A recent Bitten meeting seemed to be a good opportunity to visit The Perch Oxford, seeing as none of us had been since it’s reopening. My most recent experience had been that it was a somewhat sniffy and pretentious feel for what is essentially a pub in a good location so I was keen to see if it had changed at all.
On arrival, we were given a choice of where to sit and as we wanted to eat and chat we chose the conservatory area – kind of an outside decking area but with heavy plastic windows separating us from the outside. It’s decorated and furnished like an interior room with random pieces of crockery on the walls and large wooden tables but still has a vaguely temporary feel which I found a little odd. A bit of a staging area, not quite a conservatory, or a restaurant or outside dining but an inbetweeny.
Much loved in the summer months because of its proximity to the river and its “I’m in the countryside but I’m still within the ring road” feel and popular for the same reasons in winter but with added log fire feels, The Perch Oxford has struggled to find its niche in recent years when it comes to menus. It now has a sensibly small menu rather than several pages long and there’s pretty much something there for everyone. Still somewhat gastro pub but in an acceptable way rather than drowning in a pool of it’s own jus.
I chose the potted rabbit starter which came in its own little kilner jar, £7.50 with some warm bread and those faffy little micro leaves that masquerade as salad. They’re too small to cut but too big to cram in so you end up with an attractive look of a startled rabbit caught stealing mid-munch. Rabbit was good, meaty and well flavoured but I was glad we’re ordered a bread basket £2.95 as I definitely needed more! The breads are very good, warm, crusty and full of flavour with a very good butter.
One of my many prerequisites for grading how good a restaurant is, is how they cook a steak. Spotting dry aged rump steak on the menu for £19.95, I promptly ordered that and asked for it to be cooked blue. It came with the now regulation triple cooked chips which are rapidly becoming a bit of a personal irk to me. Unless your triple cooked chips come hot, crispy on the outside and beautifully fluffy on the inside, please just call them chips. That way I don’t have a little bubble of disappointment on getting totally unexciting slabs of spud.
My steak arrived and disappointingly was cooked more to a medium rare, a good crust on the outside and a vaguely pink interior rather than the purple interior I’d been looking forward to. It was mentioned to the ever hovering waiter (who I suspect had a sneaking suspicion that we were reviewing) and many, many apologies ensued. Not wanting to delay my fellow diners I chose to stay with the steak I had and was offered a complimentary dessert as an apology.
All this combined meant a pleasant evening but not necessarily somewhere I would dash back to. Now over to Jacqui for her opinion!
I have to admit, I was quite looking forward to revisiting The Perch Oxford. It had been a while since my previous visit, and yes it was a bit too pretentious before, but I always enjoyed the food. The thought of that lovely setting with a more comfortable menu and atmosphere sounded like a perfect mixture.
When it came down to it, they did well to meet expectation. A little less hovering from the waiter – he was apparently quite keen to hear our thoughts on the pickled radishes we’d ordered – and the evening would have been pretty perfect. I do agree with Becca about the not-quite-conservatory, it felt out of place.
Food-wise the pickled radishes were interesting, not enough to have me craving them again, but certainly better than raw. Pastel pink in hue and served up with a little smoked sea salt, they were an interesting palate stirrer. While Becca was tucking into her potted rabbit, I was smugly getting stuck into a divine serving of chicken liver terrine, £5.50, with a healthy chunk of freshly toasted bread and caramelised onions. We did a little sample of each others dishes and I was certainly winning on this course. Luxurious in texture, with a rounded, almost fruity aroma from the livers, brandy, cream and butter (a genius combination if ever there was one), the terrine was exactly as I would expect – and I’d eat it all over again in a millisecond.
Next up I’d chosen braised ox cheeks with mashed potato, £14.95, which came in a rather cliched Le Creuset pot. Yes they look nice, yes they hold the heat well, but no they’re not easy to eat out of. Leave this trend alone now please, it’s donkey’s years old. Anyway, the food itself was pleasant, meaty and unctuous with the cooking liquor just thick enough to coat the meat and vegetables. I’d personally have preferred it slightly stickier though. Good hearty food to fend off winter chills. Pudding was a gooseberry sorbet, £5.50, which was well executed but only served to confirm my dislike of gooseberries, being far too lip-pursingly tart.
The Perch Oxford did well. I would absolutely return, just not in the not-quite-conservatory. And I probably wouldn’t order the steak!