Wednesday 18 December 2013

Restaurant Review - Magdalen Arms (follow up)

Location: Magdalen Arms, 243 Iffley Road, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX4 1SJ, UK

Yes, I know. It's been reviewed to within an inch of its life, by both local and national media. I reviewed it myself previously (here).

But bear with me. 

While Jay Rayner clearly had a very enjoyable meal, he might just kick himself when he realises he missed out on their best, most EPIC dish. 

As an East Oxford local, I've been to Magdalen Arms many times - for lunch, dinner, drinks and cake. I've sampled a wide variety of their dishes, each well-made and delicious. But they all pale by comparison.

So here it is folks, in all its meltingly soft, rich, meaty glory... the Slow Roast Lamb Shoulder!

Slow Roast Lamb Shoulder
£70 for 4/5 people. Lamb Neck, cooked and served the same way, is often available at £30 for 2ppl 

Served up with seasonal sides (luxurious dauphinoise spiced red cabbage on this occasion), this is serious, serious food porn.

The large version of the dish serves five people comfortably (trust me, we've shared it between four a few times and always taken a doggy bag home) and isn't always on the menu. On our last visit this was the case, but on asking it was available as a special. And mighty special it is too.

Glistening lamb, slowly cooked with carrots, celery and onion. So tender it yields without fight to a spoon. Sitting regally in a moat of cooking juices. No need for gravy or condiment, nor a glance in the direction of salt & pepper.

The dauphinoise are a glorious addition - creamy, buttery, well seasoned, comfort food at it's best. You know it's naughty but, go on then, just one more spoonful. I'll be a good girl tomorrow.

The greens or cabbage are a welcome addition, simply to break up the richness elsewhere. But you don't need much - you'll be too consumed by lust for the lamb.

If you decide to try the lamb yourself, be aware it takes around 40 minutes to reach your table. So order early, and make do with complimentary bread and butter (first portion is free, extra portions are £3.50) till the main event is brought out, rather ceremoniously, by a small convoy of waiters.

Service often comes into question here, for being far too casual. On this particular occasion though, we found the service to be perfectly attentive and helpful. It's a casual atmosphere anyway, so don't expect front of house staff in crisp matching outfits. It was almost a breakthrough to be asked if we'd like further drinks during our meal.

Overall score: 10 - without doubt, their finest dish.

Family friendly and relaxed, Magdalen Arms also serve some good vegetarian options - but portions can run out fast. The website is still incomplete (after several years), so you will need to book by phone.

Magdalen Arms
Iffley Road
Twitter: @magdalen_arms
Facebook: N/A
Phone: 01865 243159

Sunday 15 December 2013

Festive Foodie Gift Guide

Location: Oxford, UK

With Christmas fast approaching, the pressure is on to get all that crimbo shopping done. If, like many, you leave most of it to the last minute, here's a helpful guide to choosing a perfect gift for the foodies in your life.

Festive Foodie Gifts for under £20

  1. A book for the budding tea party host - Style Me Vintage: Tea Parties, £9.99 from Kinship of Oxford 
  2. Somewhere to jot down all those recipes, shopping lists and general foodie thoughts – I Love The Bake Off Notebook, £4.95 from Kinship of Oxford 
  3. This gorgeous Gisela Graham Cookbook Stand, currently £14 on Amazon 
  4. A snuggly Personalised Knitted Mug Cosy, £17 from
  5. This classy and functional Sophie Allport Chicken Apron, just £14 at The Oxford Pantry (they also do a matching children’s apron for £12! *squeal*)
  6. We have one of these in the Foodie household and it gets used a lot, great for chopping up herbs  garlic, etc for marinades - the Kenwood CH180 Mini Chopper, £14.99 on Amazon

Festive Foodie Gifts for under £50

  1. Serve up smoked salmon & scrambled eggs in bed before the Christmas chaos begins – Breakfast Tray, £22.40 from Habitat 
  2. Big, red & downright sexy, pick up this gorgeous Red Peppermill for £24 from Habitat 
  3. Treat them to a selection of drinks, confectionery and preserves with this Large Christmas Treats Hamper, £45 from Woodstock based, Hampers Food Wine Company
  4. Simple but beautiful, Slate Cheese Board & Knife Set, £24.89 from Amazon
  5. Stunning, vintage inspired Glass Cake Stand & Ribbed Dome, £27.50 at Amazon
  6. You haven't truly experienced a proper steak knife until you've tried one of these - beauty and precision, Laguiole Black Knife Block Set, £38 from The Oxford Pantry
  7. The quickest way into a bottle of wine, a Barcraft Connoisseur Corkscrew Set, £24.96 on Amazon

