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.
This wasn't my first visit to The Rose, but I hadn't been there for a while and was curious to see whether its wooden floors and airy interior, slightly aloof staff, and delicious but rather sparing helpings were as I remembered. On the first two counts, little had changed. The room is light and pleasant, although there's not much space to manoeuvre (and the huge mirror on the back wall is unforgiving!). Service was polite but quite cold: forced cheeriness is one of my pet restaurant hates, but a few more smiles wouldn't have gone amiss. There's no pressure to leave quickly, though. And with regard to portion sizes, things were different.
Traditional English with an extra eggEleven a.m. was too early for the lunch specials, let alone one of The Rose's famed cream teas, so I had the 'All Organic Scrambled Eggs' (£6.85), while the Photographer went for the blue riband of breakfasts, the 'all organic "Traditional English"' (£10.80). Both come with toast and jam and a choice of coffee or a pot of tea. Along with local produce, teas are another Rose speciality and indeed are listed on a separate menu of their own. However, I was a little surprised when I asked for Earl Grey only to be told that there was none left. The waitress recommended vanilla tea as an appropriate substitute, but I wasn't entirely convinced: its flavour was sweet yet earthy, but I think I would have preferred something more savoury at breakfast time (Assam, maybe?). Darjeeling was in stock for the Photographer, but he found it rather weak, even after it had been left to brew for quite a long time.
The last 'Traditional English' I saw at The Rose was almost doll-sized in its proportions: a fried egg was framed with small pieces of bacon and miniature sausages. It was all delicious and organic - I'm sure those rashers weren't bulked up with water or anything else that shouldn't have been there - but it wasn't especially satisfying. As the above picture shows, the 2012 version is more generous, and the meat items less out of proportion to the expertly done eggs (no stray undercooked white, nice brown crispy bits). The Photographer, however, thought that the smokiness of the bacon was a little overpowering.
My scrambled eggs were plentiful and creamy, wobbly but just firm enough, and with quite a strong chive flavour (I thought I could taste something else but was assured quite brusquely by the waitress that I was mistaken - perhaps it was just pepper). Somehow this meant that they didn't need much accompaniment so I ate most of the toast afterwards. The wholewheat bread was lovely, as was the creamy butter; the jam was sweet and fruity and the marmalade dark and slightly bitter, just how I like it. Still, polishing off the eggs first meant that the toast was lukewarm by the time I reached it. Its quality wasn't seriously impaired (and the fact that it was slightly under-charred - perhaps deliberately - helped), but would it not be better to offer to bring the toast a little later?
Our breakfasts were tasty and filling: you are unlikely to want to eat again for a while afterwards. At least as a treat, they were - definitely at £6.85, probably at £10.80 - good value. The Rose's focus on fresh ingredients and careful cooking mark it out as a civilised haven amongst the more bustling coffee shops and sandwich places on the High Street. On the other hand, given the minor niggles and the mild frostiness in the service I'm not sure I can recommend it without reservation.
The Rose, 51 High Street, OX1 4AS