The Black Boy in Headington has enjoyed some glowing reviews in its time, from both local and national press – a certain Jay Rayner branded it “simply irresistible”. To be fair, I agreed with him. About six years ago.
The Black Boy was one of my favourite local restaurants when I moved to Oxford in 2010. It was in one of my favourite genres, that of the gastropub, and offered a warm, stylish welcome, with gleaming smiles and fresh, shiny furnishings. Jump forward to 2016 though and the pub is looking more like an old nag than a stallion – with paint and wallpaper peeling, the standard menu unchanged for seemingly years. I do love their herb crusted cod (correction, hake – though part of the same family), but I’m sure the chef can think of something else to do with it?! Don’t be rude now. They do have an equally long specials menu available, but the lack of change to the other just seems lazy. Mushroom lasagne again anyone?
I remember the roasts being good here, but the ones delivered to my in-laws (whole lot of in-law references today) were allegedly “gristly” and not quite up to scratch – . The safe bets of bavette steak and hand-cut chips with béarnaise and additional side salad (for me) and fish & chips (for the husband) failed to deliver too, with the fish batter arriving soggy in places and mushy peas a darker colour on top, like they’d been sat for too long before serving. The dressed side salad to my steak was past it’s best, with some of the leaves soggy and ready for the compost bin. The inadequate steak knife in my grip was unable to saw easily through the loose fibres of my rib-eye (which was a perfectly cooked medium rare), so after a while spent hacking I reverted to a standard dinner knife, which handled the beef with less effort. The hand-cut chips and béarnaise were fine, though the latter could have benefitted from a little more acidity.
The kids both had sausage and mash, with which they were happily appeased, and the staff were all great with the children, making us feel thoroughly at ease. Unfortunately, though, this just isn’t enough to warrant a speedy return. What used to be one of my favourites has sadly slipped to somewhere more midrange. Somewhere more worn, somewhere more tired. Let’s hope The Black Boy doesn’t just fade into old age, I’d hate to see it sent off to the knackers yard – when ‘on form’ it can be quite brilliant.
NB – we voiced our concerns over the salad and one roast dinner and both were removed from the bill, which, after adjustment, came to around £90 for 4 adult mains, 2 children’s meals plus drinks.