Festive Foodie Gifts for £50 and up

  1. Splash the cash on this Deluxe Christmas Hamper, £97.50 from Hampers Food & Wine Company in Woodstock 
  2. Beautiful, beautiful cutlery, Laguiole24 Piece Cutlery Set, £140 from The Oxford Pantry 
  3. Might seem like an odd present, but MrF got me one of these a couple of years ago and it's literally one of my best ever gifts. No joke! Cut through anything like butter and make food prep a doddle with Global 25th Anniversary Knife Block Set, £299 on Amazon 
  4. Another previous gift from MrF and one that gets plenty of use. It mixes, it slices, it grates, all while looking very good indeed. Magimix 3200 BlenderMixFood Processor, from £174 at John Lewis 
  5. If you're in Elton's league, why not go to town and buy them one of these... The Decadence Hamper, £10,000 at Harrods


Dining and Cookery Class Gift Vouchers

  1. Buy a gift card from £20 upwards, to spend in any Brasserie Blanc
  2. Treat them to a seat at WolvercoteSupper Club for £24.75 per person 
  3. Malmaison vouchers, available from £25 
  4. Buy them a dining experience at TheOld Parsonage, from £19 
  5. "The perfect way to treat someone you know who likes cooking or maybe someone who doesn't even realise that they do yet", couldn't have said it better myself! Sophie’s Cookery School Vouchers, £60 per person 
  6. For Italian food lovers, CiCi-CoCo vouchers are available from £65

Check out my Gifts for Foodies Pinterest Board for more ideas, I'll be adding more to it.

Happy shopping & Merry Christmas!

Foodie x

Friday 13 December 2013

PREVIEW - 1855

Location: Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 1AY, UK
1855 Oxford wine bar and bistro

With the lure of quality wine and perfectly matched food, MrF and I were strong-armed into attended the press launch of Oxford's new wine bar and bistro, 1855. OK, so strong-armed might be a slight exaggeration - we booked a babysitter and got ourselves down there as fast as our carriage could carry us!

Based in Oxford's Castle Quarter, 1855 is the brainchild of three people - Christopher Mulhall and Laurence Howlin (consultant engineers, wine enthusiasts and long-term friends), plus Laurence's daughter Jane Howlin (wine devotee and marketing executive).

Chris, Laurence and Jane clearly knew what they were doing when they put their team together, bringing in resident chef Paul Bellchambers (owner of The Late Chef catering firm, food writer and broadcaster), and wine expert Alistair Cooper (recipient of the Derouet Jameson Award of Excellence for his wine expertise, currently studying to become a Master of Wine, of which there are just 303 in the world).

1855 Oxford interior style

Located in the building where Krispy Kreme used to reside, 1855 has extended outwards, allowing for further seating space. With it's concrete and glass frontage, exposed brickwork and steel interior, the latest addition to The Castle Quarter is elegant sophistication to a T.

The emphasis here is on the wine, with food designed to match, not overshadow. The wine menu is designed stylistically - with wines grouped as "Unoaked and Thirst-Quenching", or "Sea & Ocean" for example, plus very literal descriptions. The concept here is to get you trying other wines you may not usually consider. I, for example, would usually go for unoaked French white, so the menu here suggests I try something like a Hungarian Dry Tokaji... which I did... and I loved.

1855 press launch wine tasting menu
Tasting list for the evening

There were three whites and three reds available for tasting on the night. I'm no red drinker, so sampled each of the whites, while MrF sampled each and every one (no hangovers though, surprisingly enough). As hubs will tell you, I can be incredibly tough to please with wine - not because I'm any kind of expert, I'm just not easily impressed. Annoyingly however, each and every one of those three white wines offered was brilliantly quaffable. MrF was equally impressed with the reds, particularly a cheeky little number from Turkey.

