Saturday, 15th October 2016 – The Morse Bar/The Ashmolean Dining Room, Oxford
A trip to Oxford was always on the cards this Autumn after the Ashmolean Museum announced that they were exhibiting four Rembrandt paintings (his earliest known works) so we knew we needed to see those. It helps that the Ashmolean, since it was remodelled a couple of years back, is always worth a visit. More of that elsewhere however. Having wandered the various galleries it was time to find food. Though a pre-dinner drink is an excellent thing too, especially when the Randolph Hotel is just over the way with the lovely, convivial Morse Bar tucked away round the corner from the Reception desk (and named as I’m sure some of you may have guessed, after Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse). Back in my student days it’s fair to say the Randolph was outside my budget by a long way. It’s still expensive but I can afford cocktails in the bar these days!
It’s an old-fashioned institution and all the better for it in my opinion. We snagged a table opposite the bar counter and ordered, with Lynne choosing the old-style Morse Classic Champagne cocktail:
I wandered from the straight and narrow with a slightly less classic but no less good cocktail with a lot of coffee notes, the Midnight Moon.
I was impressed by the fact that the barman came over to add the sugar to Lynne’s drink only after she returned to the bar from the Ladies’. I was also as ever impressed by the very tasty nibbles that they supply with your drinks. It’s difficult to stop eating them is the only problem!
A second round of drinks (this time we both had the Morse cocktail) and then it was time to return to the Ashmolean, this time to the Ashmolean Dining Room (or alternatively the Rooftop Restaurant depending on where you’re looking) on the top floor overlooking Oxford.
We were using a Groupon that gave use three courses and a glass of prosecco for a very low price, and as on the previous couple of times we’ve eaten there we were sufficiently impressed that we’d almost certainly happily pay full price on other occasions. The prosecco was quickly produced and we studied the menu to see what appealed. With it being autumn it felt like a “meat”day not a “fish” day and the menu catered well for that.
For starters we kicked off with the confit duck, black pudding and bacon salad, with some tender, shredded duck strands nestling in (for Lynne’s tastes anyway) far too much frisee. The dressing was good so I was happy to demolish the dreaded greenery though I personally would have liked rather more bacon and black pudding.
The cured venison, with vine tomatoes, and an apricot and almond relish was also very good, the venison meltingly soft. Again perhaps a little more of the relish would have been nice, but wasn’t really necessary.
We move on to mains of roasted woodpigeon, with spinach, wild mushrooms, and a port and red currant jus, a lovely autumnal combination, and made more impressive because the chief ingredient, woodpigeon, is one of those meats that can be incredibly tough if not treated the right way. This was good. It was gamey, tasty, and while you couldn’t have carved it with a blunt spoon, it was properly cooked and not in the slightest bit tough. The jus was superb, and the spinach had absorbed a lot of it, which made it a lot more interesting than spinach usually is. On the subject of spinach, it had also been well drained which is not guaranteed everywhere. Nothing worse than spinach swimming in its cooking water and ruining the taste of everything else on the plate as a result.
The other main was a slow roasted lamb tagine, with couscous, courgettes, tomatoes and coriander. I make tagines a lot myself and I know what I like in a tagine. This one had it all with the spices coming through like a big warm hug on what was a very cold and dismal night! The portions were plenty big enough for both of us and we thoroughly enjoyed our mains.
A bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo slipped down a treat with both starter and mains, and we finished off with an Autumn Crumble (mostly pears, plums and blackberries) with custard for me and a glass of dessert wine for Lynne.