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.

Cibo! (does that sound to you like the squeak of a small, excitable rodent?) almost got it right, but one major error and some minor points counted against it. This is a shame, as in many ways it provides a nice sophisticated dining experience: there's a small terrace outside where you can sip Italian aperitifs (their selection of Italian liqueurs is also impressive) and gaze up and down South Parade, and the menu ranges confidently over pizza, pasta, meat and seafood. The service is polite and discreet, and made up for what it lacked in Italianate exuberance with patience in the face of our multiple changes of order. The prices are slightly more expensive than most of Oxford's other Italian offerings, but this is Summertown, and the portions aren't stingy, at least: a 'snack' of 'focaccia con aglio e mozzarella' (£4.25) would have done for about three people.
(half-eaten focaccia)
My gorgonzola and smoked mozzarella soufflé (£5.95) looked rather unimpressive, like an upturned fairy cake, but the interior was appropriately oozing and the mozzarella's light smokiness stood out; a tangy-sweet walnut dressing was a good accompaniment. A starter portion of risotto arlecchino (with butternut squash, sweet peppers and sage; £6.95) was not too salty and full of spring flavours, as was a main course of fettuccine fantasia (with chicken, sun-dried tomato, red onion and pepper; £10.95). My friend described it as simple, 'essentially a bog-standard pasta dish', but one that was really well done.

Tagliata classica al balsamico (fillet tail with rocket salad and chips; £14.95) was juicy; the combination of rocket, balsamic and parmesan shavings on the side was quite addictive, and the chips were crispy. My friend L was drawn to the pesce misto in tutti modi (fried calamari, baked prawns and stewed octopus; £13.50) for the octopus and wasn't disappointed by the prawns and squid either. But the main courses were let down by my linguine alla carbonara (£9.75). Remembering an utterly delicious version of this I ate in Rome that was so rich I could only finish half, I took the option of having it without cream, but the sticky parmesan and egg mixture that coated the (overcooked) pasta was soggy and vaguely unpleasant. The guanciale (smoked pig cheek bacon) mixed in was fatty and salty in a good way, but otherwise the dish had no seasoning (thanks to L for remedying this!). The problem wasn't quite bad - or specific - enough to complain about (and I am British, after all) but it was definitely a misfire.

I must have had a dairy craving that evening as I then had a not especially Italian crème brûlée (£4.95). The texture could have been a little smoother but I couldn't find fault with it otherwise, and the top had clearly been caramelised to order. L's panettone and butter pudding (£5.25) was fruity, buttery and deliciously rich; by contrast, the Photographer's chocolate nemesis (£5.45) looked heavy but was actually light and moreish. However, I then sampled some of the chocolate sauce dappling the plate. It tasted as if it had come out of a bottle, and not an especially high quality one.
Perhaps these are only minor quibbles, but it's harder to forgive Cibo! for their carbonara. Given that all the other starters and mains were pretty good (and the pizzas being served to other tables looked very tempting), it was probably an aberration. Still, this failure to get a simple, characteristically Italian dish right means that I'd probably hesitate before going back.

4 South Parade OX2 7JL
01865 292321


Cibo! on Urbanspoon

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