We also had the chance to peruse the food menu, while sampling examples of the dishes. The overriding food theme was high quality picky bits', as I like to call them, plus some larger plates and sweets- delicious cured meats, artisan cheeses, marinated octopus, confit duck, or Normandy tarts for example. Tasters on offer at the launch night included the most melt in the mouth Iberico ham; a beautifully meaty pork pie made from five cuts of meat (reminded me of ham hock terrine - which I love); tender morsels of smoked salmon on dill scones with horseradish cream; charcuterie plates; plus cheese and biscuit plates - lots of great flavours and quality produce. The Iberico ham was simply stunning.

1855 Oxford cheese plate and wine
Tasty cheese plate and a glass of their finest

So with a stylish venue, delicious food and flooringly good wine, 1855 seem to have created something potentially quite wonderful. The staff were knowledgeable, well trained and professional, the Manager warm and welcoming. All in all, a fabulous night and an exciting new venue for Oxford.

Doors should officially open on Saturday 14th December. Tables are available for group bookings, otherwise on a casual, first come, first served basis. I didn't sample any on the night, but 1855 will also be serving up delicious coffee, supplied by local artisan producers Ue Coffee Roasters.

P.S. For those wondering, the name 1855 was inspired by the classification of the finest wines of the Bordeaux region, which originated in 1855.

Justice Walk
Oxford Castle Quarter
Twitter: @1855oxford
Facebook: N/A
Phone: TBC

MrF and I attended the launch as guests of 1855

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Chef's Table

Location: Oxford, UK
We all have our preferred restaurants (I have quite a few myself!), but when your favourite chefs get a well deserved day off, where do they like to chow down? Maybe they crave a cheeky cheeseburger from Maccy D's, or a Michelin star masterpiece. More often than not though, I bet they head to the best place they can think of, other than their own establishments of course.

I wondered if those 'in the know' may be able to lead us to some undiscovered diamonds, so spoke to a few chefs from well known local eateries to find out... where do they grab a table on their day off?

It turns out that the man behind the scenes at Jacobs Inn, Mr Robert Ingleston, shares my fondness for Magdalen Arms (clearly a man of great taste). Noted by many as one of Oxford's finest places to grab a spot of gastro grub, who could resist those fabulous sharing dishes and gutsy flavours.

Most people are familiar with Big Bang owner, Maxwell Mason, but the man responsible for serving up the meaty magic at The Big Bang is Chef, Sebastian Golsworthy. When Seb chooses to eat something other than, well, sausage, he pops up to North Parade for a nibble at The Rose & Crown, somewhere I am yet to check out. With newly opened 2 North Parade, a regular farmers market, plus new coffee shop Brew, this little avenue on the outskirts of the city centre is quickly becoming a destination for local foodies - I'm trying to schedule in a visit as we speak! 

The couple responsible for bringing fresh new Thai restaurant, Oli's Thai, to OX4, favour local coffee house Quarter Horse Coffee, on Cowley Road. Ru & Ladd say their "espresso is amazing. As is the salted caramel brownie and toasted banana bread". I've heard from several people now that the coffee here is superb, but not being much of a coffee connoisseur I'll probably aim straight for those cakes. I'll be the one drinking a skinny decaf latte in the corner (no moaning about the decaf!), with a big slab of cake on the side.

I'll hopefully be bringing you more recommendations in the New Year, so stay tuned. If there are any particular chefs you'd like me to ask, then do let me know!

Foodie x

Monday 9 December 2013

A Foodie in New York

Location: New York, NY, USA
alt="New York cab, school buses, American flag, Fifth Avenue and Coke lorry"

This time last year, MrF and I were just heading off for a wonderful weekend in The Big Apple - my first visit to America and a much needed child-free break for the pair of us.

I hadn't started blogging by this point, so a few pics were Instagrammed, but nothing more. It seemed a shame, given how much we loved the trip. So a year on, I'm finally putting pen (finger tips) to paper (keyboard) about our long weekend on Long Island.

The Roger Hotel, New York (previously Hotel Roger Williams)
Images: Adrian8_8 on Flikr

Having trawled the internet with MrF for the best deal on a hotel room, we stumbled across The Roger New York (previously Hotel Roger Williams). Centrally based on Madison Avenue, cosmopolitan, decent sized rooms for a reasonable price (rare in NYC) - done! Room booked.

