You’ve got a special occasion coming up. It’s one of those big birthdays, or an engagement, an anniversary or a graduation. Perhaps you want to treat someone just for the hell of it. You want to go into Oxford so you don’t have to drive or you’re visiting for the weekend but you can’t help thinking, is Oxford special enough for a special occasion?
Sadly, the answer is likely going to be no and you will end up travelling further afield. There’s certainly good restaurants here but are there any exceptional ones? I don’t think there is and that’s surprising considering how relatively affluent Oxford is.
We have a burgeoning restaurant scene with lots of wonderful independent restaurants as well as a few good chains but not one that stands out as that perfect venue. One that achieves the right atmosphere, menu, price and service. Lots come close but none manage it all. And it confuses me that it hasn’t yet been achieved.
So where would I go if it had to be in Oxford? Well, The Fishes or Brasserie Blanc would probably be at the top of my list. Both are consistently good, great service, lovely venues and reasonably good value. The Old Parsonage might just edge it into my list too but they’ve just had a major refurbishment and the Bitten team haven’t tried it. Yet….
High Table is another contender, an interesting menu that changes regularly according to what’s on season but it can feel a little clinical in there. The food there is way better than Quod, which has the style and atmosphere but is always slightly lacking in some way. Merge these two together and you might just have the place!
Wonderful food can be found at the Magdalen Arms although it suffers from a pub feel and a fairly basic menu. Small quantities mean dishes can sell out quickly which is great to confirm that what you’re eating is definitely seasonal and fresh but does limit your options. If you’re a meat eater always go for the Dexter Beef if it’s on the menu, it’s how cow was meant to be! The Maggie doesn’t quite have that special venue feel though but if you’re more interested in the food, it’s a winner.
Browns is too dated for me these days. Pierre Victoire has great food and service, perfect for intimate dining but more of a traditional bistro than something really upmarket. Gee’s is a gorgeous building with a small menu that doesn’t particularly inspire or make my mouth water – again take Gee’s building, posh up Pierre Victoire’s menu and that might just work.
Oxford Kitchen in Summertown should have it all but something is missing. They have a good menu, nice decor and a low, unobtrusive buzz. Unfortunately they are slightly let down by their portion sizes and pricing – when a duck dish costs just a few pounds more than a few bits of gnocchi something isn’t right, but the desserts, particularly the chocolate delice, is to die for! It looks stunning and tastes as good as it looks.
Jacobs Inn in Wolvercote is a village pub but without the pub. Nicely decorated, a good feel but the menu is too safe and predictable. That works for some people, but for a celebration I want my socks blown off.
Going to The Trout is always an occasion, watching the river gush through, admiring the peacocks and paying extortionate prices for a Pimms. The food is adequate but it gets bonus points for its location. Full of posh folk quaffing down overpriced wine. Further up river is The Perch which in recent years has suffered from a reputation as being wanky and pretentious. Luckily, it now has new owners who have promised us that those days are over. We’ll let you know what we think when it reopens!
Some good restaurants there but still nothing that would be an instant choice for that occasion. Until one opens, we’ll be travelling out of the ring road for our special do. We can definitely recommend Fallowfields, The Manor at Weston, Danesfield House near Marlow and The Hand and Flowers in Marlow. Or for a REALLY special occasion, there’s always Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons!