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Moya, St Clements

The experiences I've documented on this blog range from excellent to mediocre but what I eat doesn't always vary that much: it's not hard to find yet another Chinese, Italian, Thai, 'Modern British' or whatever place in Oxford. So this week I tried something a little different, the 'wholesome Slovak home cooking' of Moya.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Cafe Opium, George Street

George Street is not Oxford's most promising location for eating out. There are a couple of good cafes (Granola and the OFS) and Byron Burgers are opening there in the summer but otherwise it's mainly standard high-street chains and pubs - and Cafe Opium. While I'm not sure my meal there was quite good enough to redeem George Street entirely, it was certainly more characterful than most of the other options nearby.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Rick's Café, Cowley Road

Rick's Café is apparently named after the bar in Casablanca where profiteers and refugees desperate to reach America meet under the doleful eye of Humphrey Bogart, but with its cartoonish signage and wooden floors the Cowley Road version looks like any other modish coffee shop. Still, what it lacks in authentic gin joint qualities it makes up for with a few specialities of its own.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

[Out of Oxford] St Andrews round-up

When I visited St Andrews recently, I didn't plan to do any blogging. I was there to relax, after all. But this Scottish town, despite its small size, turned out to offer a great range of good food so I decided to do a summary of what I ate where and illustrate it with a few photos that show Scotland basking in the sun of the third warmest March on record.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Cibo!, South Parade

There are several establishments in Oxford where you can get good pizza - Mario's, Il Principe...and even Zizzi's (the Photographer swears by their Diavola) - but delicious pasta is harder to find. However, Cibo! in Summertown has a large selection of authentic-looking dishes that make use of their own pasta, so when I went there it seemed like a good idea to eschew my favourite Trentino for something a bit different. I didn't regret my decision, but I'm afraid that this place will join the ranks of Oxford restaurants that I've liked, but failed to love.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Yeti, Cowley Road

So far food blogging hasn't brought me too much fame or fortune, but it did mean that when a couple of old friends came to Oxford for a visit this week, they asked me to choose somewhere for a group meal. I toyed with old favourites like Mario's and Qumins, but following my discovery of the Nepalese momo van at Gloucester Green on market day, I was intrigued by reports of a restaurant some way down the Cowley Road, serving not merely dumplings but a full Nepalese menu. My hunch (backed up by some very positive reviews) paid off: our meal at Yeti was, on the whole, impressive.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Crisis Skylight cafe at the OFS, George Street

A few days ago Starbucks had a special gimmick for a morning - you got a free coffee if you introduced yourself to the staff. This was advertising the fact that from now on they'll be taking customers' names, so that each hot drink can be matched more easily to the person who ordered it. Being a privacy-loving, sporadically misanthropic kind of person, that was enough to make me resolve to avoid buying coffee in Starbucks in future (which will save me all of about £3 a year). Still, this post won't debate the respective merits of big chains and small coffee shops, but will focus on a new(ish) Oxford establishment which is definitely worthy of your custom.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Makan La, St Michael's Street

There are restaurants that I want to like. The omens for Makan La were good. It's tucked away in St Michael's Street, an escape route from Cornmarket with a good pub and some characterful buildings (and the Oxford Union and the homeless shelter on either side as a nice illustration of the two extremes of Oxford life). Underneath its English cousin the Nosebag, and staffed by one rather laconic waiter, the restaurant feels like a tearoom but actually serves a menu of reasonably priced Malaysian food until quite late in the evening. I'd love to say that this is a great local standby, good for a quick dinner when you can't be bothered to cook, but we left quite disappointed, for several reasons.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Momo, Gloucester Green

The disappointment of the great dim sum debacle has left me all the more keen to find some decent dumplings. Oxford does boast a couple of restaurants that claim to do proper dim sum but, before I'd got round to going, a friend told me about a mysterious 'Chinese dumplings van' that used to be found at Gloucester Green market on certain days. Further investigations and some on-the-spot research revealed the truth: the dumplings - 'momos' - are actually Tibetan and Nepalese-style, and the van of the same name appears on market day - Wednesday.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Edamame, Holywell Street

I nearly didn't publish last week's review on the grounds that, although I wasn't too keen on the restaurant, the reasons for this weren't especially interesting. This week I hesitated for a different reason. In the years that I've spent in Oxford I've never heard a bad word said about Edamame, I've eaten well there before, and it's always popular. You can tell it's open (their location on a residential street means that the hours are quite restricted - check before you go) because the queue for seats is generally snaking out of the door into Holywell Street. What could I add to this?