The Roger turned out to be a great find. MrF was particularly impressed with mini bar offering - most notably the sleeping pills (!) which we swiftly purchased for our flight home. Me? Well, what can I say, the Oreos were calling to me. 

Part of the Mini Bar

alt="wrapped up warm"
Ready to embrace the cold

Once we'd gathered our bearings and wrapped up warm, it was time to hit the streets. We walked for hours and hours each day - we paced West towards the Empire State Building, Macy's and Madison Square Gardens; uptown to Times Square, Central Park, Niketown and Grand Central Station; we wandered downtown through Greenwich Village then all the way down to Wall Street and Battery Park... you name it, we walked to it. 

On one particular day, after having already spent a few hours in Midtown, MrF was insistent on taking me to see the Statue of Liberty. So off we went, block after block. One hour went past, still walking. Two hours past, still walking. About half an hour later, we finally emerged in Battery Park, with a view of the famous lady. By this point we were pretty knackered, having quite literally spent ten hours traipsing around, so.... TAXI!

Clockwise from top left:
Empire State, Macy's, Central Park, Grand Central Station, Times Square

alt="Statue of Liberty"
As close as we got to Lady Liberty

This turned out to be the only cab we took. Being based in such a central location was perfect for walking, plus it was much more fun just wandering around, taking it all in. It also served to build up a good appetite... and boy did we eat!

The foodie highlights of the trip were pretty epic. First and foremost though, I have to say, I'll never enjoy one those dry, pre-packaged, British bagels ever again, after finally getting to sample the real thing... nor will I choose low fat Philly over full fat (screw the diet, it's worth it).

Every morning for Breakfast at The Roger, MrF and I slathered full fat cream cheese atop freshly toasted, doughy bagels. SO much better than what I've been used to in the UK (though New York Bakery Co's sesame seed or red onion and chive are the closest match I've found).

Another eureka moment was tasting proper Pastrami at Katz's Delicatessen (where that moment went down in When Harry Met Sally) And argghhhh, it's AMAZING!! Juicy, tender, salty, intense.... I haven't been able to eat the pre-packaged stuff since. It's clearly a big visitor attraction, with queues around the block and a bouncer at the door, you have to take a ticket on entering and wait behind another burly bouncer before you even get a table.

It's definitely worth it though - DO visit if you're in NYC.

Katz's Delicatessen

EPIC Brisket and Pastrami Sandwich at Katz's Delicatessen

Somewhere we'd already planned to visit was Grand Central Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, having checked it out on-line. Open since the start of World War I, the place is vast, seating c400 people. The restaurant itself is made up of three separate dining areas, two with restaurant tables and one with horseshoe shaped counters to dine around. Serving up a whopping 30 varieties of oysters, along with the largest selection of seafood dishes I've ever seen, this is THE place to go in NYC if you love your fish and shellfish.

(The Oyster Bar Daily Menu - opens PDF in pop-up window)

MrF went for a Clam Chowder, which he thought was amazing, while I opted for the Bouillabaisse, which was hugely impressive - especially with a big old helping of lobster on top!

MrF at Grand Central Oyster Bar

Bouillabaisse at Grand Central Oyster Bar

Looking for some serious rib action, we also checked out Blue Smoke, on recommendation from the our concierge - a very good recommendation it was too. Part of Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group (of Shake Shack fame), Blue Smoke welcomes you in with a slap on the back, drinking with mates vibe. You want to get really drunk and eat lots of meat, as soon as you walk through the door - which is literally what we did! A few cocktails later, with ribs, brisket and fries devoured, we felt incredibly gluttonous, but with big stupid smiles on our faces.

Ribs, Briket & Slaw at Blue Smoke

That pretty much sums up our time in NYC though, as we spent the entire time with full bellies and big stupid smiles on our faces, thoroughly enjoying this awesome city. 

I'd never been particularly excited to visit the USA, maybe the stiff Brit in me was put off by all overly cheery "have a nice day"s. Whatever the reason, it turns out my preconceptions were way off the mark - I freaking LOVED it.

