Sunday 30 March 2014

#OxTweatUp at The Oxford Kitchen

Location: 215 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2, UK

When Florio's in Summertown closed down, some were distraught, others were more interested in what it would be replaced by. Initial rumours of a large pizza chain taking over the building led to grumbles about a lack of independent restaurants in Summertown. Eventually though, news broke that the recently refurbished restaurant would be inhabited by The Oxford Kitchen, a brand new independent restaurant (not part of a restaurant chain, though owned by a larger catering company), led in the kitchen by Executive Chef John Footman and Head Chef Gerd Greaves - whose combined experience boasts Michelin starred Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, L'Orlotan and The Nut Tree. NOW we were interested....

With another #OxTweatUp due, it seemed like an obvious choice to check out one of the hottest new restaurants in town. Initially billed as "Modern British", we didn't have much to go on until the restaurant finally launched - though with dishes like Duck Confit ‘Bon Bon' with Pickled Pear and Gingerbread as well as Hand Dived Scallops with Confit Pork Belly, Mandarin and Almond Puree - it sounded like it might have been worth the wait.

Now, it is worth noting this isn't a cheap restaurant, with prices varying from £13 to £40 for a main (Wagyu Burger with Cornish Lobster Salad, Triple Cooked Chips and Black Truffle Mayonnaise being their most expensive dish, requiring 48hrs notice), but then this is a fine dining restaurant. If you want fine dining at a lower price, then their set lunch/supper menu is worth a look - with one course for £10.50, two courses for £13.50 or three courses for £16.50 (available 12pm - 2.30pm and 6pm - 7pm).

The evening kicked off with a quick drink at the Dew Drop Inn to round up the troops, then over the road to dinner. If you've previously visited Florio's then you won't notice much of a change to the interior. Restaurant Manager, Tom, gave us a quick tour of the brand new kitchen and soon-to-be chef's table - a small counter at the front of the kitchen where four eager diners will be able to sample a six course tasting menu while watching the chefs at work. Not really something I'd fancy myself, I'd find it all rather awkward and "is it ready yet" watching from such close quarters, though there may well be a number of people keen.

Having been seated upstairs - a wise decision given our levels of chatter noise - we settled in and ordered some wine for the table. Again, prices here aren't low, a decent bottle of Sancerre or Chablis will set you back £36 or £60 respectively - non-house wines range in price from £24 to £70, with house wine ranging from £17.50 to £22. Thankfully the house white selected was very pleasant.

Dinner began with an amuse-bouche of Artichoke Velouté with Truffle Oil - earthy, warm and silky, this was a tantalising treat to get the taste buds working. Our interest peaked, we were ready for more.

Artichoke Velouté with Truffle Oil Amuse-Bouche

When the starters began arriving, there was a brief moment of silence. Eager to see who had the best dish, whilst reassuring ourselves we'd ordered well, we all scanned our companions' plates. Thank the lord, my Duck 'Bon Bon' (£8) was the winner - dark golden baubles of confit duck, encased in gingerbread crumbs, partnered alongside pickled pears, pickled pear sauce and little clusters of oats, nuts and seeds (very tasty but almost too hard to cut without them pinging off across the table). What looked like rockery plants adorning the plates turned out to be something called 'ice salad', a wild coastline-grown leaf with a firm texture and slightly salty taste - not one I'd tried before. As an individual plate of food, this was immaculately well balanced, with the flavours working seamlessly together to create something quite perfect.

Other starters sampled at the event were Cauliflower Soup with Onion Bhaji (£5.50), Crispy Ham Hock with Celeriac Purée, Compressed Apple and Walnut (£7), plus the Hand Dived Scallops with Confit Pork Belly, Mandarin and Almond Puree (£14). However, I was so immersed in my glorious globes of duck, I can't report on the others! 

