Tuesday, 30 April 2013

FOT Final Scores - 2012

2012 - my first full year of restaurant reviewing - hugely enjoyable but a bit of a learning curve too. Prior to launching my blog earlier this year, I was tweeting brief snapshot reviews for all of the places where I ate. Moving forward, from April this year, I have been posting full reviews on the blog - it turns out this is even more enjoyable!

I'm a big fan of great local food and would prefer to rave about everywhere I eat. Unfortunately, however, that isn't always possible. 2012 was a year of culinary highs and lows, both in and out of Oxfordshire - with amazing plates of food like Magdalen Arms' Seven Hour Roasted Lamb and the Port Mahon's Steak Platter still running through my mind, there are a few meals I would gladly forget *shudder*.

With that in mind, I'm pleased to announce the final results for 2012, by highest score:

Date Venue Score
22-Apr Magdalen Arms, Oxford 9
23-Jun Port Mahon, Oxford 9
26-Jul The Orangery at Danesfield House, Marlow 9
22-Sep The Twelve Hotel, Galway, Ireland 9
30-Sep Feathered Nest Inn 9
21-Oct The Black Boy, Oxford 9
28-Apr Red Lion, Oxford 8.5
17-Jun Red Lion, Oxford 8.5
08-May Kings Arms, Sandford, Oxford 8
27-May The Fishes, Oxford 8
05-Jun The Mole Inn, Toot Baldon 8
16-Jun Bat & Ball, Cuddesdon 8
04-Jul Nando's Cowley, Oxford 8
19-Jul Crazy Bear, Stadhampton 8
24-Jul Oxford Blue, Oxford 8
01-Sep The Peacock Inn, Chinnor 8
08-May Heston Blumenthal Little Chef, A34 7.5
19-Jun Old Paronage, Oxford 7.5
28-Jun Fishers, Oxford 7.5
04-Jul Indulge Dessert, Oxford 7.5
05-Jul Pierre Victoire, Oxford 7.5
22-Dec No1 Folly Bridge, Oxford 7.5
29-Apr High Table, Oxford 7
02-May Coach & Horses, Banbury 7
07-May Victoria Arms, Oxford 7
14-Jun George & Delila, Oxford 7
03-Jul The Black Boy, Oxford 7
17-Jul Ashmolean Dining Room, Oxford 7
02-Sep The Trout, Oxford 7
02-Jun Cape of Good Hope, Oxford 6.5
03-May Frankie & Benny's, Banbury 6
19-May James Street Tavern, Oxford 6
27-May Pizza Express, Watford 6
16-Jun Qumins, Oxford 6
27-Sep Verde, Oxford 6
23-Apr Magic Cafe, Oxford 5
24-Jun Frankie & Benny's, Oxford 5

Please see My Scoring Systems for further details on awarding scores.

Good luck for 2013, I look forward to seeing who tops the leader board... You never know, someone may even get a 10!

FoodieOnTour x

Headington Farmers Market

Location: Kennett Road, Headington, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX3, UK
Rather embarrassingly, this was my first trip to Headington Farmers Market. I say embarrassingly because I could have been many times over the last year, living only 25 minutes walk away, but for one reason or another, I never have.

Appearing twice a month, on the second and fourth Fridays, the market runs from 8am - 1.30pm at the top of Kennet Road. I stopped by last Friday after a delicious breakfast at Jacobs & Field, and, although my belly was pretty full, there were still a few stalls that most definitely jumped out...

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
THE OXFORD DELHI
I am a big lover of vegetable samosas, as is MrF, so there was no way I could walk past The Oxford DelHi stall without picking up a couple for a weekend snack. The next day, with MrF suffering from a hangover, the timing couldn't have been better. On tucking into the delights, however, we were sadly disappointed: the filling was far from plentiful, only about 50% of the samosa was full, leaving a large empty space; the pastry wasn't particularly light; and the filling completely bland - there were flecks of chilli but I couldn't taste any other flavours or spices. To quote MrF, they were "stunningly bad". A real shame, as we were really looking forward to eating these.

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
PIPPIN DOUGHNUTS
Pregnant, and with a naturally strong sweet tooth, there was no way in hell I was about to walk past a doughnut stall - especially one selling doughnuts with filings such as 'Cider, Apple & Cinnamon', 'Lemon Curd' and 'Vanilla Custard'. Unable to eat the Lemon Curd beauties (raw egg included as an ingredient), I opted for the Cider, Apple & Cinnamon, then somehow managed to wait until I was all the way home before launching myself on the delectable treat - and launch I did! It was beautiful... perfect fluffy centre, plentiful filing, oodles of flavour and ample cinnamony-sugar to lick off my fingers from the outer shell. I did stop myself briefly to take a pic of the half-eaten doughnut (I'm too good to you) but then within moment it was gone... I want one now just from typing this, so certainly look forward to seeing them at market again.

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
Oozy and beautiful - Cider, Apple & Cinnamon Doughnut (more please!)

