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.

Moya's website claims that the restaurant is proving that the Central European food is much more than the Cold War-esque stereotype of 'boiled cabbage and stodge'. At first I wasn't quite sure this was going to be the case - a glance at the menu reveals hearty Mitteleuropean ingredients like rye bread, sauerkraut, goulash and so on - but soon it was clear their boast is true. The cooking at Moya is creative and delicious, treating these potentially heavy flavours with a light touch.
In any case, the charmingly low-lit dining room, friendly but discreet staff and impressive cocktail menu should probably have alerted me to the fact that dinner here is a very civilised experience, especially if it starts with said cocktails. My Breakfast Martini appealed to my love of not-too-sweet Marmalade, while the Troubadour decided his Old Fashioned was probably the third best he's ever had (he's had quite a number) and much superior to the specimens served elsewhere in East Oxford.

As I said, the hearty descriptions of some of the dishes were belied when the food arrived. My starter prawn salad (£6.45) was a fresh combination (the kind of thing you'd eat on a summer's evening by the Danube?) of rice-shaped pasta with juicy prawns, sour cherries, green leaves and onions all encased in a moreish light dressing. Meanwhile, the Devil's Toast was (sorry) fiendishly good. Crispy sourdough was topped with a lovely, spicy mixture of sausage and peppers and finished with creamy goat's cheese. It's a promising sign when the only complaint you want to make about a dish is that the accompanying lettuce leaves are too big.
The Troubadour had the pork shank (£13.95) which in size and appearance looked like a joint of meat in a cartoon and amply fulfilled the menu promise of being 'crisped on top, melting in the middle'. The tender, flaking meat went well with a subtle beer and venison sauce. The same sauce didn't add quite so much to my grilled smoked sausage (£10.50), and although green beans, tomatoes and little cubes of bacon were a good accompaniment they seemed to obscure the promised shallots and garlic. However, the artistically-carved sausage (see above) had a pleasingly squeaky texture and a pleasant pork flavour. Both main courses came with a reasonably-sized portion of rich gratin potatoes (much better than a huge side order that seems to say it doesn't matter what you're served as long as it fills you up).
There is a small selection of desserts that range from chocolate cake and ice cream to further regional specialities. The Bublanina (£5.35) - or 'Bubble Cake' - was a light-as-air sponge generously studded with berries, served with a custard so sweet and creamy that every drop was eagerly scraped from the plate. Conversely, the Slovak fruit dumpling (£4.25) looked initially as if it was going to be more challenging. It resembled a small boulder and the mixture of poppyseeds and icing sugar on top was an alarming shade of grey. The apricot filling was quite sparse and it looked as if gnawing through this pale lump of dough wasn't going to be much fun. But then it all seemed to come together - the bread dumpling was actually light and its chewy texture rather addictive, the apricots were juicy and the sugar and butter sauce decadent and delicious. Of everything we ate this is the dish I keep thinking about.
Moya is a little more expensive than the Cowley Road average but the high quality cooking and elegant surroundings mean that the prices seem worth it. If it feels as if you always end up eating the same kind of food wherever you go then you should try this restaurant: It's always fun to sample a new cuisine but it's even better to be delighted by it.

97 St Clements Street OX4 1AR
01865 200111


Moya on Urbanspoon

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