Sunday, 28 July 2013

PREVIEW - Jacobs Inn, Wolvercote, Oxford

Location: 130 Godstow Road, Oxford OX2 8PG, UK
HOT OFF THE PRESS: Doors open at 6pm, Wednesday 31st July!

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
The New Jacobs Inn, previously The Red Lion

If you're a regular on Twitter or Facebook, you can't fail to have noticed the anticipation building for new Wolvercote pub, Jacobs Inn. Not since the launch of Big Society Oxford have I seen such good use of social media - although, I have to say, the gauntlet has seriously been thrown down by Johnny Pugsley and Damion Farah, owners of Jacobs Inn, who have outdone Big Society tenfold in terms of sheer marketing.

With many of my readers keen to find out more, I popped in to see Johnny, Damion and team over the weekend; with everyone still hard at work preparing for the grand opening, I was delighted to get a sneak peek inside... and answer two burning questions - when is it opening and what food can we expect?!

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As owners of Jacobs & Field in Headington, Johnny and Damion are already known for providing good food, in a deli/dining setting; their expansion into the pub trade isn't a step away from what they do well, it's merely an opportunity to put their success to work on a much grander scale. 

So with far greater space than in their Headington cafe, what will they do with all the extra square footage? On entering the pub you walk into a casual but comfortable lounge bar, maintaining their signature 'utilitarian/industrial' look, with reclaimed and refurbished tables, beautiful Chesterfield sofas and wing back chairs; you'll be greeted on one side by an old dresser stocked with freshly baked breads, and on the other side by a bar and a friendly face. This area will evoke the 'deli' feel, with the ability to purchase bread off the dresser, fresh eggs off the bar, or home reared hams, etc. You'll also be able to choose from the main menu, or partake in Scotch Eggs and lovely sandwiches - all via bar service.

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From left to right: Head Chef Rob Ingleston, Co-Owner Damion Farah, General Manager Luke Champion and Co-Owner Johnny Pugsley

Further through there is a more formal dining room, offering full table service; here you will find more deli goods on display, such as the Jacobs & Field sauces and chutneys. It doesn't stop there; moving out into the garden Johnny and Damion have created a large decking area offering yet more dining space, again split into table service and more casual bar service.

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Soon-to-be Dining Room

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
Al Fresco Dining - picnic benches for bar service, tables and chairs for table service

If you still need more (god you're a demanding lot!), then pull up a picnic chair or a blanket and make yourself comfy on the lawn, which easily equals the size of the outside dining space. With dining space for 40 in the bar, 76 in the dining room and a further 60 outside, you can still grab one of the 60 drinking spots outside if you'd just like to enjoy relaxing in the garden.

The theory here is that the J&F gentlemen want Jacobs Inn to be a flexible venue, with something for almost everyone. In addition to the expectedly good food there will also be Wi-Fi throughout (with a little booster help to get reception through the walls); daily opening hours of 9am to 11pm; high chairs and baby changing facilities; not forgetting the pizza oven in the garden which will be ideal for private parties!

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
Outside Pizza Oven and Grill Area - Ideal for Events

Phew, I think that covers it. But what about the menu..?! Well, you can expect the same wonderful breakfasts served up in their cafe; you can also expect to see wonderful steaks; fish dishes; fabulous roasts for sharing at your table; gourmet sandwiches; home made Wolvercote Chorizo - which they plan to make from their very own pigs, reared on site (you can go say hi to them!); ice cream sold from a cart in the garden; fabulous salads; plus bar snacks like wonderful Scotch eggs and quiche.

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
Would you believe both pigs were the same size when they first arrived
Has someone been a greedy piggy?

The pigs aren't the only livestock onsite, the eggs sold from the bar will be provided by the 10 friendly chickens living in the back garden! The livestock is a bit of an experiment for Johnny and Damion, but don't be surprised to see them rearing more pigs in future if this works out for them.

