It’s a good job we had a table reserved at The Holly Bush for this review because if we’d just rocked up here on a Friday night the four of us definitely wouldn’t have snagged a spot. The place was packed. It’s wonderful to see that locals have clearly taken to this new incarnation of the 19th century Oxford pub. It was closed for years until its regeneration by Wells & Co. – the team behind The Oxford Blue in Marston Street – and returned triumphantly in October 2019.
This is a ‘come one, come all’ kind of place.
They’ve made a point of being deliberately family-friendly, with a kids’ menu and a invitation for punters to bring their dogs, and it’s clearly paying off: they’ve created a warm, buzzing atmosphere and are getting great reviews online. We were pleased to find that, though the place was busy, the size of the space and placement of the tables meant we didn’t have to yell at each other to be heard, and we settled in happily for a few drinks and a good feeding.
This is not the place to go if you want something innovative and fancy for dinner. This is the place to go if you want a lot of cheesey carbs and pots of comfort food. At the tail end of a long, grey February, with a new named storm every weekend and seemingly no end to winter in sight as rain continues to lash down day and night, we were definitely in a cheesey carbs mood.
After a slight disappointment when we tried to order the Turkey and Black Pudding Bonbons (£5.50) only to be told they’d sold out, we settled on sharing a very generous plate of loaded nachos with melted mozzarella, guacamole, tomato salsa and sour cream (£7) to kick things off, which served the four of us very comfortably and was torn into enthusiastically by all.
For the main event, we went for two pizzas and two pots.
The Pinky pizza (£10.50) was topped with halloumi, mozzarella, tomato, red onion and basil pesto, and the Limmu (£11.50) boasted mozzarella, goat’s cheese, Gorgonzola, smoked Applewood cheddar and crispy bacon. The prices are in line with what I’d expect to be paying for a pizza in Oxford, and they’re a decent size – I always polish one off on my own but you could share one between two with a side if you were less greedy than me. These were really solid and enjoyable – not the best pizzas I have ever had in my life, but I’d happily go back and eat them again and would be keen to explore some of the other options from the fairly long list. Out of these two, the Limmu was the winner (I mean, did you read that list of cheeses?). For me, the Pinky could have done with just a bit more to elevate it – more cheese, more pesto – but we still very much ate it all.
The Lancashire Turkey Hotpot (£10) was slightly underwhelming in terms of packing a punch of flavour but perfectly fine and definitely hearty and warming. The winner of the evening, though, was the Mac & Cheese (£7) to which we added mushrooms for an extra £1, which we literally fought over because it was so delicious. A very satisfying pot of joy.
I must also mention the cheesey garlic flatbread (£4.50), which disappeared very, very quickly despite the fact that we all had rather a lot of other food and smelled as great as it tasted.
Although we had all eaten a not-insignificant amount of food at this point, we nobly went on to the dessert menu…
I was delighted to see this existed (I am a hardcore fan of Oxford’s other pizza-and-pub institution, The Rusty, but I am always sad that they don’t do desserts) and was looking forward to balancing all that cheese with some sugar. Sadly, they had run out of the Pannettone Bread and Butter Pudding (£6.50), which was a bit of a disappointment considering the menu is a pretty short one so that didn’t leave us with much else to choose from, but we rallied and got two portions of the chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream (£.5.50) and a selection of gelato and sorbets which are all £1.50 per scoop.
I am very picky about brownies and this was a great brownie – warm and dense and chocolatey, and gluten free as a bonus. We went for the strawberry and salted caramel gelatos along with the blood orange sorbet and those were all excellent too.
The pub has a very reasonable wine selection and a decent range of gin, which I was very happy to find (and drink). I am not a beer person but the others drank beer. There was a good selection of beer, including a few non-alcoholic options. My dining companions said the beer was good. Sorry, I am really no help to you here.
We had a really excellent evening at The Holly Bush.
The service was great, the manager and the bar staff were all charming and friendly, and we felt very welcome. There are vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and child-friendly options in terms of food, there’s plenty of space for kids, babies in prams or dogs, and when we visited the crowd was a real mix of families, groups of friends, people post-office on a Friday night, and couples. You could really bring anyone here. The food wasn’t totally perfect but it was good and we enjoyed it, and I’d happily go back and sample some other things from the menu. Osney Island is lucky that this pub has been so lovingly renovated, and turned into the type of place that clearly the locals are eager to visit. Basically, smiles all round.
We dined as guests of The Holly Bush, all views remain our own.