We recently got invited to the reopening of Cafe Rouge Oxford, in Little Clarenden Street, and I have to be honest it didn’t fill me with excitement. It’s a restaurant that has hovered on the outskirts of town for some time, notable for, well pretty much nothing. The decor was unremarkable, the food not particularly appealing and the last time I went, even the staff were uninterested and slow. Basically, if you were in that area and fancied French food, you’d be heading straight into Pierre Victoire and wouldn’t give Cafe Rouge a first glance, let alone a second.
That seems to have changed now though. On arrival we were greeted instantly, giving me precious few seconds to admire the cloche of pastel macarons before being led through a very French feeling bistro to a conservatory and out to a lavender scented garden – lovely idea, shame about the smoking customers and the inevitable wasps divebombing my Chardonnay.
We were invited to try several sampling dishes from the new menu and accepted this invitation with alacrity! First dish was a small hot ramekin with a puff pastry dish which my guest tucked into happily, commenting on the filling of mushrooms in a rich wine and truffle sauce. It was only later when I got the same dish that we discovered it was actually a snail ragu, two snails on top of a bed of mushrooms with that pastry lid! The sauce was so good that we nabbed extra slices of French bread to mop it all up!
Bite size duck croquettes were meaty and full of flavour. The garlic prawns were a winner – although some hand wipes would have been appreciated, both for the fingers and the buttery chin! Little crispy deep fried mussels with an aioli mayonnaise were a surprise delicacy and a nice change from the oft overdone and rubbery calamari. I’d definitely order these!
Also on offer were wooden platters of salami and hams with assorted pickles and olives. Hard to wax lyrical about these but they were good. Bread had that good French crust with the squishy airy centre and the fougasse was perfect. The smoked salmon mousse on bread was a good choice and one I returned to a few times!
Croque Monsieur isn’t a dish I would choose, partly because I’m not a massive melted cheese eater (insert outrage from Jacqui) [*picks chin back off floor* -Jacqui] and so I can’t really comment on whether this was a good version or not. Essentially it was sliced white bread with some gooey cheese. Standard.
We shared a burger, served in a glossy enriched bun and this was a good burger. The chargrill on the bun made it a touch too smoky for me and I struggled to finish my half. The burger itself was decent, a good crust and seasoning but I’d prefer my roll to be warmed with a soft golden glow rather than sport cremation stripes. As you’d expect, the French Fries were perfect! Hot, slightly salty, crispy and fluffy in the middle.
Our final dish before returning home to the babysitter was their champagne risotto. Perfectly cooked rice with a slight bite, butternut squash, petit pois, plum tomatoes and pea shoots was lovely. I only intended on a forkful to sample but we cleared the dish.
Now fully open, we’ll be going back to test their steak cooking skills and sample their dessert menu. Conveniently they’re currently running a 25% off deal which you can access below so if your previous experience of Cafe Rouge was similar to mine, or if you’ve never been this is a great chance to try it out and hopefully return!