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
CASUAL CREATIONS
Old Seven Stars Cottage, Aylesbury 07949 769880
Now, I apologise in advance, but I can't offer any type of review for the Scotch Bonnet Sauce purchased from Casual Creations, at least for now. For I am in fact, too scared to try this! This was bought as a prezzie for MrF from MummyF, as he is a big fan of using scotch bonnet chillies in his Jerk Marinade. The lovely lady running the stall advised me it was akin to Tabasco Sauce in heat level, and that she uses a big glug of it in every Chilli Con Carne she makes - she also loves it on her bacon sarnies... not sure I can handle that, but I do promise to try it at some stage, I'm just building up the courage!


Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
PAUL KNIGHTS FAMILY FISHMONGES
www.paulsfish.co.uk
I picked up this wonderful tub of pickled herring from Paul Knights fish stall, whilst also eyeing up some dressed crab. Served with a simple buttered slice of wholemeal bread, this made a fantastic light lunch later that day. They did have plenty of other fish and shellfish on display, but it was in the sun a little too much for my liking at the time, but it did look to be a very nice selection.

So, my visit to Headington Farmers Market was brief, but also fairly successful. I will certainly return, maybe a little earlier next time, as a lot of the bread on the large bread stall had already sold out (especially the tomato bread I was after). If you live close enough to visit, then be sure you do - it's one of the larger Oxford markets, so there should be plenty to take your fancy.

Headington Farmers Market
Kennett Road
Headington
Oxford
Website: www.headington.org.uk/market
Phone: 07709 517 895

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Review - Browns, Oxford (Follow Up)

Location: 5-11 Woodstock Road, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX2 6HA, UK
Having reviewed brunch at Browns earlier on in the year, and finding it very pleasant, we decided on a return visit this morning. Off we went, with bellies rumbling and eager for a good feed... Unfortunately, I have to report, this second visit was a sheer and utter disaster. Please do excuse the bullet points, I wouldn't normally use them in a review, in this case though they are the best way of highlighting the crazy catalogue of errors:
  1. Having ordered four Traditional Breakfasts and one small portion of Sausage and Scrambled Egg (for MiniF), we were disappointed to find out that, when our food arrived, there was no black pudding as advertised - it had been replaced rather assumptively with a rasher of bacon. No major big deal but it would have been nice to have been consulted. 
  2. The mushrooms were stone cold. Again, no major big deal, but getting worse. 
  3. This is where it gets really bad... The sausage served to my one year old son was undercooked and pink through the middle. 
  4. The waitress, having disappeared to rectify the undercooked sausage, did so without offering any sauces, leaving us to wait a good 5 minutes till we could stop another member of staff to get any - most of the food was quite cool by this point. 
  5. The sausage served to me was also undercooked - thoroughly pink through the entire middle. Bearing in mind I'm five months pregnant, and that undercooked meat can be very dangerous to unborn babies, things were getting pretty serious by this point. 
  6. Finally, the replacement sausage delivered to me had clearly been blasted in a microwave (the gnarled side gave it away instantly). The final nail in the coffin. 
On summarising our complaints at the end of the meal, we were further disappointed to receive a couple of excuses from the waitress: she didn't know they had run out of black pudding (possibly come and advise us to see if we want to change our order / swap for another item of our choice); and they don't have a microwave in the kitchen (if they don't, then the chef has clearly found some other dreadful way of cooking sausages that makes them look thoroughly microwaved).

Ultimately, they knocked two breakfasts off the bill - quite rightly so given the dreadful performance. For me, the worst part of the whole experience was the fact that, after serving up two undercooked sausages - to a child and a pregnant lady - the chef didn't even have the decency to rectify the situation by providing a decently cooked sausage. Zero care and consideration went into the cooking of that final sausage, in fact my assumption would be that he/she had been annoyed by our earlier sausage complaints. Terribly, terribly poor show.

Overall Score: 3/10 (the bacon, toast and drinks were fine, otherwise everything else was dreadful) 

Needless to say we won't be making any further return visits to Browns... for breakfast, lunch or dinner!

Browns Bar & Brasserie
5-11 Woodstock Road
Oxford
OX2 6HA
Twitter: @BrownsOxford
Website: www.browns-restaurants.co.uk/locations/oxford
Phone: 01865 511995


Browns - Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Review - Jacobs & Field, Oxford

Location: 15 Old High Street, Headington, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX3 9HP, UK
Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour

I've been eager to check out J&F for AGES, but whenever I've tried in the past, it's always been packed - great news for J&F, bad news for me. Planning ahead this time, to meet my parents for a spot of brunch, I finally struck lucky.

Nabbing a table at the back of the Cafe, we quickly got ourselves settled. With barely any other diners at this time (Friday at 10am), I had the chance to take a few brief pictures whilst getting MiniF sorted with a high chair attachment. The interior of the Cafe is delightful - pretty red bunting, candles, vintage colours, enamel pots and pans, wooden furniture - very shabby chic and French country kitchen.

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
Attractive detailing - many items also available for sale

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
View from back of Cafe

Unfortunately, MiniF wasn't feeling at his best, so I only had chance to speed-read the menu, without taking a picture, but ordered myself an Orange Juice, Decaf Latte and Full J&F Breakfast with Scrambled Egg. DaddyF chose the J&F Full English as it comes and MummyF ordered Bubble & Squeak with Sausage & Eggs, plus a hot chocolate for each of them. The drinks arrived promptly and the food not terribly long after - just enough time to know it hasn't been microwaved and not so long so that you're ready to eat your own arm.

