Jacqui – July 2013
It seems Bill’s new restaurant in Oxford was causing mixed reactions; some were saying it was great, some were saying style over substance, some were complaining that it was another chain… curiosity usually kills the cat, so I hear, but thankfully on this occasion, said cat was pretty sated.
Tucked behind George Street on St Michael’s Street and three doors away from Mission Burrito, Bills Oxford is part retailer, part deli, part restaurant; offering everything from breakfast, lunch, dinner and cake, through to huge jars of artichokes, chutneys, cook books and canvas bags… so are they trying to be all things to all men? Quite possibly, but from what I could see, they were doing a decent job of it. The menus (arriving just before noon I had breakfast, lunch & specials menus to select from) had a good range of appealing dishes to choose from; then the retail/deli items were displayed on industrial shelving and listed in a separate pamphlet on your table, allowing you to choose items which can then be added to your bill.
I don’t mind this idea, I quite like the thought of popping in for brunch then leaving with a jar of chilli jam; I can imagine though, some people would not be amused by the in-your-face commercialism… personally, I think there’s something quite honest about it. You see Bill’s Oxford aren’t hiding the fact they’re trying to sell to you, and quite frankly, as long as the waiting staff don’t actually try to ‘sell’ the wares while you’re visiting, I can’t say I care (if they did start pushing the goods then that would be another matter).
Getting settled in with my several menus, I checked out the interior – vast ceiling space, grand windows, leather button-back seating and chandeliers harping back to Victorian splendour, mixed in with big metal ventilation pipes, galvanised steel chairs and industrial looking shelving. The interior is well and truly styled to within an inch of its life, but I didn’t find it at all pretentious. I found the staff pleasant and helpful, the atmosphere warm and relaxing, and the surroundings pretty chilled out – quite ideal for a peaceful lunch while off duty (no kids!!!).
My regular readers won’t be surprised to hear I went for the Full English, or ‘Bill’s Breakfast’ to be specific (£7.95) – quite a staple reviewing dish for me, although unusual for me to order at lunch. On this occasion, however, I’d speedily snaffled some early morning toast on my way out the door so a cooked breakfast sounded pretty appealing. Swapping fried for scrambled eggs (they had no issue with this I’m glad to report) and not opting to add Baked Beans (£1 extra) or Bubble & Squeak (£1.50 extra), I settled in with the produce menu and a nice decaf latte to await my brunch.
On arrival, the breakfast looked huge, and actually very well displayed as far as breakfasts go – I wasn’t quite sure I could finish it to be honest! Turns out, this was a very enjoyable brekkie: delicious and still warm (yay!!) mushrooms; pretty well cooked but still OK scrambled eggs; nicely roasted plum tomato; delicious, crispy, smoky, streaky bacon – great to see this as a change from the usual back bacon; toasted, fluffy, white, buttered bread; then two small but perfectly formed Cumberland sausages – and I have to say… they were cooked stunningly well! HALLELUJAH!!! Throughout my pregnancy I have been blighted by restaurants serving me undercooked sausages… enough already! These sausages were cooked just the right side of pink, there was a slight blush, but they were COOKED! They were also bloody tasty.
Being a bit of a slow eater (poor MrF often has to sit and watch me eat for at least 10-20 minutes after he’s finished), the toast did get a bit soggy underneath the eggs, but I assume this would be better if sticking with the fried eggs as standard. Other than that though, I couldn’t fault this dish.
I never did manage to clear the plate – I polished off all the mushrooms and bacon, most of the sausage, plus about half the toast and egg; I love the thought of having the beans and bubble & squeak added but there is no way I could manage it all… possibly more of a manly sized dish (grrr).
So, overall opinion of Bills… I really quite liked it and am definitely planning on returning to try out more of the multiple menu options. I also hear they do good cake, so, I guess I have to taste it and report back – purely for your reading pleasure of course!