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

AT Thai, High Street

At one point I wasn't sure whether to write this review up at all, as there's not that much to say about my visit to AT Thai: we didn't order a wide range of food, and with one exception what we ate was neither outstandingly bad nor particularly good. Those who would like detailed commentary or profound insights into Thai cuisine should probably stop reading now. But I'd like this blog to become a kind of directory of as many Oxford restaurants as possible, and as I ate at this one, and took photographs (even though the low lighting means that they didn't come out very well), and I'm unlikely to rush to return, I see no reason to 'waste' my visit.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Gee's, Banbury Road

Apparently it's not always a good idea to visit a restaurant on a Sunday evening: the staff can be tired, stocks may be low, and everyone knows that it's the end of the weekend. But this time of the week is a bit of an occasion at Gee's, with a jazz trio in situ and a special menu (two courses for £25.95, three for £28.95) replacing the à la carte. Several of our group had previously eaten from the latter and enjoyed it (while the other week I was very impressed by the sibling of Gee's, Quod). Tucked away in north Oxford, in a cosy conservatory, this is one of the city's most atmospheric places to eat, and as we trudged up the Banbury Road on a cold, snowy evening, the restaurant lights twinkled invitingly. Expectations were high.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The High Table, High Street

I often walk past the High Table and admire its smart-looking black and white interior, which contrasts nicely with the brickwork of its parent establishment, the Eastgate Hotel. The shiny, mirrored decor is matched by the ambitious menu. Each dish is followed by a list of wildly varying accompaniments, as if someone has been playing word association with a food theme. I know that happens in London all the time, but not so much on the High Street in Oxford.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

East Oxford Market, Cowley Road

Once you reach double figures, and if you don't become a teacher or parent of small children, opportunities to visit a primary school, let alone eat your lunch in one, are few. So on Saturday morning it felt slightly odd to find myself sitting in a classroom at East Oxford Primary School, home of the East Oxford Farmers' and Community Market, admiring the pirate artwork that adorned the walls.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Rose, High Street (breakfast)

Update (May 2013): The Rose has changed hands since this review was written; the menu is similar but reports suggest the quality may not be the same.

The recession has made people less keen to buy organic food to cook for themselves, but the market for new restaurants that specialise in locally-grown, seasonal produce seems to be stronger than ever, from the much-praised Roganic in London to Oxford's own Oxfork (watch this space for a review of the latter). The Rose, however, is a long-standing fixture on the High Street and must have started serving the fresh and unadulterated fare on which it prides itself long before anyone outside the Bank of England had heard of quantitative easing.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Red Star Noodle Bar, Cowley Road

As far as Asian canteen-style restaurants in Oxford go, Red Star falls somewhere in between the tamely homogeneous Noodle Nation and the bijou charm of Edamamé: you don't make up your meal by numbers, choosing a type of noodles and then an accompanying sauce, but it's not a place to go for fresh sushi and daily-changing specials either. Situated as it is deep in student-land on the Cowley Road, Red Star seems to be full most evenings, with would-be diners crammed into the tiny waiting area at the front of the restaurant (beware the draught from the constantly opening door). 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Quod, High Street

Unlike its more secluded sister establishments the Old Parsonage and Gee's, Quod is right in the centre of Oxford, ready to catch passing trade from students, tourists, and those like us who find that the restaurant they intended to visit is closed. Accordingly you could say that it doesn't - necessarily - have to try too hard, and indeed I've heard mixed reports of the à la carte menu from several people. However, I'd previously enjoyed the popular weekday set lunch (£11.95 for two courses, £15.90 for three) and was happy to give Quod a chance again. It was a fortunate decision.