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour

In a further bid to be self reliant, the Jacob's gents have the start of a very impressive kitchen garden, with strawberries, beans, sweetcorn and lettuce growing in planters made from reclaimed wood and troughs - even the decking was made from reclaimed wood. It turns out Johnny & Damion aren't just good at food, they're also bloody good at scouring salvage yards, with the wooden flooring coming all the way from Latvia! I know who I'll be calling the next time I refurbish a house...

So there you have it, the venue, the opening date, the set up... wait, did I miss something...?

You didn't think I'd let you down did you?! ;-) Take an exclusive look at the full menu below! 

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour


See you all there!

FoodieOnTour x

Since posting this I had chance to sample the grub for myself, you can read the full review here

Jacobs Inn
130 Godstow Road
Wolvercote
Oxford
OX2 8PG
Twitter: @jacobsinn
Facebook: @Jacobs-Inn
Website: TBC
Phone: 01865 514333

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Getting Ready for Baby

Location: Oxford, UK
You may now notice a little less activity from me for a while, as the Foodie household prepares to welcome a new addition. Due on 29th August, MiniF#2 will no doubt keep me busy with all sorts of fun things like nappies, burping, feeding... you get the drift.


With just five weeks to go now, I'm in serious nesting mood; poor MrF has a list of DIY tasks and I'm de-cluttering everything in sight. Neither a shelf nor cupboard will be left untouched by the time this baby turns up, eBay is my new best friend. Unfortunately though, this means less time for restaurant reviews and less time for blogging.

I'm not retiring completely, so don't dismay, I'll be dipping in as and when I have time; in fact plans are afoot for something very exciting, details to follow later in the year. Let's be honest, I won't be away from food for long!

See you all soon...


FoodieOnTour x

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Little Things

Location: Aylesbury, UK
My brand-spanking-new food column launched last month in the latest edition of Vale Life Magazine, a fantastic free publication covering the Aylesbury and Thame area. If you haven't had chance to read it yet, then make yourself a cuppa, put your feet up and take five... here it is in full.

FoodieOn Tour - Food and Restaurant Reviews Oxford
June/July Column in Vale Life

I'm not sure when I first realised I was a ‘foodie’; maybe it was baking as a child, or booking my first restaurant as an adult. What I do know is that my life as a ‘foodie’ changed the moment I became a parent. Gone are leisurely lunches and impromptu dinners out, replaced by apprehensive eating (awaiting cries of hunger/boredom/thirst/discomfort/all of the above) and pre-planned ‘date nights’ with babysitter on duty.

Don’t get me wrong, MiniF is mostly a very well behaved little boy, but he’s just that - a little boy. Children aren’t fully developed emotionally, they get hungry/bored/thirsty/tired/restless/all of the above and don’t know how to express it - other than with peace-shattering howls. I understand if you don’t have kids you may not appreciate this while enjoying your meal, but, does that mean I forgo the right to restaurant food unless MiniF is elsewhere? No, I don’t think it does.

Having looked at the restaurant scene with parental eyes for the last year and a half, I've been, mostly, incredibly impressed; 99.9% of places we've visited have been perfectly accommodating, we've never been tutted at by other diners, most venues have high chairs or booster seats, some offer crayons and colouring sheets. There will of course be the odd place that doesn't welcome children – maybe they've been put off in the past by kids running wildly amongst other diners (I may tut at this myself), or don’t want the peace and quiet of their restaurants shattered by screaming children. Ultimately though, I feel it’s positive for restaurants to welcome children, it’s an opportunity to teach them about food, good table manners, social etiquette, etc. No, of course you don’t want my child driving you crazy over a quiet lunch, but, you know what, neither do I. If my child cries, I’ll console him; if he won’t stop, I’ll walk outside with him. It falls to the parent to be responsible for their child(ren), but at the same time, restaurants need to trust parents to do this.

