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Review: The Jericho Tavern

The Jericho Tavern has a lot of history behind it. It’s a bit of an Oxford institution, in no small part due to its dedicated venue space where a lot of celebrated bands have played. While other pubs and restaurants around it have come and gone, The Jericho has remained. My husband, as a musician, has both played and attended several gigs there. They also run lots of other events: I once went to a yoga class that ran upstairs (#pubyoga is the only way you might get me to exercise). The pub has a lot of memories attached to it, both for us and for lots of other people in Oxford. So when we heard it had been given a bit of a face lift, and had a shiny new menu, we were only too happy to go along and check it out.

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The main pub downstairs is huge, but manages to feel cosy rather than cavernous thanks to its deep blue walls, plush comfy benches, hidden away corners, and the friendly welcome we received on arrival. The dining area boasts huge windows with pretty stained glass that let in a lot of light and make The Jericho the perfect spot for watching the world come and go on Walton Street.

The menus are all available online, if you fancy a gander, but there’s a sandwich menu, a main menu, and a Sunday menu. Food is ordered at the bar. We were ordering off the main menu, which was full of tempting choices. The Sharers section looked great, particularly the Burger Board with its selection of twelve little burgers, but even we’d struggle to manage a dozen burgers between two people so sadly it was not to be this time. The snacks were also tempting, particularly the Pulled Pork Pie and the handmade Scotch Egg, but we were there for proper lunch. And proper lunch we got.

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I went for the 21 Day Aged Sirloin Steak, Mini Yorkshire Puddings Filled with Caramelised Onions, Triple Cooked Chips and Horseradish Butter. You know, a simple, light, healthy weekday lunch. Yup. James had the Chicken, Portobello Mushroom, Leek & Pancetta Pie with Roasted Roots and Triple Cooked Chips.

Unusually, James definitely won on ordering here. I sometimes choose steak as a good litmus test for a new menu – something simple that’s easy to do well but is often done badly – but I would definitely have plumped for James’s lunch if I was choosing between the two. My steak tasted great and had a lot of flavour, which I enjoyed, but it was a little tough. The menu advertised miniature Yorkshires filled with caramelised onions, but as you can see from the picture, I got one Yorkshire and a pot of caramelised onions on the side. Nothing wrong with that, but if you’re going to specify mini Yorkshires you might as well serve them. The horseradish butter was great, though, and the chips were absolutely excellent. Perfectly crispy outside, fluffy inside, well-seasoned, and addictive. Exactly as chips should be.

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James’s pie, while deceptively simple in appearance. was very tasty. Great pastry, buttery and full of flavour with a lovely flake and crunch, and a satisfyingly rich and meaty filling. His chips were as great as the ones that came with the steak, and the roasted root vegetables, while not especially exciting, tasted lovely.

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By this point, James was ‘too full for dessert’. This is not a state I really understand, because I am never too full for dessert, so I ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding and got two spoons, assuming I could persuade him to have a tiny nibble. This didn’t turn out to be an issue, because the pudding was delicious. Rich, warming, full of texture and flavour, and gloriously sweet and sticky. Definitely a winner.
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I also should point out that we attended the relaunch party for the Jericho Tavern a couple of weeks before this lunch, and ate that night too. I had the chicken katsu burger and James had the sausage and mash. No pictures, I’m afraid, but both were really very good indeed and we’d happily go back and eat them again.

The service we received at the pub was excellent. The staff were friendly and helpful, and all of our food arrived in good time despite the fact that the pub was packed with Christmas party bookings. Generally, it was a very pleasant experience and we had a lovely lunch.

The only little thing I would note is that it was very chilly inside. I am always cold and it was literally snowing on the day we visited, so I was prepared to dismiss this as being just my problem, but then I heard someone on the table next to us say it was freezing. My husband asked one of the staff members if he could turn on the radiator, which was stone cold and clearly off, but, although the guy was very friendly and helpful, he couldn’t work out how to get it going. This is only a minor complaint though, and I’m sure it’s something fixable.