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
Bubble & Squeak with Sausage & Egg

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
Homemade J&F Sauces
So, food present and homemade sauce at the ready (oh yes!) we dove straight in. DaddyF had no qualms with his food, MummyF found hers enjoyable, although the vegetables in her Bubble & Squeak were a little too firm for her liking. 

As for my food.... the sausages were absolutely delicious - am guessing Cumberland - really well flavoured, herby, plump and cooked beautifully, a real star; the bacon was also perfectly cooked, just the right compromise between crispy and not, plus admirable quality - thick enough with a nice salty flavour; the mushroom, tomato and eggs all incredibly pleasant; the homemade baked beans a welcome upgrade from the well-known tinned variety; plus the homemade tomato and brown sauces carrying a beautiful piquancy. 

Overall, my plate of food was an utter triumph, each individual item a taste success, cooked with both high skill and loving care.

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
Full J&F Breakfast with Scrambled Egg

Whilst I couldn't fault my food, I did have a minor quibble about the service. Being a notoriously slow eater, my dining companions always have empty plates some time before me, which I appreciate can be somewhat annoying. It is a real bugbear of mine though, when empty plates are cleared from the table while I'm still eating - it makes me feel like I'm being hurried to leave. I also felt quite 'in the way' of the waitress while trying to explore the salad bar on my way out of the restaurant, so managed to snap a quick picture before hurriedly taking my leave - sadly, this also meant I didn't get chance to investigate the breads and deli at the front of the shop, although it did look very appealing.

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
J&F Salad Bar - wish I'd had time to explore further!

You see J&F is incredibly popular, but a little on the small side, so it fills up quickly (as it had while we were eating) and doesn't leave much room for perusing - especially with a buggy in tow. I will certainly be back for another visit (or two, or three), so hope to explore further then. In the meantime though, I'll keep my fingers crossed that one day, in the not too distant future, they'll open a larger site - preferable right on my doorstep - in which I can while away many hours.

Overall Score: 8.5/10 (a solid 9/10 for the food)

Jacobs & Field

15 Old High Street
Headington
Oxford
OX3 9HP
Twitter: @Jacobsandfield
Facebook: @jacobsandfield
Webite: www.jacobsandfield.com
Phone: 01865 766990

Jacobs & Field on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Review - Cock & Dragon, Cockfosters

Location: 14 Chalk Lane, Barnet, Greater London EN4, UK
Food and Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour

Visiting some friends in Enfield for the day, we needed somewhere to grab lunch that could accommodate four adults and three energetic children. Twenty minutes of um'ing and ah'ing later, we hadn't made much progress - it's quite a tricky dilemma you see, finding somewhere that serves above average food, with enough room for buggies and high chairs, that also has plenty of outdoor space to entertain (tire out) your children. Not that long ago I didn't have these types of concerns, my only thought was "what food do I fancy"... not a chance these days.

Eventually, Toptable came to the rescue, providing us with some insight into the local food options, and we made a decision - The Cock & Dragon in Cockfosters it was!

Arriving at our destination, having passed a line of flashy footballer's houses, we squeezed ourselves into the most bizarrely laid out car park (think parquet flooring). The place looked good from the outside and, thankfully, the inside too - lots of dark colours and ornate wooden carvings. We did have a table booked in the dining room, but seeing as it was completely empty, we chose to eat in the bar instead (although I would suggest the dining room would be ideal for an evening meal).

Food and Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour
Dining Room

Off the boys went to the bar, returning with drinks and the announcement that they'd ordered us all some "thinking food". Now, I'd never heard of "thinking food" before, I don't think the guys had either (they just got stupidly over excited), turns out though - the boys done good: two plates of beautiful prawn and squid dim sum, two plates of delicious satay chicken and one plate of crispy vegetable spring rolls - high fives all round.

Food and Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour
"Thinking Food"

Food and Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour
Close-up: Chicken Satay
Food and Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour
Close-up: Prawn & Squid Dim Sum

Now, I have to admit, we didn't do much thinking while we scoffed the delectable treats, thankfully though, it didn't take too long to decide what to order. I'd been craving duck noodles for at least a week, so that was me sorted: Phed Pad Hed Horm (roasted duck stir-fried with shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, ginger, peppers, onions, oyster sauce and soy sauce), plus a side of Braised Ribs. The boys ordered a Beef Rendang and a Lamb Massaman to share, along with some rice, then other Mummy opted for Lasagne - odd choice, I know, but it transpired she'd eaten Thai for the two previous nights and wasn't quite ready for a third.

