Jacqui – Aug 2014
After what had been a stressful July, Mr T and I decided it was high time to let our hair down. With one child nearing three years old and the other approaching one, we booked our first kid-free 24 hours in well over a year and a half. Feeling a little flush and in need of a worthy celebration venue (no kids… for TWENTY FOUR hours!), the shortlist was very short indeed. High Table, an old favourite of ours, was fully booked; so the slightly more grandiose Old Parsonage Oxford, part of the Mogford Group and sister to Quod and Gee’s, it was. I’d been for dinner once, years ago, and afternoon tea since, but hadn’t stepped foot inside since it’s refurb and was eager to visit.
Monkey bag, tiger dummy and kids packed in Grandad’s car, the front door shut and I was enveloped by a quite unfamiliar silence. The mantel clock ticked by, much louder than I’d ever realised, wind blew threw the open sashes gently nudging blinds back and forth. I sat. Forty minutes passed. The only thing awakening me from my dreamlike state was a call from my parents reporting safe arrival. Time to party!
OK, that might be a slight exaggeration.
The night started off with a couple of Havana Clubs at The Royal Oak, before making our way to Old Parsonage. Mr T, in his wisdom, had selected an outfit of t-shirt and jeans – albeit with smart shoes – and we were immediately offered the option of sitting in an empty second dining room to one side of the main entrance, separate from the main dining area and directly behind the front terrace. We assumed this was down to Mr T’s attire, though it turned out to be quite the result for a ‘date night’, having it all to ourselves for a large part of the evening.
Our waiter for the evening, a young man with an eager presence and professional nature, allowed us space to settle in before offering menus, drinks, table water and subsequently bread – a delicious sourdough sourced, as I understand it, from local baker Natural Bread Company. Surrounding us were portraits of artists, writers and even Mr Mogford himself (provoking images of him standing beside his own image for thumbs up double selfie). The interior is grown up and sophisticated, walls and paneling painted with a dark mauve, curtains a rich velvet in deep pink hue, aged wooden doors natural and thick with original metal rivets. You could be fooled into thinking this was a modern day take on a secondary residence for Henry VIII.
Mr T may have felt a little out of place, but my inner princess felt really rather at home – fetch my other glass slipper and I’ll happily stay a little longer.
Back to the job at hand, our regal feast began with fish soup, served with rouille and croutons (£8). Having told Mr T in advance I would definitely be partaking in three courses, we both opted for fairly light starters and mains, selecting a luxurious sounding lobster salad for main (£18.50 – sometimes available as a starter for £9.50). On arrival, the soup matched in quality with others I’d sampled at equally high end restaurants – velvety as the drapes, rich as the clientele – though in need of a tad more seasoning. The salad of lobster, avocado, fennel, radish and little gem was tasty, though a little underwhelming. I’d have possibly preferred a more exciting leaf, possibly frisee, to add a more interesting dimension and greater elevation of the dish. Little gem felt a tad too common for it’s classy crustacean partner. The lobster itself was delicious though and generous enough in portion, plump and sweet with freshness.
The pace of the meal flowed naturally and calmly, allowing us time to savour the evening. We were no longer dining alone at this point, but with tables spaced comfortably apart there was no feeling of crowding or lack of privacy. Impressive given the diminutive size of our ‘private’ dining space.
Dessert glided in, crème brûlée (£6.50) for me, raspberry ripple ice cream (£6) for Mr T. Mr T really does love his ice cream, if it’s on the menu in a restaurant, you can guarantee that he’ll choose it. But raspberry ripple? In a posh restaurant? Seemed like an odd choice, even for him. His predictability did him no favours on this occasion, as he wasn’t impressed with his ice cream – bordering on crumbly with ice particles throughout. My crème brûlée on the other hand, well that was divine. Rather than a deep ramekin, this brûlée was served low and wide, in a small gratin-style dish, allowing for a greater proportion of sugar crust to soft underbelly. Delicious. The caramelised sugar topping was perfectly executed – just thin enough, just caramelised enough, with a satisfying crack upon meeting the spoon.
With 12.5% service automatically added to the bill, no extra thought was required on paying. After an experience of this quality, I have no objection to that. Ask me about automatic service charges after a solitary sandwich or crêpe though and my answer will differ.
Including drinks (lager, wine, rum, dessert wine and mint tea!) and service, the bill totalled just under £110. Pretty impressive given the expensive perception of Old Parsonage. Certainly we’d ordered light for main, but without consideration to price, so it was pleasing to see a posh meal out in Oxford can be obtained without having to break the bank.