Saturday, 24th March 2018 – The Oxford Kitchen, Oxford
This was our second visit to the Oxford Kitchen, mainly to confirm that we were right the first time about how good it is. With plans to be in the town on Friday night post Copenhagen for a college reunion, it seemed like a good plan to book a nearby hotel and aim to have a long, lazy lunch at the restaurant on Saturday. A brief shopping foray up and down the parade of shops at Summertown was very productive, with lots of books (from the local independent bookshop), some amber jewellery, and a couple of clothing items all at very good prices from the charity shops, and some handmade pesto from the small deli, Taylors. All of that and a coffee preceded lunch, and meant we were grateful to be seated in a booth with plenty of extra space for all the goodies we’d collected.
The menu had changed slightly from our last visit, but the tasting menu seemed to be the same so we decided we wouldn’t go that route and would head off into a la carte territory where anything can happen! However, a drink was needed first though, so we chose a bellini each. For me it was pear, very refreshing to the palate and deliciously fruity:
Lynne had the rose one which was, not surprisingly, far more floral, but still refreshing.
While we considered the menu, the amuse bouches arrived. Again, there were pulled pork cubes, which are simply lovely, the meat in tender strands and the outside crisp and satisfying.
What we had not had before were the stunning beetroot meringues, startlingly pink to look at, and just on the edge of savoury and sweet. They were also absurdly cute, sandwiched together with smoked ricotta. A fine thing!
The thyme brioche rolls were also very good, perfumed with the herb, light and fluffy-crumbed. The two butters were malted with onions and wild garlic-infused with bacon. I preferred the latter but wouldn’t refuse the malted one if it was the only choice.
For starters we had selected the squid, with monks beard, squid ink, romesco sauce and mayonnaise, because we both like squid but it’s also a stern test of a kitchen. Get it wrong, and you’ll be stuck with something rubbery that you could sole trainers with. And it’s easy to get it wrong. You need to cook it very, very quickly or very long and slow, as anything in between will not be fit to eat. I’m pleased to report that the Oxford Kitchen got it spot on, with gloriously tender chunks of squid tentacle and body, and lovely, savoury squid ink tuile. It looked pretty too!
The other starter, and this too could be challenging, was the “full English” which sees a duck egg, duck chorizo, a spiced bean ragout, black pudding crumb and a bacon espuma standing in for the old-fashioned English cooked breakfast. This was a very modern take on it, and we both enjoyed it immensely, though I can imagine other people might not if they go in expecting what they get to taste just like the old style offering. Oh, and I ate all the beans because Lynne hates the texture of any sort of bean or pea.
For mains we had one meat and one lamb dish. The meat was lamb rump and shoulder, the shoulder slow cooked and tender and the rump rare and firm and melting in the mouth, served with broccoli (which I would get all of), and wild garlic tempura, a great thing to do with wild garlic in my opinion. A great selection for lunch but we would need to sleep it off later, like a python stuffed full of some unfortunate mammal.
Lighter, but equally redolent of spring for me, was the cold loin, served with brandade croquettes, Jerusalem artichokes both as a roast vegetable and as a thick, sticky puree, and a superb unctuous, rich, salty, creamy caviar butter sauce. I’d like a bathtub full of that please! It was brilliant. The cod was pretty damn good too, flaking away when you took a fork to it, tender and moist and lovely.
Finally we realised that despite what some people would describe as small portions, we didn’t have the capacity for much more than a shared dessert. Now theoretically Lynne does not care for rhubarb, finding the bitterness overwhelming, but his she enjoyed. Yorkshire rhubarb, baked cheesecake, ginger and lemongrass turned out to be a deconstructed cake,the crumb settled in small piles propping up a rhubarb ice cream quenelle, small sticks of softly poached tiny young rhubarb sticks, and various spheres of flavoured gels, along with piped creamy layer of the “cheesy” bit of the cheesecake. The whole was a thing of beauty to look at, and it all tasted pretty damn good too.
And with that, we could do no more. We had a chat with the maitre d’ who told us that they have high hopes of achieving their first Michelin star this year, and I can see that as a distinct possibility. Even if they don’t get the star, they are a much needed breath of fresh air in the culinary desert that is Oxford. Don’t get me wrong; there are some decent places in Oxford itself, but they are few and far between, and the norm is ordinary at best, shockingly bad at worst.