Duck Confit ‘Bon Bon’ with Pickled Pear and Gingerbread

Hand Dived Scallops with Confit Pork Belly, Mandarin and Almond Puree

Crispy Ham Hock with Celeriac Purée, Compressed Apple and Walnut

When it came to the mains, some faired better than others. Chilliboochan, who had ordered the Parmesan Gnocchi with Wild Mushroom, Roasted Garlic, Parsley and Truffle (£15)  was understandably disappointed when a starter sized portion of eight fluffy little gnocchi pillows with a few salad leaves were set down in front of her. The Creedy Carver Duck, however, served alongside Potato Fondant, Chicory Marmalade and Duck and Vanilla Sauce (£20), looked stunning. My 36 Hour Braised Ox Cheek, with Smoked Potato Puree, Baby Onions, Lardons and Red Wine Sauce (£18.50) was a contender, though I did find myself looking longingly at the duck. While the Ox Cheek was very tasty, it wasn't quite as melt-in-the-mouth tender as I had hoped and the red wine sauce lacked punch. The smoked potato puree (or mash), lardons and baby onions were all perfectly fine, but the dish as a whole fell a little short. 
Parmesan Gnocchi with Wild Mushroom, Roasted
Garlic, Parsley and Truffle
Creedy Carver Duck, with Potato Fondant, Chicory Marmalade and
Duck and Vanilla Sauce

36 Hour Braised Ox Cheek, with Smoked Potato Puree, Baby Onions,
Lardons and Red Wine Sauce

Another little unexpected treat arrived in the form of a pre-dessert - a tiny little apricot mousse with yoghurt ice cream. The mousse was delicious and refreshing, though having only been delivered to the diners who'd ordered an actual dessert it left a sour taste with some.

Pre-dessert of Apricot Mousse

When it came to desserts, I was hoping to land myself the winning dish; but alas, the title went to Ox_Bex, who ordered the Chocolate Delice with Blood Orange and White Coffee Ice Cream (£7). Almost 'Blumenthal'esque' with it's chocolate delice 'toadstool' and chocolate 'soil'. Becca was looking rather smug at this point, and rightly so! Whilst my Trifle with Poached Figs, Almond Sponge and Amaretto Cream (£7) was delicious, I felt it a little too heavy on amaretto cream and light on almond sponge.  That said, at this point I was struggling to manage another mouthful anyway.

Chocolate Delice with Blood Orange and White Coffee Ice Cream

Trifle with Poached Figs, Almond Sponge and Amaretto Cream

Overall, a really good meal, in great company. The service we experienced was very good, though we were clearly expected and, for the most part, looked after by the Restaurant Manager. I'm aware Giles Coren had a particularly unpleasant experience of the service here recently, though I'd hope that was the exception rather than the rule. We had some food highs and some food lows, but thankfully mostly highs. Would I return? Yes, I genuinely would - I'd order the Duck Bon Bon, followed by the Creedy Carver Duck (oh yes, double duck!), then the Chocolate Delice.. unless I can afford the Wagyu Burger, then I might just try that!

So... what did everyone else think?!

From left to right, top to bottom: @dancingoyster: Food as good looking as the restaurant. But unless you are a tiny eater, sides needed with main. The duck bon bon was my highlight - dreamy! @ChilliBooChan: The service was excellent. My scallop starter was the highlight of my meal, though the greedy side of me wishes my gnocchi main was bigger! @Ox_Bex: Scallops were lovely but baffled by presence of almonds, duck succulent & rich, didn't register vanilla & I won with my dessert! @wisdom440: Exquisite food beautifully crafted in very pleasant surroundings with knowledgeable and friendly staff. @RootsofOxford: Scallops to start were cooked and presented perfectly. Ox cheeks were just as they should be cut with a spoon, melt in the mouth! Excellent! @Proper Ellipsis: Soup,rich but tasty–prefer bread to onion bhaji. Pizza,small/expensive/over-cooked.Odd excluding non dessert folk from pre-dessert #NoFlorio. @WolSupClub: I'm not a fine dining girl - have a good appetite - so it must be exquisite + memorable quality to compensate + sadly just wasn't. @steveburholt: Cauliflower soup and onion bhaji was a great combination. Main: Creedy Carver duck was cooked perfectly with a chicory marmalade.
The Oxford Kitchen
215 Banbury Road
Facebook: @theoxfordkitchen
Phone: 01865 511 149

Saturday 8 March 2014

Foodie Events - MARCH

Location: Oxford, UK

Sorry for the delay folks, but I promise I've had good reason! The foodie festival season kicks off next month, so there will be bucket loads of awesome taste-bud tingling things to do - but no need to wait, there are still plenty of fun food things to keep you busy in March...