FoodieOn Tour - Food and Restaurant Reviews Oxford

There’s only one venue I recall disappointing us; somewhere we’d visited previously, but had since employed a new, Michelin star, chef. On calling to arrange a high chair, we were advised children were not allowed in that restaurant… hmm… OK. Keen to go, we settled on a meal in their other restaurant, where children were allowed. We had a lovely meal, but I can’t pretend it wasn't tainted by the other chef not welcoming us, or specifically, MiniF. Funnily enough, we stuck our noses round the door to check out the Michelin starred restaurant, and were surprised to see it… completely empty. I guess they achieved the peace and quiet they were aiming for after all!

You may feel Michelin starred restaurants should indeed refuse children - if you’re paying a high price for top-end food, you don’t want to be disturbed by noisy children, right? Thankfully, this isn't felt across the board. Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, in Great Milton, are incredibly family friendly, welcoming children of any age, in any part of their restaurant, offering a wonderful children’s menu. I'm truly warmed by this, not that I spend most of my time in Michelin starred restaurants!

So, with my newly found parental experience, I’d like to applaud restaurants who do welcome children; aren't they, after all, the ‘foodies’ of the future…?


If you haven't had chance to pick up a copy yourself, then you can read the whole magazine on-line.

Vale Life
Aylesbury & Thame
Twitter: @ValeLifeMag
Website: www.vale-life.co.uk

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Restaurant Review - Bill's

Location: North Gate Hall, Saint Michael's Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 2DU, UK
Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour

It seems Bill's new restaurant in Oxford was causing mixed reactions; some were saying it was great, some were saying style over substance, some were complaining that it was another chain... curiosity usually kills the cat, so I hear, but thankfully on this occasion, said cat was pretty sated.

Tucked behind George Street on St Michael's Street and three doors away from Mission Burrito, Bill's is part retailer, part deli, part restaurant; offering everything from breakfast, lunch, dinner and cake, through to huge jars of artichokes, chutneys, cook books and canvas bags... so are they trying to be all things to all men? Quite possibly, but from what I could see, they were doing a decent job of it. The menus (arriving just before noon I had breakfast, lunch & specials menus to select from) had a good range of appealing dishes to choose from; then the retail/deli items were displayed on industrial shelving and listed in a separate pamphlet on your table, allowing you to choose items which can then be added to your bill.

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
Shelves displaying various goods for sale

I don't mind this idea, I quite like the thought of popping in for brunch then leaving with a jar of chilli jam; I can imagine though, some people would not be amused by the in-your-face commercialism... personally, I think there's something quite honest about it. You see Bill's aren't hiding the fact they're trying to sell to you, and quite frankly, as long as the waiting staff don't actually try to 'sell' the wares while you're visiting, I can't say I care (if they did start pushing the goods then that would be another matter).

Getting settled in with my several menus, I checked out the interior - vast ceiling space, grand windows, leather button-back seating and chandeliers harping back to Victorian splendour, mixed in with big metal ventilation pipes, galvanised steel chairs and industrial looking shelving. The interior is well and truly styled to within an inch of its life, but I didn't find it at all pretentious. I found the staff pleasant and helpful, the atmosphere warm and relaxing, and the surroundings pretty chilled out - quite ideal for a peaceful lunch while off duty (no kids!!!).

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour

My regular readers won't be surprised to hear I went for the Full English, or 'Bill's Breakfast' to be specific (£7.95) - quite a staple reviewing dish for me, although unusual for me to order at lunch. On this occasion, however, I'd speedily snaffled some early morning toast on my way out the door so a cooked breakfast sounded pretty appealing. Swapping fried for scrambled eggs (they had no issue with this I'm glad to report) and not opting to add Baked Beans (£1 extra) or Bubble & Squeak (£1.50 extra), I settled in with the produce menu and a nice decaf latte to await my brunch.