Food and Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour
Phed Pad Hed Horm

Food and Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour
Braised Pork Ribs

It didn't take long for the food to arrive, maybe 15 minutes maximum... not that we were complaining. By the time I'd finished photographing my duck, the boys had made more than substantial dents in theirs (hence the lack of pictures), there were plenty of appreciative grunts though, so I'm guessing they enjoyed it all. The lasagne was HUGE... my other Mummy companion had no chance of finishing it, especially with the garlic bread and vast amount of cheese it included. My duck, on the other hand, was a perfectly sized portion of fresh and tasty ingredients: soft duck, juicy mushrooms, a kick from the ginger - lovely stuff. The Braised Ribs, unfortunately, were more of a disappointment - whilst they looked meaty, they were mostly fat and I didn't get an awful lot of enjoyment from them. 

Happily well fed and needing an outlet for the kids to burn up their energy, we headed on out to the large back garden for some fresh air. For those with children, the back garden is very useful, plenty of space for running around, with a small wooded area containing old pub furniture and tyres - which some older kids were using to build a den. Overall we'd had an enjoyable time in Cockfosters and our companions were pleased to find a local 'hidden gem' - I'm pretty darn sure they'll be back, possibly a bit too far for me but one I would recommend for anyone living in the vicinity.

Overall score: 7/10

The Cock & Dragon 
14 Chalk Lane
Cockfosters
Barnet
EN4 9HU
Twitter: @CockNDragon
Phone: 020 8449 7160

Cock and Dragon on Urbanspoon

Friday, 19 April 2013

Review - Hawkwell House, Oxford

Location: Church Way, Oxford OX4 4DZ, UK
Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
Hawkwell House

As other mums will know, it can be somewhat frustrating being unable to drink during pregnancy. Catching up with the girls is never quite the same without a little drink or five - unless there is cake... and plenty of it! I'd never dabbled in afternoon tea until I was pregnant you see, but it is a world I'm pleased to have discovered. There is nothing more ladylike than sipping on Earl Grey while nibbling on a variety of dainty nibbles. Well... that is if you tune out the smutty talk and cackling!

'In the club' again, with MiniF #2, afternoon tea was back on the agenda. Having tried a few venues before, I wanted to see what else Oxford had to offer. Doing a bit of research, I found Hawkwell House, in Iffley Village, were advertising an afternoon tea menu on their website for £11.50pp. I'd been there once before for a work party and a couple of times for lunch and had been impressed with the setting (less so with the décor and inattentive customer service, but the afternoon tea menu read well).

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
Lounge

Having arrived early to take a few pics, I was seated in the lounge to await my companion (CM). Nicely furnished, with comfy sofas, big cushions, a burning fire and pretty chandelier, this seemed like a pleasant place to enjoy some tea and cake. A few minutes later, the lovely CM arrived, directed straight to me by someone at reception - all very helpful, but a little odd... No word of being shown to our seats, or if we'd be eating in the lounge, or even if our tea was on its way. Off I trotted to reception to clarify.

Kindly allowing me to interrupt her chat with another staff member, the receptionist offered to call someone to assist me - moments later a gentleman arrived to show us to our seats. Now this was the funny part... Having left the enjoyable setting of the lounge (log fire, chandelier, comfy seats, etc, etc), we were shown to a group of faux leather tub chairs by a near-empty bar, right next to... the toilets! What? Now, I'm pretty sure it's not just me, but that's quite the downgrade. Not wanting to sniff in the aroma of cubicle toilets to accompany my cake, I asked if we could possibly go back to the lounge. Offered a choice of the Lounge and the less comfortable (and less stylish) looking Terrace Dining Room, we opted to return to the Lounge.

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
Bar Area (toilets were directly to the left)

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
Terrace Dining Room

Resettled and awaiting our refreshments, we got down to catching up. Thankfully, we didn't have too long to wait before our spread of goodies arrived. First impressions were positive, the food looked plentiful, the scones proud and fresh, however CM was disappointed to see tea bags rather than leaves, and I was disappointed to see big muffins and brownie slices rather than dainty cakes. Oh well. Cracking on we tucked into the 'finger' sandwiches (more sausage-sized than finger), the traditional ones were there - egg mayonnaise, cucumber, and smoked salmon.

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
Afternoon Tea

Moving onto the scones - warm, fresh and delicious, we managed to get through about three of these between us. CM requested some raspberry jam for hers - lucky she did as the two tiny pots of strawberry jam would not have been enough.

Now, I must add, by this point, we had already been asked if we had finished bout twice - we must have been asked at least three or four times before we were actually ready to call it a day. The staff appeared keen to shoo along their seemingly only diners, as quick as they could... one member of staff even began clearing items away that I was still using. Upon gentle mention of the 'eagerness', the answer seemed to be that the waiter was clocking off in five. Nice.

Finally the cakes. Well, I never got round to trying the muffin - it was huge and far too daunting after such large scones and 'finger' sandwiches (I wrapped mine in a napkin and popped in my handbag for later). I did however try the brownie slice, it was pleasant - not much more to say really.

Overall, the food was OK, just in need of refinement. The amateurish service and inconsistent décor is what ultimately let Hawkwell House down. I feel Hawkwell could do so much better for itself, with the pretty location, ample parking, beautiful lawn, attractive building - bring a little more class to what goes on inside the shell and they could achieve so much more. What a shame.

