Oxford’s Grill – Jacqui – Jun 2014
Once in a while, a restaurant comes along that looks like nothing special, but knocks your socks off with amazing food. Port Mahon was the last place that did that to me, while Hamzah was still Chef, but that was some time ago and we may have to wait a while longer till his return at The Chester. After several restaurants that have over-promised and under-delivered of late, I was blown away once more – this time by a humble little Turkish cafe called Oxford’s Grill at the bottom of Cowley Road.
With its bright red, budget-looking signage and windows busily adorned with menus, frosting and stick-on text, the cafe lacks any kind of kerb appeal. My only real desire to visit was born from hearing numerous people raving about it, about the amazing food within.
Visiting on this occasion, with MrF and the littlest Foodie, I was eager to see what all the fuss was about. It was our Anniversary night and we were desperate for some time out, some peace and quite, with really good food. From the outset, it may have seemed like an odd place for an Anniversary meal, but if you’re sleep deprived like we were, you just need something low key and easy. It turned out though, that we had some of the best food we’d had in a very long time.
On arrival at Oxford’s Grill, we were all warmly welcomed by the Manager and directed to a table by the window, next to a large green pot plant, before being presented with menus, table water and some complimentary bread and houmous. I can’t think of many places in Oxford offering complimentary bread and houmous – especially any where you would pay less than £20 a head and still get great food. The houmous was soft and silky, with the right balance of tahini, chickpea and lemon – a generous portion too – alongside a decent supply of traditional Turkish bread, pide – a flat’ish bread with a texture somewhere between ciabatta and farmhouse.
The menu contains a mixture of Mediterranean dishes like Beef Carpaccio, Lasagne and Bolognaise, alongside a larger quantity of traditional Turkish dishes like Borek (baked filled pastries made of a thin flaky dough), Imam Biyaldi (braised aubergine stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes, simmered in olive oil, and served at room temperature), Shish and Kofte.
I love Beef Carpaccio (£4.95), so had to order that, while MrF chose Sucuk (£3.95), a Turkish garlic sausage. For mains, Iskender pour moi (£9.95 – grilled layers of kofte, lamb and chicken, presented on crispy bread cubes and served with yoghurt and a tomato sauce) and Pirzola with mashed potato for him (£12.95 – marinated lamb chops with crispy leeks, on mashed potato or rice with a shallot sauce).
The starters were good, though didn’t leave us wowed. The Turkish sausage, served simply cut in half, was flavoursome and slightly spicy, and unfortunately far too well flavoured to try before my carpaccio – which I did. Once the spikes of cumin, sumac and salt had left my palate, the carpaccio tasted much better, though it’s difficult to judge. I wouldn’t say it was the best carpaccio I’d eaten.
It was really the mains though where OG excelled. Beautifully plated up, each dish looked amazing. MrF’s dish had a think and buttery looking mound of mash, topped off with dark glazed lamb chops, delicately splayed out in a circle, all drizzled with the shallot sauce and topped off with an unexpected but evidently delicious aubergine crisp, finished with a dusting of sumac around the edge of the plate. My Iskender looked slightly less pretty, but attractive nonetheless – a generous portion of marinated mixed meats and bread, beside a large dollop of thick yoghurt, all surrounded by a moat of rich, paprika-red tomato sauce.
Literally diving in, we both looked at each other with eyes wide, this was amazing food – tasty, expertly cooked, with perfectly balanced spices and seasoning. Tangy in some parts, sweet or savoury in others – each mouthful wowed. I eyed up MrF’s Pirzola, and he my Iskender, so swapping ensued. Both swaps met with grunts of appreciation, and an acknowledgement that we’d each landed the perfect dish for our personal tastes.
The Iskender was delightful, with an abundance of the stunningly piquant tomato sauce, spiked but what I can only imagine was paprika. The yoghurt accompaniment a nicely cooling companion, providing a creamy contradiction to the zesty tomato sauce. The Mash underneath the lamb chops adorning MrF’s plate was exceptionally tasty, thick and luxurious, though bordering on rubbery in texture (I would say due to excess mashing by a food processor rather than over-cooking). Given that I’m not a big fan of fluffy mash, this was a good thing for me. The aubergine crisp was a huge hit with MrF, who usually avoids eggplant, as were the lamb chops – the caveman-style gnawing of the bone was testament to this.
Upon reaching the end of our meal, as MiniF2 was beginning to become unsettled, we agreed we needed to return – a lot! With this quality of food, at these fabulous prices (they offer a lunch deal of £6.95 for 2 courses, or a set dinner menu of £10.95 for 2 courses and a glass of wine), the place should be full every day – which is isn’t – so go there, NOW!
Stunningly good food from Oxford’s Grill in a remarkably humble setting, with warm and hospitable service throughout at exceptional prices. Takeaway also available (but it tastes better if you eat in).