Becca – May 2013
I’m a bit late to the party on this one, everyone else in Oxford seems to have already visited Bills Oxford which opened two weeks ago in St Michael’s Street! But I reckon hardly any of them remember the building from when it was the Northgate Hall, a kind of occasional drop-in community centre with a seriously good gay nightclub every so often. In fact the whole street has had a bit of a facelift in the last few years and has some very interesting places down there. Mission Burrito, that old favourite The Nosebag, Makan-La, Zappis Bikes shop and cafe, Vanbrugh Hotel which by the way is VERY nice inside. I got a little tour today and it’s beautifully decorated and styled. There’s a tiny little restaurant in the basement with a patio and I’m hearing good things so that’s next on my list.
Anyway I digress as usual. Bill’s opened two weeks ago, small chain of restaurants serving basic, good food and somewhat bizarrely also selling some of the groceries that are used in the restaurant. Now I know Jamie’s does this and I can see the logic in buying some really good fresh pasta or a scrumptious sauce from one of Mr Oliver’s establishments but I’m not totally convinced that I’d be interested in buying a tin of tomatoes from Bill…
So, four of us, seated straight away by some nice smiley people in the old Northgate which bears absolutely no resemblance to the last time I was there. Now it’s all distressed painted wood, big lampshades and the ubiquitous shiny metal industrial venting which is clearly A Big Thing in restaurant decor. I did like the fact that you can see all the way up to the original ceiling. Not a particularly exciting ceiling but an original feature.
We ordered drinks whilst we perused the menu and three of the drinks came straight away. The starters arrived before the fourth drink which we had to gently nudge our waiter for which was a bit of a hmmph moment. A carafe of tap water was supplied though so that was a ooh moment.
I and one of my colleagues went for the starter on the specials menu – breaded Cornish squid with a lemon and aioli sauce and these were excellent. Mostly rings but one decent tentacled beast. The dipping sauce had the right balance of citrus tang and garlic and I will confess to scooping out the rest as I handed my plate back to the waiter!
My colleagues opted for the crab, salmon and chilli fishcakes which elicited a “very nice” and an avocado and bacon salad which was tasty but lost marks for being served in a bowl which made it awkward to eat out of!
So far so good. But then we waited over half an hour for the main courses. True, they have only been open a short while and yes, it was busy. It was a Wednesday lunchtime, market day and they should have been prepared. Other tables were getting their food before us and although we were happy chatting, we should have been getting back to the office. Just as we were about to start raising eyebrows inquiringly, the food arrived. One colleague ordered the chicken skewers – three chargrilled skewers on a bed of sultana, coriander and lemon couscous with some cunningly hidden tzatziki and a pitta. Another had the piri piri chicken, half a chicken with a cold salad of spring onion, coriander and lemon rice. The boss had the macaroni cheese with leeks, wild mushrooms and a crispy crumb topping. And I ordered from the specials board again, choosing their slow-cooked BBQ pork ribs with sweet potato fries and special coleslaw. I didn’t get to ask what my colleagues food was like as I was too busy gnawing on bones and worrying if I had a Chelsea smile of bbq sauce on my chops.
Pork ribs, yes. Slow cooked, possibly. Meltingly tender, no. I should point out that I recently had THE best ribs I’ve ever had at Cabana in Westfield. Well actually, my husband had them and I’m still jealous. He just had to hold the bone near his teeth and the meat fell off. I’m extremely lucky that he let me try one and I’ve pretty much dreamt of those ribs daily ever since. Bill’s ribs were nowhere close. Sauce was fine, maybe a little sweet for me, coleslaw was special but less than a tablespoons worth and sweet potato fries were sweet potato fries. I adore sweet potatoes so you’d have to do something pretty bad to put me off, these weren’t that bad but again, Cabana does them better. I left with my jaw aching and that horrid feeling of dry pork wedged between my teeth. No sauce on my face though.
We didn’t have time for dessert although the warm pecan pie or the marmalade and brown bread ice cream did sound good. Starters are priced around the five to six quid mark, mains go from £9 all the way up to steak at £16. Not bad but could have done better and for me the menu is fairly uninspiring. Sorry Bill.