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
Daytime Menu

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
Breakfast Menu

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
Specials Menu & Produce Menu

On arrival, the breakfast looked huge, and actually very well displayed as far as breakfasts go - I wasn't quite sure I could finish it to be honest! Turns out, this was a very enjoyable brekkie: delicious and still warm (yay!!) mushrooms; pretty well cooked but still OK scrambled eggs; nicely roasted plum tomato; delicious, crispy, smoky, streaky bacon - great to see this as a change from the usual back bacon; toasted, fluffy, white, buttered bread; then two small but perfectly formed Cumberland sausages - and I have to say... they were cooked stunningly well! HALLELUJAH!!! Throughout my pregnancy I have been blighted by restaurants serving me undercooked sausages... enough already! These sausages were cooked just the right side of pink, there was a slight blush, but they were COOKED! They were also bloody tasty.

Being a bit of a slow eater (poor MrF often has to sit and watch me eat for at least 10-20 minutes after he's finished), the toast did get a bit soggy underneath the eggs, but I assume this would be better if sticking with the fried eggs as standard. Other than that though, I couldn't fault this dish.

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour#
Bill's Breakfast

I never did manage to clear the plate - I polished off all the mushrooms and bacon, most of the sausage, plus about half the toast and egg; I love the thought of having the beans and bubble & squeak added but there is no way I could manage it all... possibly more of a manly sized dish (grrr).

So, overall opinion of Bills... I really quite liked it and am definitely planning on returning to try out more of the multiple menu options. I also hear they do good cake, so, I guess I have to taste it and report back - purely for your reading pleasure of course!

Overall score: 8/10

Bill's Restaurant
Northgate Hall
St Michaels Street
Oxford
OX1 2DU
Twitter: @Bills_Food

Facebook: @billsrestaurants
Website: www.bills-website.co.uk
Phone: 01865 202550

Bill's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, 12 July 2013

#OxTweatUp - Atomic Burger

Location: 96 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JE, UK

After my recent restaurant review of The Royal Oak and it's new Burger Monday Menu, I felt I'd developed a bit of a taste for burgers. Having never really been much of a burger eater, apart from the odd cheeseburger here and there, I was a little surprised by this; so what turned me.

In my previous experience, most of the 'gourmet' burgers on restaurant menus were huge great hulking lumps of meat, mostly home made, but far too big and chunky for me - daunting in fact; I'd never manage to eat the whole thing and I'd generally ignore the top half of the bun entirely. This new type of gourmet burger, however, is more about the extras; yes the burgers are still home made, but the focus seems to be mainly on the toppings.

So, that got me thinking, and tweeting... Should I be doing some burger benchmarking?

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
See... not a single psycho in sight!

The Twitter response was immediate and pretty damn conclusive... Atomic Burger was the Burger Daddy in Oxford! My initial tweet snowballed into a get together for nine of us in total, some of whom had never met; all of which were salivating over a #burgerytweetup at Atomic. The team included: two local food critics, several food enthusiasts with extensive knowledge of the Oxford food scene, a number of regular #Oxtweetup attendees and many Atomic Burger fans... Bring on the burgers!

Meeting up at The Oxford Retreat for a few pre-burger drinks, we all got to meet the real people behind the online profiles, and guess what... There wasn't a single psycho in sight - phew! Everyone was lovely, with plenty to chat about... food, films, Oxford, gimp masks (?! Ask Zubi_Q); in fact I don't think anyone was stuck for conversation the entire night. That's one of the things I love about Twitter, connecting with people you actually have something in common with - anyway, that's another story. On to the food!!

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
Sharing Starters, clockwise from top left: Hot Wings, BBQ Wings, Cajun Wings & Nachos

Atomic had kindly offered to provide a few sharing starters for us, so we kicked off with a selection of nachos, Cajun wings, BBQ wings and hot wings - all very simple but delicious! The Cajun and BBQ wings are great for those who may be put off by the fiery heat of Hot Wings, but were well cooked and tasty; for me though, it's all about the hot wings... I couldn't partake in the blue cheese dressing, so requested some mayo for dunking. I'd happily tuck into a big bowl of the Hot Wings all to myself; the sauce isn't 'rip your face off' strength but some may struggle, there is a lovely warmth to them, accompanying a piquant taste - a few thought they were a bit too vinegary, but I found a little dunk of mayo counteracted this nicely.

