When Florio’s in Summertown closed down, some were distraught, others were more interested in what it would be replaced by.
Initial rumours of a large pizza chain taking over the building led to grumbles about a lack of independent restaurants in Summertown. Eventually though, news broke that the recently refurbished restaurant would be inhabited by The Oxford Kitchen, a brand new independent restaurant (not part of a restaurant chain, though owned by a larger catering company), led in the kitchen by Executive Chef John Footman and Head Chef Gerd Greaves – whose combined experience boasts Michelin starred Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, L’Orlotan and The Nut Tree. NOW we were interested….
With another #OxTweatUp due, it seemed like an obvious choice to check out one of the hottest new restaurants in town. Initially billed as “Modern British”, we didn’t have much to go on until the restaurant finally launched – though with dishes like Duck Confit ‘Bon Bon’ with Pickled Pear and Gingerbread as well as Hand Dived Scallops with Confit Pork Belly, Mandarin and Almond Puree – it sounded like it might have been worth the wait.
Now, it is worth noting this isn’t a cheap restaurant, with prices varying from £13 to £40 for a main (Wagyu Burger with Cornish Lobster Salad, Triple Cooked Chips and Black Truffle Mayonnaise being their most expensive dish, requiring 48hrs notice), but then this is a fine dining restaurant. If you want fine dining at a lower price, then their set lunch/supper menu is worth a look – with one course for £10.50, two courses for £13.50 or three courses for £16.50 (available 12pm – 2.30pm and 6pm – 7pm).
The evening kicked off with a quick drink at the Dew Drop Inn to round up the troops, then over the road to dinner. If you’ve previously visited Florio’s then you won’t notice much of a change to the interior. Restaurant Manager, Tom, gave us a quick tour of the brand new kitchen and soon-to-be chef’s table – a small counter at the front of the kitchen where four eager diners will be able to sample a six-course tasting menu while watching the chefs at work. Not really something I’d fancy myself, I’d find it all rather awkward and “is it ready yet” watching from such close quarters, though there may well be a number of people keen.
Having been seated upstairs – a wise decision given our levels of chatter noise – we settled in and ordered some wine for the table. Again, prices here aren’t low, a decent bottle of Sancerre or Chablis will set you back £36 or £60 respectively – non-house wines range in price from £24 to £70, with house wine ranging from £17.50 to £22. Thankfully the house white selected was very pleasant.
Dinner began with an amuse-bouche of Artichoke Velouté with Truffle Oil – earthy, warm and silky, this was a tantalising treat to get the taste buds working. Our interest peaked, we were ready for more.
When the starters began arriving, there was a brief moment of silence. Eager to see who had the best dish, whilst reassuring ourselves we’d ordered well, we all scanned our companions’ plates. Thank the lord, my Duck ‘Bon Bon’ (£8) was the winner – dark golden baubles of confit duck, encased in gingerbread crumbs, partnered alongside pickled pears, pickled pear sauce and little clusters of oats, nuts and seeds (very tasty but almost too hard to cut without them pinging off across the table). What looked like rockery plants adorning the plates turned out to be something called ‘ice salad’, a wild coastline-grown leaf with a firm texture and slightly salty taste – not one I’d tried before. As an individual plate of food, this was immaculately well balanced, with the flavours working seamlessly together to create something quite perfect.
Other starters sampled at the event were Cauliflower Soup with Onion Bhaji (£5.50), Crispy Ham Hock with Celeriac Purée, Compressed Apple and Walnut (£7), plus the Hand Dived Scallops with Confit Pork Belly, Mandarin and Almond Puree (£14). However, I was so immersed in my glorious globes of duck, I can’t report on the others!
When it came to the mains, some fared better than others. Chilliboochan, who had ordered the Parmesan Gnocchi with Wild Mushroom, Roasted Garlic, Parsley and Truffle (£15) was understandably disappointed when a starter sized portion of eight fluffy little gnocchi pillows with a few salad leaves was set down in front of her. The Creedy Carver Duck, however, served alongside Potato Fondant, Chicory Marmalade and Duck and Vanilla Sauce (£20), looked stunning. My 36 Hour Braised Ox Cheek, with Smoked Potato Puree, Baby Onions, Lardons and Red Wine Sauce (£18.50) was a contender, though I did find myself looking longingly at the duck. While the Ox Cheek was very tasty, it wasn’t quite as melt-in-the-mouth tender as I had hoped and the red wine sauce lacked punch. The smoked potato puree (or mash), lardons and baby onions were all perfectly fine, but the dish as a whole fell a little short.
Another little unexpected treat arrived in the form of a pre-dessert – a tiny little apricot mousse with yoghurt ice cream. The mousse was delicious and refreshing, though having only been delivered to the diners who’d ordered an actual dessert it left a sour taste with some.
When it came to desserts, I was hoping to land myself the winning dish; but alas, the title went to Ox_Bex, who ordered the Chocolate Delice with Blood Orange and White Coffee Ice Cream (£7). Almost ‘Blumenthal’esque’ with its chocolate delice ‘toadstool’ and chocolate ‘soil’. Becca was looking rather smug at this point, and rightly so! Whilst my Trifle with Poached Figs, Almond Sponge and Amaretto Cream (£7) was delicious, I felt it a little too heavy on amaretto cream and light on almond sponge. That said, at this point, I was struggling to manage another mouthful anyway.
Overall, a really good meal, in great company. The service we experienced was very good, though we were clearly expected and, for the most part, looked after by the Restaurant Manager. We had some food highs and some food lows, but thankfully mostly highs. Would I return? Yes, I genuinely would – and I’d order the duck, followed by the duck (oh yes, double duck!), then the chocolate delice… Unless I can afford the Wagyu Burger, then I might just try that!