Becca – Jun 2014
Having grown up in Oxford, I know pretty much all of the pubs having been in them probably on more than one occasion. But I am guilty of sticking to old memories and not really registering that somewhere has had a bit of a drastic makeover. So when my friend Crystal whispered to me that she really liked eating at St Aldates Tavern I had a bit of a splutter and an incredulous “REALLY?”
My memories of St Aldates Tavern are of sticky beer soaked floors, a dim and murky bar only just visible through a tobacco haze and a clientele of dodgy looking geezers. It wasn’t somewhere high on my list to revisit. I had heard tell of a refit and a new menu, given the high number of look/smell/taste-alike pubs in Oxford I wasn’t entirely convinced. But then Crystal mentioned that it was her place to go and eat when funds wouldn’t quite stretch to a visit to the Maggie Arms and that made me take notice. If I was to venture into such a den of iniquity, then she was going to come with me!
Off we went for lunch one weekday. It’s still dim in there but the floor is clean now and there’s a direct line of sight to the bar. It’s also very quiet, possibly down to the fact that a lot of people are still harbouring the misapprehensions that I was! The menu changes daily but there is a couple of favourites that tend to be on most days, including fish and chips (accompanied by one of the best tartar sauces ever, says Crystal) There’s also a lunch offer served from 12 to 2.30pm where you can get two courses for a tenner or three for £12.50.
Crystal decided to go for the lunch offer, starting with the chicken liver parfait with fig and apple chutney and toast and the grilled cod with crushed new potatoes and a soft poached egg. I went for a favourite that I am very picky about, pulled pork. It’s become the duck confit of 2014, appearing on every bloody menu but rarely done well. This one promised to be a spicy helping of meat in a bun with melted Cheddar and ranch sauce. Accompaniments were hand cut potato skins and slaw.
The parfait arrived in the now standard Kilner jar with a thick layer of butter on top. Four slices of warm toast and a generous helping of sweet, sticky and tangy chutney made this an extremely generous starter.
My pulled pork arrived and far outdid my lowly expectations. The pork was soft and meltingly tender but also managed to include some of those lovely caramelised bits. Spice levels were perfect, a decent kick but without needing a napkin to mop your brow. The slaw was a mix of red cabbage, onion and apple in a light dressing that perfectly cut through the richness of the pork and the potato skins were quite frankly sublime. It seems ridiculous to comment on something as humble as a potato skin but these were hot, crispy, well seasoned and I ate every single one. £9 for this was bloody good value.
I have to confess that the other main course, the cod, didn’t even register for me. I guess she liked it!
I actually went back the following week and had their steak sandwich which was also very good. So the next time you’re in town and fancy a pint and some food, don’t go to one of those god-awful chain places with their mass-produced lasagnes and bland flabby white fish in orange batter with a decoration of warm lemon, go to St Aldates Tavern instead!