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
Tucking in!

With chat flowing freely and starters demolished, we moved on to our mains. We'd all pre-ordered, so Atomic had everything ready for us in good time. As advertised on their website, Atomic's burgers are all hand formed to their own recipe and are available as beef, chicken or vegetable, with a free side order of your choice. For the coeliacs out there, the beef and chicken burgers are also available as gluten free.

The menu at Atomic is comic book inspired, with in-your-face colours, cartoon characters and retro film references; you can order Scooby Snack Tater Tots and Speedy Gonzales Nachos, followed up with burgers named Forest Gump, Audrey Hepburn, Dead Elvis, or Babe Ruth; with a side of Cosmic Coleslaw and Sci Fries.

Oxford Restaurant Reviews FoodieOnTour
The Chuck Norris with Sci Fries

Me? I was sold on The Chuck Norris (Slow cooked BBQ pulled pork, American cheese & onions... OMG!), with Sci Fries (Double fried with a chilli rub) and Cosmic Coleslaw on the side. On delivery Atomic didn't disappoint: the burger itself was meaty, a little pink, well proportioned (not a big hulking monster like the type I mentioned at the start) and a perfect base for the toppings; the toppings themselves were glorious, the BBQ pulled pork standing out in its own right, but mixed with juice onions and gooey cheese it was an utter delight... mmmmmmm. The Sci Fries and Cosmic Coleslaw were good, however I personally would have preferred more of a kick from the fries - I'd expected them to be a bit hotter and maybe seasoned more thoroughly as opposed to what seemed like a sprinkling of chilli flakes.

I will admit, whilst this visit was originally designed as a group review, the socialising did take over somewhat - we really did have a fantastic time. I fully intend to revisit Atomic when I have a bit more time to focus on the food... and take better pictures. As a venue, Atomic is great fun; I'm not sure my Dad would be a fan, but I'd certainly take MrF, the MiniF's, plus any of my friends!

So... what did everyone else think?!

Love the Norma Jean, combination
of  cool cream cheese, jalapeños
and of course, bacon is just amazing!
But I frequently get led astray by the 
amazing specials, definitely worth an 
extra visit if Mr T is making an 
appearance. 
@hannahbond8
Debate over - the best burger at
Atomic is the Messy Jessie. Beef, as
if you even had to ask. The delightful
marriage of goats’ cheese, rocket
and red onion marmalade is
something you really shouldn't pass
up.




















I had the Jake'n'Elwood. Particularly
enjoyed the tasty plain chicken wings,
and the fries were pleasantly dry
and moreish. 
Still as exciting and fun on a
twentieth visit as it is on the first, but
they never lose sight of the most
important thing: grilling great
burgers


















Definitely the best burgers in
Oxford I recommend the James
Earls Jones and the peanut butter
milkshake..!
They make the most scrumptious
burgers in Oxford. Top quality food,
top quality venue, top quality staff

















Fun, quirky atmosphere,
excellent service & the most
awesome burgers in town. I had
the Chuck Norris, a burger
with pulled pork on top. 
Pleasure on a plate
Ordered Smokey and the Bandit
burger with Chicken and Sci Fries.
The burger itself was very succulent
and one of the best I have had for
a long time! Fries were topped 
with chili powder and this gave it a
lovely kick! Highly recommended
for future visits!





Atomic Burger
96 Cowley Road
Oxford
OX4 1JE
Twitter: @Atomicburgers
Facebook: @Atomic-Burger
Phone: 01865 790855

Atomic Burger on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

To Pay or Not To Pay...

Location: Oxford, UK
<img src="PayForFod.gif" alt="FoodieOnTour Pay For Food">


Do I accept free meals in exchange for reviews... that seems to be the question I was asked several times last week, following speculation that not all local food reviewers decline free meals in exchange for gratuitous publicity.

