The Old Parsonage Hotel and its restaurant are a somewhat swankier affair entirely. It’s where the socialites of Oxford hang out in town before drinking Zombies at Lola Lo. The restaurant is less formal than its sister outfit Quod, though, and focuses on afternoon teas and all-day dining. But it’s more interesting as it has grounds to veer further from the safe bet of confit duck with red cabbage. There’s smoked haddock and cod fishcakes, for instance, as well as roasted bone marrow and a goats’ cheese soufflé.
The Rickety Press
Oxford’s food aficionados believe this used to be the best restaurant in the city. When the magnificent Charles Michel was still about town, he’d frequent the pub. So too did the Oxford Gastronomica lot, who know a thing or two about eating. When it launched, the Rickety Press was a low-key, food-focused restaurant with fine cooking and ideas you’d struggle to match unless you went out into The Cotswolds, or down to Henley. Now, it’s had a bit of a makeover and it seems to be more geared towards a crowd that wishes it were in London but still has a year at university to contend with. Pizza and burgers – but good ones
Probably the most ‘Oxford’ restaurant ever conceived is the Cherwell Boathouse. It’s what it says it is, and you dine next to a particularly tranquil spot on the Thames, all ducks and sunshine. The regular menu is a bit fussy and can sometimes be a little too ‘parents taking you out for a nice meal but forgot to book somewhere properly amazing’ – but go for a tasting menu, where slow cooked pheasant egg is paired with things like a 2007 Meursault, and venison loin alongside a 2002 Volnay 1er Cru Santenots du Milieu.
Led by Raymond Blanc, Brasserie Blanc first opened its doors in 1996. This restaurant is all about the French cuisine (‘honest food, cooked with the heart’ is his motto) – and the best of it. Their menus are seasonal and the set menu currently features the likes of risotto verdi, pan-fried plaice and steak frites.
This gourmet steakhouse has caused quite a stir since it first opened. Penélope Cruz, Damien Hirst and Marilyn Manson are just some of the glitterati to join local devotees in dining at Grill Royal. The retro chic decor brings James Bond to mind, with Ikora lamps from the sixties, smoked mirror partitions and even a whole speedboat, just for show. The meat and fish hang in massive glass-door fridges, allowing you to pick the piece which takes your fancy, while the open kitchen means there are no cook’s secrets here. The chef is a connoisseur of quality meat and his dishes will impress even the most devout carnivores — the surf ’n’ turf is a particular favorite. In the summer, the river-facing window opens so diners can enjoy a cool breeze drifting in from the Spree.
The Magdalen Arms
This pub was hyped around half a decade ago. And rightly so – the chef sourced food from patrons’ allotments. If you brought in a handful of carrots, the team would buy them off you, cook them, and serve them back. Or offset the cost when your bill arrived (which was large). Recently, the excitement started to fray, as it does, and at times the menu lacked focus. But it remains a solid place to dine, with an intriguing blend of European influences and solid flavours. Above all, the meat is always great quality, and cooked in crowd-pleasingly rustic fashion. The wine list too is admirable.
Another Oxford pub with a ‘gastro’ concept is The Perch. Tucked away next to the canal, cycling here on a warm day is quite special. The food is very simple – don’t expect anything majestic. But if you’re in need of some fish and chips and a pint of ale, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better.
The Oxford Kitchen
The Oxford Kitchen, which offers ‘relaxed fine dining’ and, for the most part, delivers. The menu is usually short and considered – traditional French done well. Sometimes that’s all you want.
Kazbar, on the Cowley Road, not far from where David Cameron once lived, fuses Moroccan and Spanish tapas. Think hummus and warm pitta, patatas bravas, rich octopus in tomato sauce, butter beans braised for just enough time to soften, but hold a little bite. The mojitos are better than most, the service friendly, and the decor is a sight to behold as you tuck into your third bowl of spicy meatballs.
Located in the pretty suburb of Summertown, Pompette – the French word for tipsy – serves up a European-inspired menu, with nods to head chef Pascal Wiedemann’s French roots. Enjoy cured meats sand cheese paired with a selection of European wines at the charcuterie wine bar, or opt for a more formal dinner in the dining room. Pascal’s maximum favour, minimum waste ethos is reflected throughout the menu, with current dishes on the menu including Montbéliard sausage with puy lentils and Dijon mustard; salmon with creamed coco beans and brown shrimps; and St Austell mussels with nduja, white wine, cream and parsley.