Track My Trip at Google Maps: Foodie in NYC

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Restaurant Review - Taberu

Location: 100 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JE, UK

With it's eclectic mix of cuisines, you're pretty sure to find something you want to eat on Cowley Road - from diner to dessert parlour, from Nepalese to Chinese. Since the closure of Gashi Gashi (before my time) though, what OX4 was missing was Sushi.

You know what it's like, you wait ages for a Sushi joint, then two show up at once! Wait. Or is that buses?

Anyway, the battle was on - Taberu opened first, to much anticipation, closely followed by Sushi Corner, a mere three doors away. 

I popped into Taberu a few days after it's initial 'soft opening', to grab a take-out of Vegetable Gyoza (£3.80) and Salmon Skin Roll (£5). The place didn't seem very open at the time, with chiller cabinets and tables both glaringly empty, front door closed and lights low - confusing a number of people into not visiting. 

Thankfully for me though, it was open and serving very good food indeed!

Taberu Oxford, FoodieOnTour
Vegetable Gyoza and Salmon Skin ISO Roll

The salmon skin was crispy and flavoursome, the gyoza plump, golden and delicious. Not being much of an authority on sushi, I didn't have a huge amount of experience to call on for comparison - what I can tell you though, is that the moistness of the rice was superior to that at Yo! or in supermarkets, and almost on a par with that found at Shangri-La Bangkok (best Sushi I've had, by far).

So, having sampled a brief taste, I popped in for a spot of lunch with fellow foodie Katy (

Taberu Oxford, FoodieOnTour

On entering, you're greeted on the left by display cabinets, followed by a counter and short row of white, plastic, slightly space-age looking chairs. Climbing up the stairs ahead you enter a small restaurant area, with four tables seating around fourteen in total on benches. Further through seemed to be a few more secluded tables, in little cubby-holes.

Minimalistic monochrome seems to be the design style of choice here, with glistening black floor tiles, fresh white walls and bright white spot lights, all softened up with black mesh panels descending from the ceiling.

Taberu Oxford, FoodieOnTour
Taberu Oxford, Menu

The menu is set out incredibly simply, with a good selection of Classic Side Dishes, Sushi, Rice & Noodles, Bento and Ramen to choose from. We opted for a few dishes to try between us, including Goma Wakame (£3 - a Japanese seaweed salad), Chicken Katsu (£3.60), Chilli Squid (£5.20), Cucumber Hosomaki (£2.80), Crispy Prawn Roll (£8.20) and Salmon Nigiri (£2.50).

But - stand aside - first we had to fight our way into a bottle of Japanese Lemonade!

OK, so fight may be an exaggeration, but it did take us literally five minutes to work out how to open the damn thing (the instructions on the side went unnoticed for at least half that time). After the removing a cap, then using the cap to pop a glass marble into the bottle, I was finally able to access my drink. Sweeter than any other lemonade I'd sampled, I truly felt I'd earned this.

Taberu Oxford, FoodieOnTour
How to open a lemonade bottle

Without delay, the food began arriving - plate after plate of wonderful colours and textures, till our table top was hidden beneath a display of Japanese delights. 

Taberu Oxford, FoodieOnTour
L-R: Salmon Nigiri and Cucumber Hosomaki

Taberu Oxford, FoodieOnTour
Chilli Squid

Taberu Oxford, FoodieOnTour
Chicken Katsu

Taberu Oxford, FoodieOnTour
Wakame Salad

Taberu Oxford, FoodieOnTour
Crispy Prawn ISO Roll

Each dish was pleasing to both the eye and the mouth, with seemingly quality ingredients and skilled preparation. The rice, again, was moist and plump (thumbs up for consistency), with the flavours well-balanced.

In terms of any niggles, they would only be one minor from me: the excessive mayonnaise atop the ISO Rolls (see above). Other than that, I thought the food was great.

The service was efficient, though communication occasionally let them down. We were left hanging at one point by a waiter who began taking our order, then walked off.

At around £16 a head, including drinks, it was an entirely decent meal. I understand delivery is now available for evenings, with lunchtime delivery available soon. So not only can I finally get my fix of sushi within walking distance - more importantly, I can now get it delivered!

Bang goes the budget...

Overall Score: 8/10

100 Cowley Road
Twitter: N/A
Facebook: @taberuoxford
Website: N/A
Phone: 01865 434100

Taberu on Urbanspoon
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