So as a restaurant critic, what is the right thing to do?

I considered this myself, before starting the blog; but for me, this is a no brainer - I'm not doing this because I want lots of free food, I'm doing this because I love food, love talking about it, and want to shout about the good (and sometimes downright bad) food I've had.

One factor to consider is anonymity - as in, do I want restaurants to know I'm reviewing them when they're taking my order and serving me up a soon-to-be-reviewed plate of food? The answer is most definitely no. In some cases, this can't be completely avoided, as some of the local venues now know me; however, what I can do is not let them know I'm coming, and not announce myself to them when I'm there (how embarrassingly arrogant would that be anyway?!).

Mostly, the reason I don't accept free meals or book in my name is because I want to experience the food as my readers would experience it, so I can give a full and frank review; I'm not looking to blow smoke up anyone's backside, I certainly don't want a restaurant pandering to me and taking extra caution to prepare my food correctly then serving up a plate of utter rubbish with appalling service for anyone else.

Of course there will be the occasional group event - maybe a restaurant opening, or a tweetup, where you can't avoid RSVP's or complimentary nibbles - in which case I will highlight in any follow up blog.

Image courtesy of anankkml / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As you'll notice from my reviews, I rarely offer top scores, because for me, 9 or 10 out of 10 requires a restaurant to provide exceptional service, venue, food and atmosphere... difficult for anyone to nail! So far this year I've awarded scores all the way from 3 up to 9, with plenty in between; with a scoring system that is based purely on my enjoyment levels.

I like to tackle my reviews as though I'm chatting to friends about somewhere I've recently eaten; I might feel the need to wax lyrical about how wonderful it was, or I might like to rant about the appalling food or service... Either way, they may not feel I was being completely objective if the meal was a freebie - who doesn't like a freebie after all?!

So, in summary.... PAY! I value my integrity higher than a free plate of food.

FoodieOnTour x

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

COMPETITION - Win 6 gorgeous cupcakes from The Oxford Bakehouse

Location: Headington, Oxford, UK
Oxford Food Reviews FoodieOnTour


Based in Headington, Oxford, The Oxford Bakehouse specialise in wonderful dairy, wheat and gluten free cakes and cupcakes.



THE PRIZE: 


Having sampled some of their delicious cupcakes recently (read my review here), I'm pleased to be able to give away a box of 6 cupcakes, in one of the following flavours:

  • Chocolate Heaven: Dark chocolate sponge with a chocolate flavour topping
  • Minty Fresh: Dark chocolate sponge with a mint green flavour topping
  • Its Not Terry's Chocolate Orange: Dark chocolate & orange sponge with a orange flavour topping
  • Naughty But Nice: Dark chocolate sponge & vanilla flavour topping
  • Strawberries & Cream: Vanilla sponge with a pink strawberry flavour topping
  • The Classic Cupcake: Vanilla sponge with a classic buttercream topping
  • Crunchy Carrot: Carrot & Pecan sponge with a cream cheese topping

The prize can be delivered within a 5 mile radius of Headington, Oxford, alternatively it can be collected from Headington. 

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TO ENTER:
  1. Like The Oxford Bakehouse's Facebook page
  2. Like FoodieOnTour's Facebook page
It doesn't get easier than that, does it!?!



TERMS & CONDITIONS (the boring bit)

  • The competition closes at midnight GMT on Friday 12th July 2013, with the winner being chosen at random and announced the following week. 
  • If you need the prize delivered, then you must live within a 5 mile radius of Headington, Oxford. If you live outside of this area then the prize will need to be collected from Headington, Oxford.

Good luck everyone! And do check out The Oxford Bakehouse for fabulous Gluten Free Cupcakes in Oxford.


FoodieOnTour x




The competition is now closed and a winner has been chosen... well done to Rachel Davis!
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