Andrei Lussmann really believes in what he’s doing with his independent group of restaurants, and his passion shines through within about six seconds of meeting him. He’s focused on bringing local people great food that’s sustainably, ethically sourced and accessible at affordable prices. Sounds good, right? Right indeed.
I was fortunate enough to be invited along to the press launch evening of his new Oxford restaurant, and was delighted to be able to relax and enjoy myself rather than being nervous and on edge, because it was immediately clear that everyone concerned knew exactly what they were doing. Lussmanns is the kind of local restaurant that anywhere would be lucky to have, and I hope the hungry of Oxford are ready to pay them a visit.
The team have lovingly refurbished the what once was the Carluccio’s on Little Clarendon Street…
The space is warmly inviting, with a carefully curated gallery wall and (how dreamy is this) a little library at the back of the restaurant, in an area that can be curtained off for private dining.
It’s lovely to open a menu and find loads of things you’d like to eat. Andrei told us that the restaurant serves a mixture of fish, grill and vegan food, and I like all those things so I was happy, as was my dining partner James. There’s a good balance of more unusual, modern, often vegan food (such as spiced aubergine bruschetta, roast cauliflower cous cous or coconut and date cheesecake) and solid classic winners (baked Camembert fondue, slow-braised ox cheek, Grand Marnier crème brûlée… and now I’m hungry again). They also do a set menu that’s great value, with two courses for £14.95 and three for £17.95.
Before I get into the ‘what we ate part’ I’m going to flag up front that I genuinely don’t have any criticisms of the food. There’s literally nothing I would have changed.
Everything was delicious.
I’m borderline obsessed with goat’s cheese, so I started with the roasted beetroot and Wobbly Bottom goat’s cheese salad with lovage pesto, hazelnuts and slow-braised red onion (£5.95) which was very pretty as well as being wonderfully well-balanced and very more-ish. James had the South Coast devilled sprats with lemon & fine herb mayonnaise (£7.50). I say ‘James had’ but that’s not really an accurate representation of events because I stole lots of these. Simple but perfectly executed (although not massively photogenic, apologies).
I’m still thinking about my main dish…
…which was the best thing I have eaten in ages. North African spiced cod cheeks with coriander, harissa and chickpeas (£15.50) – definitely something I will go back and order again. There was a really generous amount of meltingly-tender cod that was incredibly well-seasoned, on a bed of chickpeas that were creamy and addictive and packed with flavour. I’m still trying to work out exactly what they put in there. James had the classic chicken schnitzel with caper, chilli and shallot linguine (£16.95), which was a very generous portion of delight and polished off speedily. We also shared the vegan celeriac gratin from the specials board as a side, mostly because I was curious to see what gratin was like when it didn’t include cream or cheese (answer: still great).
We were really full at this point because the portions are generous, but nonetheless obviously bravely moved on to dessert. My sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce & country cream ice cream (£5.90) was a great example of this classic: sweet, but not unbearably sweet, with a generous helping of rich, dark sauce and high-quality ice cream. I also extensively sampled James’s dark chocolate mousse with praline crunch (£5.90), which was rich but not too overbearing and satisfyingly chocolatey.
What else? Our waiter, Demetriou, was wonderful. Charming, friendly, attentive without being overbearing and clearly knew the menu inside out. I was very impressed by how well things were run considering it was the restaurant’s first time out of the blocks. This was the press preview night so I am sure everyone was on their best behaviour, but I did genuinely get the sense that all the staff were really solid (not always the case on preview nights…) and that Lussmanns cares a lot about diners having a great experience, so I’m sure that the standards are generally high.
I’m seriously trying to think of some constructive criticism here because I’m aware endless praise isn’t very interesting to read. Um. The lighting over our table wasn’t ideal for food photography? That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.
The good news is that from today until Monday 23rd March 2020 Lussmanns are offering diners 50% off their food bill. You need to download this voucher and book a table, then you’re good to go. And go you should. I’m already trying to work out an excuse to go back and have those cod cheeks again and I was only there three days ago.
We dined as guests of Lussmans, but all views remain our own.