I tested out the newly reopened Beefeater in Kidlington recently with a sense of optimism. It is a well-established chain, and an online preview of the menu had left me feeling quite buoyant. The sultry visuals of perfectly-grilled meat, juicy high-stacked burgers and luscious desserts bathed in warm, glowing colours had built my expectations and appetite. Was braving storm Ciara’s wind and rain worth it – did they deliver on the promises? Read on…
The reality of the venue was more bright and friendly than sultry; this Beefeater is essentially a modern, well-lit hotel restaurant. It’s tucked inside the Premier Inn Kidlington near the airport, and when I was there it was bustling with groups, families and business travellers. We were greeted in a warm, business-like manner and seated in a booth with a good view of the bar area and restaurant, both of which were busy but not full. It was therefore quite jarring to find that despite some empty tables, service was not particularly prompt.
An overly long wait to order was almost rescued by the friendly server who eventually arrived, but from then on, the sluggish pace only got worse. The 30-minute interval before our starters arrived gave me time to consider the challenges of a restaurant opening and I charitably put it down to the teething problems of a new kitchen. The staff seemed overwhelmed but willing, leaving room to hope it will all come together.
Sadly, some of our dinner gave off the same overwhelmed aura
The long-awaited starter was a disappointing ‘sharing platter’ (£11.79). The chicken wings, lamb kofta and curled potatoes were just about fine, but why had the promised mushrooms been replaced by stone-cold onion rings? Why was the grilled flatbread more like barely warmed-up pita? The bread would have been acceptable if they had served houmous with it instead of the three dipping sauces (ranch, piri-piri, and BBQ) that only suited the meat and potato elements. Simple combination platters like these must do better than a selection of reheated frozen items from your local supermarket to be worthwhile. This one did not.
The main courses brought fresh hope to our table, and I enjoyed my 8oz sirloin (£16.99). It arrived almost sizzling from the grill, and medium-rare as requested. This was a classic British steak, with a bit of charring and a juicy beefy flavour that didn’t overwhelm. From the choice of sauces – stroganoff, peppercorn, béarnaise, or beer & beef dripping – I chose the béarnaise, which is my absolute favourite with sirloin. Yes, it adds a buttery sauce to an already rich dish, but the sharpness from the vinegar, tarragon and the shallots should bring brightness and balance. The Beefeater version didn’t have enough of this bright acidity and I had to demote it to a dip for my fries instead of slathering it on my meat. Despite the sauce-fail, this dish was the best part of the meal.
The second main also came from the grill: the short rib, peppercorn & pulled beef burger (£15.99). The menu description promised an appealing combination.
Select cuts of 4oz short rib & chuck beef burger topped with peppercorn sauce and pulled beef brisket. Served in a brioche bun with red onion & port marmalade, lettuce, fresh tomato and red onion.
In another disappointment, all these elements were put together in a way that somehow deleted most of the flavour and texture. The shredded ‘brisket’ was mushy, the sauce had no punch, and the marmalade was impossible to identify. The burger taste, smothered by everything else, failed to come through. The brioche began to disintegrate as the sauce permeated it and it quickly became too slippery to eat without making a mess. Huge, stacked burgers can be fabulous when the abundance doesn’t come at the expense of taste and structure. Places like Atomic Burger in Oxford manage it beautifully, but our Beefeater dinner couldn’t quite get there.
By this point my enthusiasm was waning, and I sorely needed the boost of dessert
They have a wide range of ‘puds’; you can go all-out or select a mini version that comes with a coffee. Luckily, they had sticky toffee pudding (£5.79), the ultimate crowd pleaser and my own personal favourite. This one doesn’t come in the smaller size, which was absolutely fine by me. It was super-super sweet, but with a fluffy sponge, sticky toffee-ness, and the warmth of dates adding depth, it balanced out. The bad news? It came with a custard that also had too much sugar and not enough vanilla flavour; maybe I’m overly picky or maybe the kitchen just doesn’t have the sauce situation well in hand.
Our other choice was the baked vanilla cheesecake with a blackcurrant and prosecco compote (£5.49). This was good at first bite: creamy vanilla, tangy sauce, and oaty biscuit base. However, the sugar built up after a few mouthfuls and became overwhelming. If you’ve got a really sweet tooth, go for it, but if I went back I’d try something different like the coconut or gin fizz sorbets.
Overall, it was a shame that this meal experienced these ups and downs. Beefeater is an experienced restaurant business, and even allowing for the inevitable challenges associated with a new opening there were too many hiccups. Based on my recent dinner I’m not tempted to return until I hear things have improved.
If you do visit: my advice is to opt for the simpler, classic items on the menu and be prepared for a leisurely meal. The evening was marked by inconsistency in relation to the food, but I should end by saying that it was almost rescued by the consistent charm and positivity of our server. A big shout-out to the wonderful waitress with long blond hair tied up in a high ponytail.
We dined as guests of Beefeater – all views remain our own.