Overall score: 5/10

Hawkwell House Hotel
Church Way
Iffley Village
Oxford
OX4 4DZ
Facebook: @HawkwellHouseHotel
Twitter: @HawkwellHouse
Website: www.hawkwellhouse.co.uk
Phone: 01864 749988

Hawkwell House on Urbanspoon

PREVIOUSLY TRIED & TESTED AFTERNOON TEAS:

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Rare Plants & Spring Food Festival, Waddesdon Manor

Location: Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP18 0JW, UK
Being a big fan of food markets and after an enjoyable visit to Vale Harvest Market in Haddenham, my ears pricked up when I heard there was to be a market at Waddesdon Manor Plant Centre the following weekend. Looking at the list of stallholders, the range of produce looked enticing: handmade chocolates, fresh fishcakes, wine, confectionery, biscuits, cheese and.... well, plants.

On arrival at the Plant Centre, we were a little confused by the lack of clear signage for where to go. We stumbled our way through the gift shop, then on into the Cafe... Still no market. Off we wandered, following signs to the toilets, eventually spotting a large greenhouse/barn (but no toilets?!), et voilà! Here the market was.

As a side note, I found the toilets - on leaving the market and turning right, there was a portakabin containing the loos. I wasn't quite so pleased to find them though when I smelt them (a rotten ash tray is the closest description I can think of).

Back to the market. Sadly, there was no impressive stall to greet you head-on as you entered - as you may see I wasn't inspired to take many pictures. There was a stage area to the right for talks and demonstrations, some plants immediately to my left, then the food stalls further round to the left and all down the left side.

So, what and who caught my eye this time?

Food and Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour
WESSEX PANTRY
With an impressive array of big, beautiful pies, Wessex Pantry was a huge draw. We purchased one large Beef & Red Wine Pie and one large Game Pie. The Game Pie is yet to be eaten but the Beef & Red Wine was glorious (see pic below). Travelling all the way from Devon, Wessex Pantry had by far the most impressive stall - with a long list of Awards to boot (see further pic below)


Food and Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour
'Glorious' Beef & Red Wine Pie from Wessex Pantry

Food and Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour
Wessex Pantry's long list of Awards!

Food and Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour
SUPREME SAUSAGES LTD
Straight after Wessex Pantry, were Supreme Sausages - quite the meaty corner of the room! Hailing from Chalgrove, in Oxfordshire, Supreme Sausages were displaying a large selection - one packet of Cumberland (my sausage of choice) and one pack of Venison purchased, we were on our way. Having since sampled the Cumberland, they were too sweet for my taste, however I am yet to cook the Venison (we tasted a small sample of it at the market and it seemed very pleasant).

Sadly, whilst there was a fairly interesting mix of products on display, I wasn't tempted to make a further purchase - although I may have lingered longer at Gastro Nick's if I was able to eat Charcuterie at the moment! It seemed like most of the stallholders had quite small stalls, packed fairly tightly together, with maybe a little too much on them. It meant there wasn't much room for meandering slowly and taking it all in, without coming to an outright stop and getting pounced on by an eager stallholder - not that I blame them of course, as there weren't many people there... Maybe everyone got lost in the Cafe?

There also seemed to be too much overlap - three handmade chocolate makers placed closely together, and two pie companies slap bang right next to each other - one selling savoury, the other selling sweet and savoury. Sadly, the general theme becoming apparent here seemed to be poor organisation by Waddesdon itself - the lack of clear signage, the poor layout of the market, the below-par toilets, and, on doing further research when I got home, several astonishing typos in their marketing material.... including some producer's websites listed incorrectly - poor show Waddesdon.

So, after a disappointing and brief visit to the market, we decided to take solace in some lunch at the Cafe. MrF chose the Rosemary Focaccia with buffalo mozzarella, beef tomato and homemade pesto, served with a salad of roasted peppers, olives and roasted courgettes. For my Parents, the Glasshouse Platter - hand raised pork pie, pickles, home cooked ham, salad, roast tomato, peppers, cheddar and crusty baguette. I opted for the duck salad - shredded confit duck, warm potato and onion salad with plum dressing, baby salad leaves and mustard seed croutons.

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxfordshire. FoodieOnTour
Pretty, but just plain weird, Duck Salad from Waddesdon Manor Plant Centre Cafe

I was informed MrF's Focaccia was very good, but the salad far too oily. The Glasshouse Platter shared by my parents looked appealing, if a little bread-heavy. My Duck Salad was without doubt though, the weirdest duck salad I have ever eaten - and I LOVE duck salads. With a minuscule amount of duck, an over-abundance of sautéed salad potatoes, way too much roasted red onion and a tiny heap of salad leaves, I would certainly not price this dish at £8.50. You can order a small version for £4, but I imagine you'd only get a sniff of duck. By far the weirdest thing about this dish though was the overall mismarriage of Mediterranean and Oriental. Needless to say the combination just did not work.

Bad day at the office for Waddesdon? Difficult to tell, but I won't be rushing back to revisit.

