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.

The first highlight of the meal was not directly linked to the food. Our friendly (in a nice rather than an ingratiating way) waiter cheerfully offered to tweak the menu to accommodate my mother's dairy allergy, double-checking ingredients with the kitchen and substituting a red wine jus from another dish for Béarnaise sauce. This isn't unusual, but his helpful attitude really stood out and put us in a good mood for what was to come. Also, he could have just asked my mother to order from the à la carte.

After warm bread and fruity olive oil - which were complimentary: another plus point - the starters arrived. These were fine. My 'Omelette fines herbes' was slightly undercooked below and overcooked on top and the yolk and white weren't fully beaten together, but I couldn't fault the taste (and, since eggs are my favourite food, I have eaten many omelettes). My father's 'Cream of spinach and watercress soup' was slightly over-salted.

However, our main courses - 'Steak Béarnaise with fries and green salad', and 'Poached chicken leg with roasted fennel' - were easier to praise. In both dishes, three rather simple ingredients were combined to delicious effect. My chicken had a properly crunchy skin and plenty of tender meat, and was flanked by tiny roast potatoes. They tasted almost homemade (which in my experience is very rare in a restaurant). The fennel had been gently roasted and tasted delicate rather than overpowering. The steak was juicy but with a nicely charred outside, and the accompanying thin-cut chips again had that moreish 'posh Burger King' quality. An uncomplicated salad (lettuce, dressing) supplied colour and vitamins. Excellent, seasonal food, cooked with attention to detail.

It was similarly hard to find fault with the desserts. 'Hereford Hop cheese with celery and oatcakes' was mild and pleasant. I seem to remember that the slice of cheese was quite small, but it may have just been in comparision with my towering heap of bread and butter pudding. This was gorgeous. The packed layers of thin sliches of brioche, dotted with huge raisins, were buttery without being (too) rich and sweet without being sickly. My mother's 'Poached saffron pear and pistachio ice cream' (no ice cream for her, but a double portion of pear instead, which was a generous touch) was sweet, with the saffron an interesting if not immediately identifiable addition to the flavour.

(The photo doesn't show how tall it was)
It seems that I was wrong to doubt Quod, which on this occasion got both food and service almost exactly right. A set menu like this is an great opportunity for a kitchen to concentrate on a few dishes and make them really good. This is contrast to several restaurants (admittedly rather different from this one) I've eaten in lately that have offered numerous choices, but not done them particularly well. Of course, Quod has its à la carte too, and before making a final judgement I should probably try that. Still, on a weekday lunchtime, I don't think you need it.

Quod Brasserie and Bar, 92-94 High Street, OX1 4BJ
01865 202505


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