Check out one of the special weekly events at The Fishes, in North Hinksey, including Burger Night every Monday, 1/2 price Prosecco every Thursday, French Night every Friday and Steak Night every Saturday! I haven't been let down once by the food here, and it doesn't hurt that they're in a lovely location too.

Another Oxford pub offering special menu days is The Victoria in Botley, one of my favourite riverside watering holes to catch a few rays on those rare sunny days. The Victoria will be hosting Sunday Pie Nights (choose from a huge range of pies, served with two sides for only £11.50 with a limited free drink) and Steak Tuesdays (Choose your steak, choose your side and pay just £9.95).

Waddesdon Manor have a selection of Mother's Day events this month, including lunch, dinner and afternoon teas - if you have time afterwards you can even take a wander around the stunning Waddesdon estate. Book soon though, tickets are moving fast! 

Fancy cooking and eating some delicious Italian food? Of course you do, then book yourself on to one of CiCi-CoCo's cookery classes with the lovely Giuliana. I had the opportunity to try Giuliana's classes out last month and had a fab time - blog post to follow!

With regular farmers' markets in East Oxford, Jerico, North Parade, Gloucester Green, Wolvercote, Summertown and South Oxford, you have no excuse to miss out on a fabulous selection of local produce. Check my Foodie Events Calendar for full listings.

For lots more cookery classes farmers' markets and events, check out my Foodie Events Calendar.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Bitten What...?

Location: Oxford, UK

If you follow on Twitter or Facebook, then you've probably spotted a little project I've been working on, by the name of Bitten Oxford... wondering what it's all about? Well, it's probably about time I told you!

Last July, after meeting over platefuls of hot wings and burgers at Atomic Burger, @Ox_Bex, @kalicer and myself hatched a master plan, a plan to take over the w... wait, not that plan! A plan to launch an Oxford restaurant guide. But not just any Oxford restaurant guide, THE ULTIMATE OXFORD RESTAURANT GUIDE. Dun, dun, duuuuuun.

OK, that may be over-dramatising it somewhat, but we wanted it to be awesome.

L to R, meet the team: @Ox_Bex, @FoodieOnTour & @kalicer

Since then, we've been beavering away in the background on web design, page layouts, logo design, databases, etc, etc. To cut a long story short, there's been a lot to do, but we're almost finished!

So with launch day beaconing, what can you expect from Bitten?

The idea is to use our combined knowledge of the Oxford food scene to provide an A-Z restaurant listing, with venue details, comments, plus our own personal reviews; while incorporating journalistic features and articles. PLUS, there will be a whole section of the site dedicated to promoting the best that Oxford has to offer in the form of street food, pop-ups and supper clubs. AND, if that's not enough, we'll be organising our own food related events, the #OxTweatUp being just one of them.

If you don't want to miss out on the launch, sign up for our newsletter via the website, or join us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


Well, with all this going on, I've had little time for blogging of late. Normal service will resume though, once Bitten is launched - expect plenty of reviews and recommendations soon, including:
  • Sunday Lunch at The Marsh Harrier
  • Lunch at The Kings Arms, Woodstock
  • Breakfast at Oxfork
  • #OxTweatUp at newly opened The Oxford Kitchen
  • Delicious Italian Cookery Lessons at CiCi-CoCo Kitchen
  • A Weekend Retreat in Southwold, Suffolk

Plus a couple of new features I'm planning - a Foodie Cookbook Club (F-Book Club) and my search for the ultimate toasted sandwich (Toastie Love) - feel free to start telling me your favourite grilled cheese recipes now, or check out my inspiration so far on Pinterest.

Phew! Now if someone could pass me a cuppa please, I might just put my feet up for 5 minutes.

Foodie x
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