Waddesdon Manor Plant Centre
Waddesdon Manor
Aylesbury
Buckinghamshire
HP18 0JW
Facebook: @WaddesdonManor
Twitter: @waddesdonmanor
Website: www.waddesdon.org.uk
Phone: 01296 658586

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Try This - Steak Platter at The Port Mahon

Location: 82 St. Clement's Street, Oxford OX4, UK

The Port Mahon took me somewhat by surprise. It's a traditional pub, not very big and doesn't look like anything fancy, apart from a few twinkly fairy lights and a log fire when it's cold. When MrF took me here for a meal I figured it would go one of two ways: either the food would be distinctly average, or it would surprise me and be totally knock-out... Turns out it was the latter!

Food and Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour
The Phenomenal Steak Platter

Having ordered the Steak Platter to share between us, our jaws hit the floor when it arrived, A) because it was huge, and B) it looked AMAZING!! Cue our looks of awe, followed by 30 minutes of unintelligible praise while we feasted on the bounty.

If you were ever on death row, ordering your 'last meal' - this should be it. If you want to wow your Dad for father's day - this is what you feed him. Damn, if you just want a glorious plate of food - well, you know the rest.

The cut of meat is onglet (aka hanger steak), served pretty blooming rare (don't ask for it to be well done, this cut of meat should always be served like this), and brilliantly seasoned. Accompaniments to the sensational steak were: some very good chips, perfectly cooked asparagus, divine cabbage and bacon, salad, béarnaise sauce and crusty bread. The result was utter food porn, and frankly, one of the best plates of food I've eaten... and I do not give that praise lightly! I've been lucky enough to eat in many fantastic places around the world, but in my list of all-time favourite dishes, this is most definitely in my top 10 - along with the Wagyu Beef with Truffle Mash and Foie Gras Sauce I ate in Bangkok (*drool* - will blog about that one too!!).

I've eaten this dish several times now, and it's been stunning every time. I'm having to hold off eating it while I'm pregnant, but you can be damn sure I'll be there from September, newborn in tow, tucking into this glorious plate of food!

The Port Mahon
82 St. Clements Street
Oxford
OX4 1AW
Facebook: @Port-Mahon
Twitter: @Port_Mahon
Phone: 01865 790970

The Port Mahon on Urbanspoon

Monday, 8 April 2013

Vale Harvest Market, Haddenham

Location: Banks Park, Haddenham Village Hall, Haddenham, Bucks HP17 8EE
Food Reviews & Events. FoodieOnTour

You weren't imagining it folks, we finally got some sun this weekend. It might have lasted a week, it might have lasted a day. Hell, it might have only lasted a few hours! So what better time to get out of the house, into the fresh air... and over to a brand new food market.

I'd been chatting on Twitter to local food producer Lucy, from Made by Mums, about the new Vale Harvest Market. Held in the large Buckinghamshire village of Haddenham, on the first Saturday of every month, and with the promise of producers from within a 10 mile radius of Haddenham and Thame, I was eager to check out the markets delicacies.

Armed with a hungry MrF and a pocket full of readies, we hopped in the car and headed on over. On sniffing out the market (I was surprised to see no signs), I was pleased to find there were a good number of stallholders - 25 on this occasion, as I understand. You see this market is in its infancy, at only three months old, it is yet to reach full maturity. Gladly, popularity doesn't seem to be an issue, there were plenty of visitors to the market - in fact it was the steady stream of people, carrying bags of goodies, which assisted me in navigating correctly (ask MrF, this is no mean feat!) to the neat cluster of stalls.

The range of produce was extensive - beef, pork, bread, jams, cakes, sausage rolls, scotch eggs, oils, biscuits, gelato, coffee..... Where to begin?! I felt like a kid in a sweet shop, so who caught my eye?

Food Reviews & Events. FoodieOnTour
CORNFIELD BAKERY
Slap bang in front of us was a large baked goods stall belonging to Cornfield Bakery. All of the bread here looked gorgeous, all plump and fresh. MrF snaffled a Sausage Roll for his lunch (he tells me it was thoroughly enjoyable), and we're still working our way through a very enjoyable Tomato Bread.


Food Reviews & Events. FoodieOnTour
GYRE & GIMBLE TEA, COFFEE & CHOCOLATE EMPORIUM
Despite the sunshine it was still pretty chilly, so coffee from Gyre & Gimble was next up. Unfortunately there was no decaf available (boo), but I happily tucked into a truly tasty Hot Chocolate (yay). We also grabbed a couple of packets of Propercorn Sweet and Salty Popcorn while we were there - if you've not tried it yet, TRY IT, it's awesome!


Food Reviews & Events. FoodieOnTour
THE EGG HOUSE CHARCUTERIE
Hopping along to the next stall, I landed at The Egg House Charcuterie, another producer I was aware of from Twitter-land. With some fresh bangers being cooked alongside, the stall had been continuously surrounded by eager customers since I arrived. Unfortunately for me, but less so for them, they had sold out of Smoked Bacon. One packet of Unsmoked Back Bacon selected, plus a Sausage Selection Pack (consisting of Traditional, Cumberland and Breakfast), we cooked them up for a delicious Sunday brunch. Whilst the bacon wasn't particularly large, it was well flavoured and a perfect thickness - with no shrinkage when cooked. Having a good old sampling session with the sausages, the Cumberland was my favourite, but all were well seasoned, plump, and a gorgeous soft texture inside - again with zero shrinkage.



