Judging by the response to my preview of Oli’s Thai Oxford, there was a lot of interest in the brand new offering to East Oxford’s food scene. Opening the very week that MiniF2 was due, I was never going to make it to opening night; however, it didn’t take me long to get there, popping in for a spot of lunch a matter of days after bringing our new addition home – and boy was it worth it!
After hustling the whole Foodie Fam’ out the door (not a small feat these days!), we arrived at Oli’s just in time to order from the lunchtime menu, so chose fast: Prawn Crackers with Peanut Sauce to start, followed by Phad Thai for me and Chicken with Garlic, Pepper & Coriander for Andrew, we were all set. I have to admit, I was really bloody excited; I hadn’t tasted truly good Thai food since our visit to Thailand over two and a half years ago and I had very high expectations.
A couple of other tables were already occupied, diners happily chatting away over assortments of small, brown, earthenware bowls; so we set up camp at a table near the counter. With an atmosphere that is relaxed and informal, a setting which is minimalist but, owners and staff who are incredibly hospitable, Oli’ is a great spot for lunch and, I can imagine, a fab place for dinner.
The crisp Thai Prawn Crackers turned up first, with their accompanying Peanut Sauce; followed closely by a carafe of wine and, rather generously, a couple of complimentary sample dishes to try (Lemongrass Mieng and Papaya Salad), courtesy of owners Ru and Ladd.
The Lemongrass Mieng was stunning to look at; dark green leaves topped with delectable little dollops of red, white and green; served with optional extras of cashews, chillies and dried shrimp. The taste was extraordinary – a swirl of lemongrass spiked with a kick of chilli and the zing of fresh herbs, much juicier than you first expect. I didn’t feel the need to add extra chilli to mine, but I did add the dried shrimp. These little delights are often sold as street food in Thailand and you can see why – they make wonderfully tasty bite-size bundles.
The Papaya Salad was another surprise; I’d been warned it was pretty spicy, so was a little hesitant, needlessly so – it was wonderful! Yes, it was spicy, but I didn’t find it overpoweringly so; more or a deep warmth than a smash-your-face-off heat. A delicious little heap of shredded papaya and carrot mixed with green beans and crushed peanuts, the salad was crunchy, sweet, beautifully fresh and packed full of flavour – this is the kind of food I love and would happily eat time and time again (I must nab the recipe from Ladd!).
Starters demolished, the second carafe of wine started and mouths warmed nicely by the starters, we were excited to see the mains. Yet another feast for the eyes, both dishes looked divine; with bright herbs and vegetables, this had to be some of the freshest looking food I’d seen for some time. Served with Sticky Rice, MrF’s Chicken with Garlic, Pepper & Coriander was pounced on immediately – I’m sure Oli’s will breathe a huge sigh of relief to find out it had MrF’s approval!
The Phad Thai was marvellous too, with crisp green beans, carrots and bean sprouts, mixed in with soft egg and tender rice noodles, served with a wedge of lime. The dish was so tasty, in fact, that I didn’t mind it being entirely devoid of meat. Having sampled Phad Thai at multiple venues over the years, I can safely say this was one of my favourites so far; simple, yet delicious and perfectly prepared. The sauce was a lovely light consistency and was just ample to coat the ingredients, leaving you feeling nicely full but ultimately pretty damned healthy. We did counteract the healthiness with two carafes of wine, obviously, but you can also indulge in a custard tart or two if you need something a little naughtier.
Oli’s Thai Oxford may have only been open a matter of weeks, but there is no hint of ‘teething trouble’ here – the service was perfect, the food was divine and the setting utterly cool. Serving up some of the freshest tasting food I’ve sampled in a long time, I cannot wait to return; I definitely need some more of that Papaya Salad and the Confit Duck Penang is certainly on my list!
If you haven’t been yet – what the hell are you waiting for? GO, GO, GO!