I’m genuinely in two minds abut writing this review. On the one hand, I want to shout about just how good this place is but on the other, I want to be able to get a table whenever I want without having to book months in advance. But because I am a nice person and because the team at The Porterhouse Grill and Rooms are flipping lovely, I’m going for it.
Hearing that The Kite pub in – well, where is it? I’d call it Osney but my husband, who grew up on the island says no quite vehemently. It’s not really Botley but it’s not really city centre either. It’s just by the railway station, tucked down an unprepossessing residential side street. Actually, has anyone noticed how this is becoming a thing? Some of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at have been in community areas rather than high visibility traffic areas. Anyway, I digress.
Hearing that The Kite pub had been closed for refurbishment before reopening as a pub with a grill and accommodation intrigued me. There’s very few places in Oxford that do a damn good steak – The Chester Oxford and The White Hart Wytham are two that spring instantly to mind but now The Porterhouse has definitely joined that list.
What was previously regarded as a local pub with a regular crowd of older men and real ale drinkers is now a destination restaurant, proper pub and a bed and breakfast, all with high standards. The pub itself is a Greene King partner, meaning it carries some of the more recognisable beers but they’re also able to choose guest beers as and when they like. At the time of visiting, just three days after opening, they had Animal’s Fantail from Long Crendon’s XT Brewery, Morland’s Old Speckled Hen and Old Golden Hen as well as a Camden brewery beer.
The pub itself is open and welcoming, there’s feature lighting that are original fixtures from London’s Borough Market, big wooden tables with tealights and flowers, seating is a collection of upright chairs, leather banquettes and gentleman’s club chairs. In fact, the whole venue has a gentleman’s club vibe but in a more relaxed way. You can eat either in the main bar or adjourn to the Smoke Room which seats about twenty people and I particularly enjoyed that there was no music in there, just a low buzz of conversation and the clinking of cutlery.
There’s also a small outside space which was in the process of having decking installed.
So, food. First off there is a meat fridge at the end of the bar which proudly displays the cuts available. I thought this was a design feature but having seen how utterly tiny the kitchen is, I suspect it was a space issue! I cannot emphasise enough just how dinky their kitchen is, with three staff and Bertha who is the star of the show. Bertha is an indoor charcoal oven and is responsible for the fast cooking of your food, almost half normal cooking times. She also gives food a delicate smoky flavour which works fabulously well. That kitchen gets HOT!
The regular menu lists drinks, cocktails and their breakfast menu, all of which looks great but wasn’t what we were there for. A choice of four starters ranging in price from five to eight quid, we very quickly decided on the roasted bone marrow with horseradish and toast, £5 and the potted prawns with toast, £7. The other options were devilled duck hearts which were vetoed purely because they were on the main course and a smoked aubergine dip.
The potted prawns came in the ubiquitous Kilner jar but were so fresh, colourful and well seasoned that I couldn’t do an eyeroll. Plump, succulent, lemony, herby and with slices of bread to pile onto it this was a great starter. I’d declared I was just going to try a little smidgen of the bone marrow as previous experience has taught me that bone marrow and I don’t always get on. Five minutes later I was slurping the bone trying to ensure I got every little bit out. That buttery, beefy goodness was scattered with the heat of horseradish and piled with soft onions and it is one of the best things I’ve ever had. It’s currently 7.23am and I would kill for a plate right now – it’s that good.
One thing that did confuse me though was the bread. On seeing the potted prawns be accompanied with slices of a crusty baguette, my heart sank to see triangles of mass produced sliced white next to the bones. But, I am willing to admit that the chef nailed it. A heavier, crustier bread would not have worked, you need the slight sweetness and light texture of this to not detract from the marrow flavour and texture. Trust me, it’s flipping genius.
So far, so very good. The mains range from £14 to £45 for a 500g tail on ribeye to share. This board changes regularly depending on what cuts are available and I was told that once they’ve been open a little longer there may be some different cuts available.
The regular menu is meat heavy, as you’d expect. There’s game sausages, calves liver, beer can poussin and a veggie mixed grill. We ordered the regular mixed grill which came as a 4oz rump steak, bacon, game sausage, calves liver, black pudding, devilled duck hearts, mushroom, tomatoes and chips for £22.
Only a few comments on this as the diner was too focussed on eating but his summary was as follows:
“Excellent bacon, really well cooked steak, sausages had a really good flavour, the black pudding was one of the best, duck hearts are pockets of intense meatiness and I just remembered that I’ve never liked liver!” I got to try the bacon which really was excellent and we’re known for our love of bacon. I also tried a duck heart somewhat apprehensively (memories of duck tongues still linger) and was pleasantly surprised by the intense flavour and texture.
The main event though is the steak. I chose the sirloin on the bone and my personal preference is to have my steak cooked blue – a crust but still mooing on the inside. Boy, did they deliver. As the plate arrived there was a faint waft of smoke and I stuck my nose in the jug of peppercorn sauce to pin it down. It’s a lingering aroma, rather than an overpowering waft – think of the recent trend for smoked cocktails and how it enhances flavours and attunes your smelling sense.
As you can see from the photos, this was A Good Steak!
The bone was tiny so I didn’t have to worry about that taking up the majority of the weight. Using Bertha meant the steak got that all important caramelisation and crust, whilst keeping the interior perfectly blue and moist. The peppercorn sauce was a little runnier than I expected but had a good balance of creaminess and spice. If I had to quibble about anything it would be that the chips were just slightly above standard. On speaking to Chris after, this is something they’re aware of and will be changing once they’ve been open for longer than three days.
One point in which all the food excelled is that every single component was seasoned individually and perfectly. It really stood out that everything has been repeatedly tasted and tweaked to get it absolutely spot on. That seriously impressed us.
At this point, I could have finished happily, sated but not unpleasantly full. But in the interests of a full review we went for puds! Seasonal crumble turned out to be rhubarb with a jug of very good custard.
I chose the bourbon fig brownie. A word of warning, this is not a brownie suitable for younger diners! Full of bourbon and loaded with chunks of fig, it came with a scoop of vanilla seed speckled ice-cream. Possibly a little dry for me but that bourbon kick made me happy!
This was a meal provided to us for a review but regular readers will know by now that we are always brutally honest. Hand on heart, this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Our highest score was a recent nine and I would happily give this at least an 8.5