I never give breakfast much thought during the week. It’s always too early when I leave for work and I’m more than content with a cup of coffee once I’ve reached the office (ok, I admit to the odd detour into Maison Blanc for a pastry). On weekends, however, breakfast – well brunch really – seems like the best idea in the world, and eggs benedict will always tempt me. The following are a few of the places I’ve found myself in over the past couple of months:
Quod, 92-94 High St, Oxford OX1 4BJ
The restaurant to the Old Bank Hotel on the High Street. I’m a huge fan of whiling away a few lunchtime hours here, especially in their little terrace at the back. So, I was looking forward to having a birthday breakfast, but it quite simply failed to live up to the lovely experiences I’ve had at other times. Perhaps it’s because they are a hotel that they feel they don’t need to bother. My mother and I both had Eggs Benedict, and both our eggs were rock hard. They are supposed to dribble egg yolk when cut into. These definitely did not do so. We sent them back. When they returned they were marginally better, but then the hollandaise was burned on top. Not a good experience really and I won’t return for breakfast.
Patisserie Valerie, 90 High Street, Oxford OX1 4BJ
I think this might just be my second favourite Eggs Benedict experience. I was craving vegetables on the day I went, so opted for the Eggs Florentine just for the spinach. But then I found you could also order two rashers of *really* crispy bacon – best of both worlds. The hollandaise was pretty much close to perfect all well. A delightful yellow that complemented the yellow of the egg yolk as it spurted all over my plate! When it’s not rammed, Pat Val is one of the most relaxing places to be.
Joe’s Bar & Grill, 260 Banbury Rd, Oxford OX2 7DX
Joe’s is a down to earth cafe filled with classics bistro fare. Its Summertown venue is spacious, which is just as well, because the locals clearly love it. The smoothies are to die for. The eggs, when they came, were a little too well done for my liking, but they at least had a suggestion of runniness about them, as if they had been left a touch too long whilst the hollandaise was being prepared. And as for that sauce, it was the most delightful yellow and just the right side of acidic. Joe’s is certainly worth the trip!
Oxfork, 39 Magdalen Road, Oxford OX4 1RB
Magdalen Road seems to be becoming a haven for standalone eateries, and Oxfork is possibly the best of the bunch. It dispenses with the pretension of The Magdalen Arms and instead focuses on providing fresh and wonderful food in a bright and cosy setting. In terms of brunch they also know that sometimes a person simply can’t make up their mind on how they want their eggs, and therefore provide an eggs plate, which has Eggs Benedict, Florentine AND Royale all for the price of one of these anywhere else. The unfortunate substitution of muffins for sourdough meant that they were slightly tougher to eat, and the hollandaise was positively anaemic, but somehow these things didn’t seem to matter. I’ll be back to try the rest of their menu – the sheer variety of cakes on offer makes this a virtual necessity. Fingers crossed they’re just as good when they re-open under new management later this week.
Door 74, 74 Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1JB
Quite simply my favourite restaurant in Oxford. This tiny hideaway on the Cowley Road is always popular and their weekend brunches are to die for. I highly recommend the pancakes, but that’s not what we’re talking about. They have also tapped into the fact that sometimes you just can’t make up your mind and the Eggs Benedict comes with spinach as well. The eggs are just as runny as anyone would wish, the hollandaise is that wonderful sunshine yellow, and if I was basing my review on that fact alone I’d have a hard time choosing between here and Joe’s. However, they go one better than anyone else by adding a mixed leaf salad and drizzling balsamic vinegar all over the plate. This taste sensation is wonderful – the vinegar really sets off the hollandaise and makes you feel as you’ve just discovered a new dish.
Café Loco, 85-87 St. Aldates, Oxford OX1 1RA
I love this place for its cake and its views of Christ Church across the road. It’s popular, of course, but there are times when it’s pleasantly quiet. I had high hopes for their breakfasts. I ordered the Eggs Benedict Royale, which is not a union of two versions. It just has the smoked salmon, which confused me no end. The eggs arrived with no hollandaise whatsoever; this was quickly rectified and I suppose was a one off, but it spoke volumes about the staff service. The waitress taking orders seemed to be relying on her memory, which was shakey at best, and had probably whipped the eggs off the serving counter thinking they were ready. She certainly didn’t seem familiar with what I was asking for. That aside, when the hollandaise was added, it was very pale and pretty mediocre. The eggs were alright. I’d come for the cake, but I wouldn’t stay for the eggs.
I’d love to be able to sing the praises of some of the cafes in the Covered Market – that place needs all the support it can get – but although their breakfasts look brilliant, none of them serve Eggs Benedict. There are other places I didn’t get a chance to get to for this – I’ve always enjoyed the breakfasts at Browns, and The Royal Oak and its sister pubs The Jericho Tavern and The Cape of Good Hope do excellent Eggs Benedict (and on a side note their sweet potato wedges are to die for). But if you want a place to relax and support local business then I’d have a hard time choosing between Door 74 and Oxfork.
Guest post by Rebecca Whitaker who can normally be found blogging at Oxford Reader.