Since I moved to Oxford eight years ago, The Oxford Blue has gone from a gastropub to a smokehouse, and now a Charles Well’s ‘Pizza, Pots & Pints’ pub format. I was a fan of its original format, less so the second, and slightly nervous to see how the newest guise would fare.
For one reason or another, the gastropub and smokehouse versions didn’t go the distance. It’s a funny location though – almost Cowley Road, but not quite. Almost brilliant, but not quite. It benefits from the same heavy competition as it’s Cowley Road counterparts, but with little of the visibility. Even with its bright new exterior paintwork.
So, what of the latest OB?
On first look, The Oxford Blue is a copy and paste chain, overflowing with personality in an almost insecure way. Intentionally wonky bookshelves, prints hung crookedly on walls, different finishes and colours on almost every surface. Once you get over that hurdle and settle into the surroundings though, it’s actually a nice place to be.
The comfortable dining area is fairly large and avoids a feeling of overcrowding. The staff are helpful and knowledgeable when questioned about the food and drinks. There’s also that lovely little terrace garden on the rear side.
The new menu offers – as the name suggests – Pizzas, Pots & Pints. The pizza and pints are self-explanatory, with pizzas ranging from £8.50 to £12. The pots section includes classics like BBQ Ribs (£12), Mac N Cheese (£6.50), or more interesting sounding Shroom & Aloo Curry (£11), Torched Mackerel (£12) and Oriental Pulled Pork Broth (£11.50).
Many of the dishes on the menu are marked GF, and I noted 3 vegan mains plus an additional 6 vegetarian.
On first visit, my friend and I ordered a Pulled Beef Brisket Lasagne (£11) and a Toni pizza with Pepperoni, Mozzarella and Chilli (£10.50), with a side of Caesar Salad (£5.50). My friend and I disagreed on the addition of anchovies (the correct opinion, FYI, is that they’re awesome), so the kitchen kindly gave us some on the side.
Now, we all like that feeling you get from comfort food, but the lasagne ratcheted that up several notches. Oozy, bubbling cheese, creamy bechamel, soft pasta sheets and the addition of pulled beef brisket to pimp it all up, made pretty by a sprinkling of micro herbs. The pizza was impressive too, thin crust but cooked just enough in their woodfired oven to find the balance between soft and crisp.
The Caesar salad was also a winner – really fresh leaves with a fair serving of dressing, shards of parmesan, crispy croutons and the micro herbs making another appearance. I’m ok with micro herb re-use, their little pops of flavour and colour please me greatly.
The portions were generous, so we didn’t manage to finish everything. I’m mortified to admit we didn’t even make it to pudding. I failed you, and apologise profusely. I can’t tell you if the Chocolate Brownie with Vanilla Gelato works, or if any of the other gelato’s and sorbets sing, because we were TOO DAMN FULL.
Happy though, and relieved. I didn’t have high expectations and The Oxford Blue turned out to be actually very good.
The bar offering should please most, with a good selection of gin, rum, cider, plus beers on tap. I tasted a few of the IPA’s and despite not being a beer drinker, found their popular Rucksack Pale Ale highly drinkable.
I’ve been back since, pretty soon after, which goes to show I rate it. I even took the other half on a child-free day so I got to enjoy some gin. The lady who served us recommended trying Elderflower Whitley Neill with Mediterranean Fever Tree. I took her up on the suggestion and wasn’t disappointed at all, two or three gins later I was still ordering same again.
There was a 2-4-1 Pizza deal running on Mondays when I visited, which is a cracking offer. There’s also free WiFi with a bunch of plug sockets for laptops. Coffee isn’t local but I’m trying to persuade them – for the meantime, it’s Paddy & Scott’s from Suffolk.
When I visit a new place I finish off by considering who I’d take back. Family? Friends? Foodies pals? Kids? The latest Oxford Blue seemed right for many, if not all of these. It’s not high-end gourmet, but the food is pleasing and the bar well stocked. Comfy surroundings, fresh coffee and laptop friendly as well. Let’s hope this one lasts, it should tick enough boxes at least.
We dined as guests of The Oxford Blue on our initial visit.