Sunday, 24 March 2013

Branca, Walton Street

This week, back to Oxford, and to one of those restaurants that I've often meant to visit. Branca in Jericho has been serving Italian food (that's as specific as the menu is) for as long as I've been here, in what its website informs me used to be a Victorian locksmith's premises. It's now been converted into a very smart-looking restaurant, with a pristine and airy interior, ornamented by impressive spiral staircases and an olive tree growing under glass at the back of the room.

On our visit, the service seemed to match the slick surroundings: it was very efficient, especially as we turned up on a busy and noisy Sunday afternoon, but somewhat impersonal. The (?) manager who showed us to our table barely made eye contact, and although our waitress immediately brought complimentary focaccia and olive oil & balsamic and was very professional thereafter, she barely said a word beyond asking for our orders. That's not so bad - to be fair, I would probably be complaining if she'd been over-friendly - but unfortunately that focaccia, light and fluffy and clearly fresh, was probably the best thing we ate.
My salad of soft pecorino with fennel, spinach, red chard, almonds and quail's eggs (£6.95) was a standard sort of 'posh salad': contrasting textures, bitterness from the vegetables, sharpness from the cheese. It was entirely edible, but the components didn't come together into something more than the sum of their parts and I found it a chore to finish. If the slab of cheese or the eggs had been warm, this probably would have livened up the dish a bit. The Photographer had a starter portion of linguine with tiger prawns (£8.75) and was not too impressed, as he felt that the sauce was watery and the prawns a bit tasteless.
We then had a pizza each (both £10.95), one with Parma ham, rocket and portabello mushrooms, the other with pepperoni and extra mushrooms. Again, these were disappointing: the bases were dry and pallid (dare I say it, I was slightly reminded of a supermarket pizza) and the tomato sauce lacking in flavour. I felt mine was swamped with rocket, while the Photographer pointed out that the mushrooms were overcooked. Branca doesn't claim to specialise in pizzas alone, but these were at best average for an Italian restaurant. I wasn't necessarily expecting a splendidly authentic offering (such as, well, what I had recently), but we couldn't help thinking that one from Zizzi's would have been more satisfying.
All this was heavy and we were going to avoid the rather rich desserts, but the presence of salted caramel ice cream (£4.65 for two scoops) on the menu perked us both up. It was very creamy (as were the praline and vanilla flavours) and contained plenty of oozing caramel, but barely a trace of salt. Accordingly, we left full and distinctly underwhelmed. This wasn't a spectacularly bad meal by any means, and I don't want to get into the habit of recommending chains at the expense of independents, but I felt we might have done better at a high street Italian establishment.

111 Walton Street 

01865 556111


Branca on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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