The Punter – Jacqui – Feb 2014
Just behind Botley Road, sitting on the banks of The Thames, amidst a quaint residential area of Oxford known as Osney Island, sits The Punter Oxford. An old, family friendly, traditional looking pub, with a small patio garden to the rear.
Having heard good things, I called to book a Sunday afternoon table for the Foodie family and some visiting guests. With parking in the area limited to residents, your best bet is one of the car parks near the train station, or one of the nearby retail parks. Either way, you’ll need to walk the final 10 minutes or so. Not such a bad thing pre and post pub lunch.
With my search for the best Oxfordshire Sunday lunch in full swing, I was hopeful that The Punter could be a contender. We were disappointed, however, to see no roasts on the menu – if there were any available, we certainly weren’t made aware of them.
We didn’t feel too disappointed though, as there were enough items of interest on the menu to distract us from our initial goal. The homemade Scotch egg and French onion soup were very tempting, as was the goose and pork terrine, though I ultimately settled on the potted mackerel (£5) to start. For main there was zero doubt, I was sucked straight in by the venison steak with dauphinoise potato, braised red cabbage, greens and jus. MrF selected the chilli con carne with rice and garlic chive crème fraiche (£8) for main, while joining me in the potted mackerel starter.
We were seated in a corner of the pub, right beside the back door and an open lit fire, which did well in counteracting the occasional blast of cold air as diners nipped out for the odd ciggy. The pub itself is pretty rustic inside, certainly more ‘old money’ than ‘new money’ in style, but maybe without vast amounts of the actual money. With weathered wooden furniture and walls a mixture of deep blue and creamy vanilla, the décor lent itself well to the riverside location, while vintage mirrors, framed pictures and sash windows nodded to the buildings Victorian heritage.
After a perfectly reasonable wait, our starters arrived, served up on pretty rim patterned plates that had me dreaming of afternoon tea; the potted mackerel served in cute little kilner style jars beside a ramekin of salad leaves and pickled cucumber, plus a small portion of toasted sourdough. Small being the operative word. I had just enough bread (I could have done with one more slice to fit the measure of mackerel), while MrF was done-over somewhat in receiving one slice less than me.
Portion size aside, the potted mackerel was delicious – well-seasoned and well-balanced, with the spices and lemon juice enhancing, rather than overshadowing, the star of the show. A little stingy on the bread, but a good start nonetheless.
Along came our mains, my Venison steak looking impressive, though more like chunks of venison than a single steak which I had imagined. MrF’s chilli looked no more or less than you would imagine of a chilli, while one of our dining companion’s beer battered haddock and triple cooked chips (£10) looked utterly jaw-dropping – a whopping big piece of golden battered fish, atop the most tantalising looking chunky chips. Now I’m much more of a fries gal generally, but I do love a good dark golden crisp on my chips – and these looked perfect! On stealing a chip excitedly, I was sadly let down to find a distinct lack of flavour, though I imagine once doused in vinegar and smothered in tartare sauce they may cut the mustard.
MrF was also grumbling, finding his chilli lacking punch, and not just in the heat stakes. But enough of other people’s food, my venison was awaiting. Accompanied by two of my favourite side dishes – dauphinoise and red cabbage, this was a dish which should be right up my street. On digging in, I was again, slightly let down. The meat was rare, which I can handle, but bordering on too rare in parts. The jus and braised red cabbage were both pleasant, though the dauphinoise was approaching bland, with a shortage of both seasoning and flavour.
I feel a pang of remorse reporting my findings, as I had high hopes for The Punter Oxford. I’d heard positive feedback and was expecting to be impressed, which I was, a bit. However the overwhelming feeling on leaving was one of disappointment. I’m not wondering how soon I can return. I’d stop by if I was in the area, or visiting people nearby; but would I make an effort to go there? Not really. Would MrF return? Only for their beer – which he said was excellent!