When my husband and I dropped into The Porterhouse for a Saturday lunch, I wasn’t intending to review the place. But we decided pretty immediately that the pub was worthy of a full write-up. Oxford has been in need of a great steak spot, and I’m pretty sure this is it. The Porterhouse has been put together with thought and attention to detail, and deserves to thrive.
We visited on a Saturday lunchtime, when the pub was quiet. It’s only been open for a few months, and they’re obviously still building up their customer base. As they’re tucked away down a residential side-street, you’d be unlikely to notice The Porterhouse unless you went looking for it on purpose. Once you make it there, though, you’ll be happy with what you find. The building has been renovated, and decorated with a careful eye: the dark blue walls, buttery leather banquettes, and alternating warm wood and gleaming chrome tables all work together to give a warm and welcoming impression.
There’s a dining room area, which is slightly more formal, and the main pub room, which has a beautiful bar and is dog-friendly. We settled into a cosy leather booth in the dining room and got stuck in to the menu.
The pub has an extensive drinks selection. There’s beer, obviously, but also a carefully curated wine list, a selection of decent whiskeys, and (to my delight) some really excellent cocktails. I don’t drink beer, so it’s always a disappointment to me when a pub doesn’t really offer anything beyond beer and mediocre wine. Since cocktails were on offer, James had a Bloody Mary (he was feeling delicate), and I had a Campari Spritz and, later, and Old Fashioned. The drinks were all well-balanced and made with quality ingredients, and were enjoyed rather too quickly by us both.
Obviously, with a name like The Porterhouse, you can expect steak to feature fairly heavily on the menu here, and they don’t disappoint. A comprehensive steak menu board features the changing cuts on offer depending on what’s best from their supplier at Smithfield Market. All are served with chips and salad with options of varying sauces and additional sides. That said, if you were dining in a mixed group where not everyone was a steak eater, you’d still be grand as they offer some fish and vegetarian options, as well as some non-steak meat dishes such as poussin or a mixed grill. We were also told that, with a little notice, they’ll do vegan food. Top marks from me: I eat everything, but I do have plenty of vegan friends and it’s good to know you could feed a varied crowd here too.
That being said, we were not there for vegan food. We were there for steak.
James had a medium ribeye with the requisite chips and salad, and a pepper sauce. I went for a rare fillet, with a bearnaise sauce. The meat at The Porterhouse is dry aged for 42 days, then cooked in a charcoal-fuelled Bertha oven that can reach 350C, and wow, does it pay off. The steaks delivered to our table smelled incredible and looked very tempting: plump and juicy with a gorgeous outer char. Both of our steaks were cooked very well.
I am picky about steak, because it’s so easy to do wrong and so delicious when it’s done right, and I was totally happy here. The meat had a real depth of flavour and a meltingly tender texture. The salads were simple yet considered – fresh, and lightly dressed – and the sauces were bang on. The chips, while definitely good, were not the best I’ve ever had – but this is a minor quibble on what was a fantastic plate of food. Everything was seasoned to perfection and it really made the simple flavours shine.
James (lightweight) couldn’t manage pudding, but I have never turned down a dessert menu and I wasn’t about to start just because I’d eaten a steak the size of my face. The list was short but sweet (see what I did there?) and I would have happily devoured any of the options. My usual M.O. is to go for whatever the chocolate option is (in this case, a fig and bourbon brownie), but there were other tempting things on offer.
Lovely Chris, who was serving us, noticed my quandary, and very kindly brought me a little portion of the brownie to try while I made my decision, so that I was free to pick another option, having sampled ‘the chocolate thing’. I know brownies, and believe me, this was an excellent brownie. Rich, dark, fudgy, and full of flavour and texture from the bourbon and fig. I’ll definitely order it again when I go back. The dessert I actually got, in the end, was the rhubarb and ginger crumble, which was served with a perfect custard and was also exemplary.
The Verdict – The Porterhouse
I am fairly particular about restaurant food these days – especially simple dishes where there is no room to hide – and I thought that the food at The Porterhouse was top-notch. The service also deserves a mention: Chris was friendly, knowledgeable, generous, and attentive without crowding us. They also have rooms on the upper floors, which we got a sneaky peak into, and they’re lovely – tasteful, comfortable, and immaculate. It’s exactly the sort of place I’d recommend to anyone coming to Oxford to stay. In essence, The Porterhouse provides classic British grill fare, but it does it very, very well. If you’ve not tried it yet, get a move on.