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.

This pub used to be more of a drinking den (it was the Hobgoblin at one point) but it's now had a genteel makeover thanks to the recent change of ownership, and boasts some unusual German beers behind the bar and indeterminate but not unpleasant decor: think anglepoise lamps, stripped wood benches and Oxford rowing memorabilia on the walls. The food is now, it seems, much more important, and the menu is divided up into Classics, Specials, Sharing Boards and Bar Snacks. It's possible to pick out the components of a three course meal although there's probably something for all appetites and tastes. Two caveats: there's not much for vegetarians - and a lot of pork, as the manager pointed out to us with a mixture of pride and ruefulness.
Still, what we had from this rather eclectic selection was almost uniformly excellent. I was very happy when I cut into my scotch egg (£3) and found it to be the first proper, hot, freshly made one that I've had in Oxford. The yolk oozed out delightfully and the coarse coating had been properly seasoned. Our main starter was a shared Charcuterie board with ham hock terrine, chicken liver parfait and smoked duck breast (£14). Not only was eating these with the various kinds of pickle and warm bread quite a fun experience, but the meats were all of very high quality: the parfait was light and moreish (we polished off the whole kilner jar quite easily) and the duck had a lovely subtle flavour.
 (there's more food there than you might think: this would be a decent meal in its own right)
 Main courses were of a similar standard. I was a bit dubious about the idea of a sirloin steak and chips for £9.50, but the Photographer ordered one in any case and declared that it was bigger and tasted better than he expected: a tender interior was matched by an interesting smokey crunch on the outside, and the large, crispy chips were spot on. I had a pork chop with chorizo in a butterbean stew (again, good value at £9). There was probably more fat than meat on it (some people like that, though, don't they?) but it had been cooked just right, not too dry, and the stew was warming without being too filling.
When we were there the solitary dessert was that old reliable, the chocolate fudge brownie (£4.50). I'm inclined to think it's better to offer more choice or no puddings at all, but we ordered this anyway. It was very chocolatey, albeit a bit dry and crumbly, and ice cream rather than chantilly cream would probably have been a better accompaniment.
Still, this was an impressive - and reasonably priced - performance on the whole. As long as you're something of a carnivore, the St Aldates Tavern is definitely worth recommending.

I was invited to review the St Aldates Tavern. Other pubs are available...

108 St Aldate's OX1 1BU

01865 241185

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