O’Neills Oxford – Becca – Sep 2011
Via Twitter, I became aware of another establishment in Oxford that was re-inventing itself and was inviting people down to try out their new menu. It’s a good way to spread the word if a venue is good, although this can of course go a completely different way, it’s a great way to train staff and it’s a brilliant way to get free food somewhere new before everyone else does!
My invite allowed me to take a guest, so to reiterate how fabulous I am at my job, I invited my boss to come along with me. We arrived fifteen minutes before our booking as requested and ended up waiting outside which gave us ample time to examine the decor and read the displayed menu. Sadly, on admittance we were told that there was a reduced menu on offer. This menu didn’t include the steak and Guinness pie with colcannon that I’d been planning on having. I’d been thinking that if an Irish themed pub cocked that up, then it probably wasn’t worth trying anything else!
Anyway, we were told to choose a table so off we went and sat down. The decor is considerably lighter than it’s previous design and it seems more open, although that could be a false, lager-fuelled memory. Certainly the bar area is smaller, encouraging people to sit down and drink and possibly order food rather than stand at the bar and chat. What did confuse me was that there was waiting staff eagerly hovering, yet we were told to go to the bar to order our drinks and food. Not entirely sure what the waiting staff are there for, other than delivering & removing plates and checking you’re okay.
The abbreviated menu offered us a choice of their five dishes for a fiver – not all five as I first read, but five dishes priced at £5 each. These included Irish beef burger and chips, gammon steak and chips, cod & prawn fishcakes, possibly with chips and two others that were unexciting enough to not register. An all-day Irish breakfast and a vegetarian option. Sandwiches with a choice of four fillings or jacket potatoes with a choice of fillings. This irked me a little. The point of a training session is to push the kitchen, get everybody ordering anything and everything from a full menu and basically give them a trial run at a normal day’s service. Having a vastly reduced menu seems to defeat the object.
My boss ordered the beef burger. I physically can’t eat burgers anywhere other than Atomic Burgers. A) it feels like I’m being unfaithful and B) they’re always unsatisfying. So I went for the all day breakfast. My boss offered to get the drinks so went off to order and whilst she was gone the waitress came for a chat – having nothing simple like actual order-taking to do! After a few minutes, my boss returned clutching her glass of red wine, apparently my diet Pepsi had run out so they were having to change the syrup and would bring it over. The barman had then got confused and ended up pouring her a glass of wine that is only sold by the bottle! She’d then confused him further by asking for my meal without beans. This kind of thing is exactly why training sessions are useful.
Our food took about 10/15 minutes to arrive then took a few minutes longer as it was served to the wrong table. My breakfast consisted of two very good pork and leek sausages, two rashers of good bacon, an excellently cooked large flat mushroom, a grilled tomato that had been wafted in the general direction of a heat source, two pieces of white pudding, a fried egg slightly runny and a slightly dry potato cake. A good dollop of the Irish tomato sauce on the table and it all went down pretty well. For £7.50 it was reasonable and if I ended up in there again I’d happily order this. The burger came in a huge bun with a single cos lettuce leaf and two slices of tomato. No onion, cucumber, pickle. Fries were good and my companion was impressed with the actual burger which she described as all beef, well seasoned and looking homemade.
On the full menu, starters are priced between £3-5, mains go up to about £10. It’s fairly standard pub grub, but the decor does lead you to think it might be more gastro-pub. Based on what we saw, it’s not. It’s not even a pub anymore really and I miss the venues where the pub came first and the food was an added bonus, especially if it was good and home cooked. Far too many places are aspiring to be gastro-pubs and are concentrating on the food market rather than the drinking. Sadly, their food rarely gets to that level. O’Neills Oxford is fine and the food is actually pretty good but it should have stayed a pub that does food, rather than getting ideas above it’s station.