Food Reviews & Events. FoodieOnTour
MADE BY MUMS
Based in Haddenham herself, the lovely Lucy who brought the market to my attention in the first place, was here selling her delectable range of cakes, jams and chutneys. One sweet and tangy slice of Lemon Drizzle, two crumbly and gratifying portions of Millionaire Shortbreads, plus one piece of rich and moist Chocolate Pecan Brownie later and I was well stocked up for the weekends sugar cravings!


Food Reviews & Events. FoodieOnTour
KIRSTY'S KITCHEN
Kirsty is another Haddenham local to have started up her own food business. You may have spotted Soft-Centred Scotch Eggs popping up on many a gastro-pub menu these days - enjoying a resurge of popularity, the good old Scotch Egg has become a more gastronomic feast since going soft. Kirsty's Kitchen produce an impressive selection of Soft-Centre Scotch Eggs including Original, Black Pudding, Smokey Bacon, Kedgeregg, It's Thyme Deer and Mature & Mitey, along with a range of sausage rolls. MrF tried a Kirsty's Original egg on my behalf (I'm avoiding soft cooked eggs while carrying a bun in the oven), not a man of many words he gave a thumbs up!


Food Reviews & Events. FoodieOnTour
THE FINAL HAUL!
Happy with our booty, we bid farewell to Haddenham. Would I recommend visiting next month's market? Absolutely - you'll likely see me there too. The selection of stalls was varied and appealing, the stallholders genial, and the location convenient and spacious. If you don't believe me, check it out for yourself - the market runs on the first Saturday of every month, from 9am to 1pm.

Vale Harvest Market
Banks Park
Haddenham Village Hall
Haddenham
Bucks
HP17 8EE


Twitter: @valeharvest

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Review - The Magdalen Arms, Oxford

Location: 243 Iffley Road, Oxford OX4, UK
Food & Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour

I'll start by saying this was far from my first visit to The Magdalen Arms, on Iffley Road, nor shall it be my last - for The Magdalen Arms is walking distance from my house, and I am a huge fan. It's one of my favourite places to eat locally, but also one of my favourite places to take visiting friends and family.

If you live in/around Oxford and haven't yet been... what the hell have you been doing? Open over three years now, The Magdalen Arms is popular for its warm and inviting vibe, but mostly for its simply glorious food. Most notably, they serve up stunning 'sharing' mains that will wow even the snobbiest of food connoisseur - think achingly slow roasted lamb, served with dauphinoise potatoes (drool), enough to feed 2/3 people and delivered to your table in its own cooking pot for you to carve up and serve from - truly marvellous.

On this particular visit, MrFoodie, MiniFoodie, his parents and I were looking forward to a casual lunch before the in-laws headed home. 

You never know what to expect from the menu when you get there. There have been times when nothing has jumped out at me, when nothing sounds all that appealing, but thankfully the end result has never been a let-down. They typically offer around 8 choices for each course, plus a homemade soft drink or two to accompany the normal drinks list. The food has a strong Mediterranean influence; I've been there before to witness someone peeling their way through a gigantic pile of garlic - I LOVE garlic so this was a wonder to see.

Food & Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour

Back to the matter at hand... the menu on this occasion included an array of promising dishes, but I knew what I wanted as soon as I saw it. Having tried the Pot Roast Guinea Fowl before, it was calling out to me. It's not quite as spectacular as their Seven Hour Roast Lamb, but certainly something I could eat on a regular basis. So, Guinea Fowl ordered for myself and MrF to share, Angus Steak and Ale Suet Crust Pie for the in-laws, plus some crushed potatoes and greens between us all, we tucked into a small basket of complimentary bread and butter (you can pay an additional £3.50 for more).

The bread is definitely a welcome treat, as the food here never appears particularly fast - something a lot of people do find one of the negatives. I, however, don't think it's such a bad thing - sit back, chat, relax. The food will be worth the wait.

Service is a point which does need a mention, as it is a real sticking point for some. I completely understand this. You won't get any of the waiting staff coming to ask you how your food is, nor will you get them asking if you would like to order more drinks - I've experienced neither here so far. I have always found the staff pleasant and helpful, just not overly proactive. Maybe, as some suggest, this is due to arrogance. Maybe it's because the restaurant has always been busy when I've visited. Or maybe they just prefer a more relaxed style of dining. Whatever the reason, my recommendation is to eat in the bar area, rather than the often overcrowded restaurant - which is at the back of the building, separated by an old folding room divider. Either that or just don't go if you're in a rush, as I can't see the service changing any time soon.

Food & Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour

Just at that 'OK I'm pretty damn hungry now' moment, the food arrived in waves. First a big pot containing the Roast Guinea Fowl, bathed in (I'm guessing) stock and Calvados or wine, along with crème fraiche, garlic, bacon and tarragon. Next to be delivered was the Steak and Ale Pie, beautifully golden on top. Last to follow were the vegetables. Carving knife and serving spoon in hand, having taken a little too long to appear, we dug in. The bird was cooked perfectly, the sauce it was bathed in rich, creamy and delicious. I'd eaten the pie on a previous visit, so can confidently tell you it's pretty blinding - third to the lamb then the guinea fowl though.

