Right, let’s not beat around the bush – Arbequina and Terruno are utterly, unequivocally, excellent.
Arbequina has been open as a tapas restaurant on Cowley Road for a while now, but Terruno is the new neighbouring addition; a bar serving pinchos from Arbequina’s kitchen. It’s also the latest gem in an extended family crown that includes Oli’s Thai (run by Ladd and Rufus Thurston), Arbequina (run by Rufus Thurston and Ben Whyles), and Hamblin Bread (run by Kate Hamblin and Hugo Thurston, Rufus’ brother). Their family dinners must be AMAZING.
Anyway, it’s been a while since Bitten first visited Arbequina, but we never wrote about it. Why? Well, because neither myself or my companion felt too well afterwards. To be clear, I don’t think it was food poisoning. I think it was the selection of oil-heavy, rich foods we chose, combined with a pre-existing health complaint. However, it put me off visiting for a bit.
I’m glad to say a revisit was well worth it.
Arbequina seriously delivers on the tapas – classy and really bloody brilliantly flavoured, with well-sized portions. Onion tortilla (£5), which you can discover sliced on toasted Hamblin bread at Terruno, is buttery bliss with oodles of soft onion within. Aubergine with whipped feta, pomegranate and molasses (£7) will have you ooh’ing and ahh’ing as you mop it all up with whatever you have left.
Style-wise it’s actually quite similar to Oli’s Thai – minimalist, with those little stools and square tables, plus a few bar seats and high seated tables; along with those little terracotta dishes and stemless glasses. The space is larger though, with two whole floors of dining space to play with.
Other dishes we tried included some lovely wild red prawns with aioli (£8.50); a crispy chickpea salad with yoghurt and chilli butter (£7.50) that is indeed a variation of the stunning Thai version at Oli’s; cauliflower with puree, pomegranate seeds and coriander (£7.50); courgettes with romesco sauce (£7); plus meatballs in tomato sauce with toasted crumbs, or ‘migas’ (£8). All excellent. I’m not exaggerating – ALL excellent.
Of course, I’m taking full credit for us choosing well, but the menu made it easy. Since my first visit, the menu has definitely changed. It’s become more sophisticated, less rich, and more simplified. The kitchen has levelled up. The quality of ingredients shine and the flavours stand their ground, in balanced measure. And, well – it’s just flippin’ awesome really, so let’s not fluff.
I love it. I wish I’d been back sooner. So I went back again.
This time to Terruno, for drinks and pinchos; and pfft, they’re just a bit too genius really. The bar is sexy, understated and cool, with sexy-cool music and sexy-cool dark interior and a sexy-cool curtain to delve through. It’ll be a hit, clearly; and the perfect date spot. I only stopped for a few drinks but we made good use of the limited outdoor seating out front, while trying each of the pinchos as we watched Cowley Road go by.
The drinks we had were a variety of cocktails – not your 2 for a tenner variety that’s all quantity and no quality – these were elegant, delicately flavoured mixes with quality front of mind. Not an umbrella in sight.
Pinchos were DELICIOUS – the buttery onion tortilla I mentioned earlier came sliced up and served on toasted heritage grain roll. The next was a sardine, aioli and tomato stunner; then there was courgette, ricotta, pepper and pesto that equally pleased.
So that’s it really – a rare as unicorn poo 10 out of 10 from me. I’ll go back again to check it wasn’t just a brilliant day at the office, but I doubt it.
If you haven’t already, you should go.
72 Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1JB