Having given their Instagram an eyeing up since November, and after a glowing review from Giles Coren, I thought it was high time to give Pompette a try.
Pompette takes up the same spot left by Portabello on South Parade. For my money, Summertown has been in dire need of an eaterie to sit between The Oxford Kitchen and the more straight forward pasta-and-pizza offerings of Mamma Mia and Joes. The Wine Café (and further back The Lemon Tree) used to do just this, so I sincerely hope that Pompette has the stuff of stalwarts and lasts the distance.
On first impression, it’s quite a difficult space to work with. I love a little nook, or a friendly cranny for this kind of couples comfort fodder, this has neither. There’s a central bar and swathes of open space, that I’m sure would feel a little cavernous if it weren’t so busy. Painted in the not-unpleasant-but-ubiquitous Hague-ish Blue, the tables are comfortable, with lovely prints on the walls, lots of exposed brick and a couple of highly covetable cocktail chairs by the loos.
One of the things that stands out about Pompette is the staff. The service was prompt, friendly, honest and humoured. I’m a big fan of non-pretence and genuine personality in service – this place offered the embodiment of that.
It started with the Barman, who was excellent. Well informed and knowledgeable about the booze (good gin tips!), when we asked him about dinner he was honest enough to tell us that he hadn’t eaten there for a couple of weeks – fair do’s, not everyone wants to eat where they work all of the time. It would have been far easier for him to point us towards something pricey on the list to get the service charge up.
There was an interesting cocktail selection too – lots of booze-on-booze types including a ‘Pompette’, calvados, ginger and citrus, a play on words guaranteed to leave you a little ‘pompette’.
The wine list was interesting and broad, without being overtly long, and included FOUR orange wines, which did seem a little excessive. We went for the house red (a Carignan) which was slightly jammy with a peppery finish, certainly a good drop at a reasonable price (£22).
So what of the food? Well, there’s plenty to nibble on at the bar – an expansive charcuterie, cured meat and cheese selection and some salty treats should you wish to pop in for a glass and a nibble. However we were in for the duration, so here goes…
We galloped our way through a couple of yummy complimentary entrees. Slithers of crostini with what I think was a young goats cheese with some chives and flavoured oil. Also some very good bread with delicious (perhaps slightly fermented) butter.
We tried a couple of the croquettes (£2.50 a piece), our croquette etiquette generally equates to ‘if there’s a croquette at the top of the menu we’ll be having it’. This ranked amongst Oxford’s finest! The right level of saltiness, crunch and goo. We could have polished off a whole bowl (why don’t more places serve them this way?).
I started with a smoked duck salad (£9.50), which came with spiced candied walnuts, beetroot and mache (corn salad). It was a great mix of sweet, earthy and nutty – so delicious. Tom had the salumi selection (£12.00), which came with those giant capers you always wonder about (nice with a bit of fatty pork…), all perfectly respectable. My stomach churns at the thought of Mortadella, which unavoidably seems to remind me of school luncheon meat, however, this one was garlicky and perfectly tasty.
I had the Mackerel starter as main (£10.00, a whole fish, so plenty of food), it was perfectly cooked with a tasty charred skin and came with lovely macerated fennel, the green sauce grassy and balanced. Tom went for the vegetarian main: pumpkin, soft polenta, spinach pine nuts and gorgonzola (£16.00), which was a really tasty collection of things.
He took the hit and added Black Winter Truffle to the dish (£10 supplement), which was our only disappointment of the night… it didn’t taste of much, certainly not the heady pungency I would anticipate and was lost when mingled with some gorgonzola. We shared some chips (£5.00), not too big (but certainly not French fries) replete with crispy, cruddy, crunchy bits, yum.
I would have dearly loved to have space for the Kirsch Choux Bun that Giles Coren spoke so fondly about, but I have to admit that by this point I was happily stuffed.
So what did we think of Pompette? For us, the cooking and delivery were right up there with the cities best, great combinations of ingredients and lovely service.
Here’s the niggle. Being a couple operating on an East Oxford wallet, the North Oxford prices did make us baulk a bit. When Giles Coren is reviewing you don’t always think about the fact that be may be dining on expenses, whereas the rest of the world are not. However, for a treat, I really couldn’t fault it and would definitely recommend it to you. I’m told that there is a good (and inexpensive) set lunch, which would definitely be worth a punt at a super-reasonable £20 for three courses, and next time maybe we’ll settle for that.
Editor’s notes – I second Cloe’s opinion on the food and service, both excellent, and I can confirm the set lunch is indeed great value.
We visited on a Tuesday lunchtime and opted for celeriac soup with hazelnuts and apple, and nduja mussels to start. For mains, we chose cod with chickpeas, chilli and rosemary, alongside steak haché with beurre de Pompette and watercress. All came to a very reasonable £33 excluding drinks, with an additional 12.5% service charge added on, meaning we dined for under £25 each at a level of quality I’d say was beyond this.
However, the atmosphere on a weekday lunchtime was stiff and reserved – like being at a family dinner on best behaviour. Not the restaurant’s fault, but the result of its locale. Arriving in East Oxford’esque attire, we stuck out like a sore thumb amidst a sea of mature suits. I’m genuinely pleased to hear it picks up at weekends, because I want it to stay and do well. I also want to go back and try all the picky menu items, but I’ll stick to an evening or weekend – Jacqui