Food & Restaurant Reviews, Oxford. FoodieOnTour

Bellies full and hunger sated, we relaxed in the afterglow of a good feed, for this is not a venue you feel overly rushed to leave. The warm plum walls and mismatched wooden furniture make it somewhat comforting. THIS is what a good friend feels like in the form of a restaurant - it makes you smile, and you always feel relaxed in their company. 

Overall score: 8.5/10

Not just an eating venue, The Magdalen Arms also has a large bar area along with outside seating. It's a lovely place to stop off for a summer afternoon drink or a slice of homemade cake.

The Magdalen Arms
243 Iffley Road
Oxford
OX4 1SJ
Twitter: @magdalen_arms
Phone: 01865 243159

The Magdalen Arms on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 April 2013

Review - The Pointer, Brill

Location: 27 Church Street, Brill, Buckinghamshire HP18, UK
Food & Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour

I first stumbled across The Pointer through Twitter. I don't know anyone who's ever been there and I've never read a review, for some reason though, I had a good feeling about it. The menu example on their website looked great and I was intrigued to find out they had a butcher shop on site too. I seemed to have built them up somewhat in my head before I made my first booking.

Looking for an out-of-town spot for some pub lunch with the visiting in-laws, The Pointer sprung to mind. Eager with anticipation and intentionally early, we parked up in the pretty village setting, right in front of the pub.

First impressions positive, we made our way round the side to the butcher shop. Small but perfectly presented, the shop displayed a small selection of meats, along with fresh bread, pork scratchings and bottles of their locally brewed 'Pointer Pint'. Their brew isn't the only local link, The Pointer do need to be praised for their belief in using as much local produce as possible:
When we say ‘local’ we mean it. We breed our own English Longhorn cattle, Kune Kune and Tamworth pigs and most of our meat – the very best free-range British beef, pork, lamb and chicken – comes from our own farm or from the surrounding area – so expect to find some surprises on the menu from time to time.
That is not to say we won’t sometimes source meat and produce from further afield. We couldn’t be further from the sea in Bucks, so obviously our fish, wild and sustainably caught, has to travel. Roger just makes sure our man gets up early so it’s on your plate the same day.
Half a dozen sausages and rashers of bacon purchased, we were ready for lunch...

Once inside, we were welcomed by a décor I can only describe as straight out of Homes & Gardens - warm neutral colours and natural materials, plus a homely lit fire - all finished to a very high standard (I might ask them to decorate my house for me!). Drinks ordered we were shown to our table, past the open-plan kitchen, to a separate dining area. 

Four months pregnant, I had to pass on the steak option on the menu (I can never bring myself to order or enjoy well done steak) and opted instead for Fish & Chips. MrFoodie also chose the Fish & Chips, Mother in-law went for Haddock Risotto and Father in-law for Gammon Steak. Being quite the carnivore, I was a little disappointed to see there were no further meat options. There were two other fish dishes available but I rarely choose fish unless I'm planning on more than one course.  

Food & Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour

Food delivered, just in time to stop this pregnant lady getting 'antsy', we were ready to tuck in. All the dishes were presented in a very attractive 'restaurant style', the Haddock Risotto and Gammon Steak both receiving thumbs up from the in-laws (phew). So, onto the Fish & Chips... my first impression was that the fish looked small, but on cracking it open I was hugely impressed to see a generous thick chunk of steak, rather than a gigantic flat fillet more familiar to the dish. The batter was a little denser than I had expected, in a very good way, and was beautifully crisp and well flavoured. Mushy peas and tartar sauce were, I assume, both fresh and home-made - to a high standard. Chips were served separately, pleasing to the eye and also to the taste buds. Overall, a very good dish, I couldn't get away from a feeling though that it was lacking a bit of 'tang' that the sauce and lemon did not provide alone - MrF disagreed, so each to their own.

Lunch consumed, we left a mostly satisfied bunch. There weren't any complaints, but there weren't any gushes of praise either - I felt a bit like I hadn't got to know the place fully. Yes, the food was very good quality, yes the décor is gorgeous, yes the staff were polite, yes I'd like to revisit - so why was something niggling me? I still don't know, but I do wonder if it was because I felt like I was in the home of someone I needed to be on 'best behaviour' around. Maybe the finish on the restaurant is a little too perfect. I'm not completely sure, but I feel I made an acquaintance in The Pointer rather than a comfortable friend. I would like to go back though - just to see if the 'acquaintance' could become a 'friend'... I'd also love to sample some more meat dishes.

Overall Score: 7.5/10

As a footnote, the bacon and sausages from the butcher were spot on. The bacon thick and tasty with no shrinkage, the sausages plump and flavoursome with, not just no shrinkage, but I could swear they actually grew!

The Pointer
27 Church Street
Brill
Buckinghamshire
HP18 9RT
Twitter: @thepointerbrill
Phone: 01844 238339

The Pointer on Urbanspoon
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