Overall, the refurbishment of The Jericho looks to have been a success. They’ve smartened up, but kept the heart and essence of the pub alive, making it a fresher version of the place people have loved for years. The new modern menu is full of interesting options, and it was good to see choices suitable for vegetarians and vegans too. The food we’ve tried there so far has all been tasty and satisfying, ranging from good to great. If you’re in the Jericho area and looking for a hearty and delicious pub meal, then The Jericho Tavern is the place to go.

Disclaimer: The Jericho kindly provided us with a complimentary meal in exchange for a review, but all opinions are, as ever, my own.
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Review: Arbequina

Full disclosure: this is actually going to be less of a review, and more of a love letter. We went to Arbequina over the weekend to celebrate the restaurant’s one year anniversary, and I realised it was ridiculous that I’d never written about it on the blog before. Granted, they have absolutely no need of another positive review. With people singing the place’s praises from the Oxford Mail to the Guardian, it’s not been short of attention. Every time I’ve been there, the compact room has been full of lively customers. But I’m going to write about it anyway, because I love it.

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We went on a squally evening in October, when Storm Brian was still at play, and the vicious wind was whipping cold rain at us as we trudged up Cowley Road. Arbequina was a little haven of fluttering candles and the enticing smells of good food to come. We were greeted warmly by the staff – as we always are, because they’re lovely there – and settled down to the menu, with which I am intimately familiar. Eased along our way by exemplary Rebujitos and Negronis, we settled in for the kind of meal that you don’t have to worry about because you know everything will be done well.

Crisp toasts topped with warming, punchy Nduja, with the sweetness of honey and the earth of thyme. A tortilla just as a tortilla should be, with its bronzed exterior and its oozing, collapsing interior, with that depth of flavour only achieved when proper time and attention is paid. A pile of gloriously charred cauliflower, sharp with lemon and jewelled with pomegranate seeds, atop ethereally smooth and rich puree. Chicken, crisp on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. A salad that was so much more than a token or an afterthought, with crispy chickpeas as addictive and delicious as anything I’ve eaten, piled high with bright fresh vegetables, creamy yoghurt, the finishing flavour of Nigella seeds. Meatballs, plump and juicy, finished with a crisp hazelnut crumb.

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And the desserts: the rich, clean flan with the burnish of perfect caramel; the exquisite scoop of chocolate mousse; the final satisfaction of the chocolate salami. All washed down with an excellent Moscatel and a perfect espresso.

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And, joy of joys, they take bookings. You can call them! You can email them! Even chat to them on Twitter! I long ago gave up trying to get a table at Oli’s Thai (it’s not literally impossible, but it’s very difficult, and they make it very difficult in a way that annoys me because it seems unnecessary, so I stopped trying). But you can reserve a table easily at Arbequina, and if you walk in without a booking they’ll usually find you a corner anyway. or you can sit at the bar, which is actually a delight because you get to watch the chefs working their magic.

I have recommended Arbequina to many people over the last year, and no one has been less than delighted at what they found when they visited. Yes, it’s true it’s not entirely unique, and yes, there are restaurants like this in London. But that doesn’t make Arbequina any less than wonderful, and there’s certainly nowhere else like it in Oxford. I hope to be celebrating anniversaries with them for years to come.

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Review: Dolce Twenty Subscription Box

You might not believe it from looking at this blog, but I do try to find some semblance of balance with food. Yes, I do of course eat chocolate, drink wine, and devour a range of baked goods both impressive and frightening in scope. But I also eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. I don’t believe in denying yourself access to certain food groups (unless out of medical necessity): that’s just going to end with you face-down in a family size sticky toffee pudding with a tub of Pringles in one hand and a bottle of gin in the other, feeling bad about yourself.

I’ve always believed in the 80:20 rule: if you eat healthily 80% of the time, you can indulge for 20% of the time. Yes, it’s often not so simple in practice, and there are definitely times when my ratio has been more like 50:50… or 30:70… well, we don’t have to go into it. But, in essence, I’m on board with the cliched but sound maxim: everything in moderation. That’s why I’m very into the concept behind new monthly subscription box service, Dolce Twenty.

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Dolce Twenty champions the idea of choosing quality over quantity when it comes to indulgent foods: if you’re going to have a treat, then make sure it’s something you’re going to really enjoy. Their subscription boxes curate products from artisan producers across the country. The idea is that you get to discover new products and brands, as well as enjoying high quality sweet treats. I am totally on board with this. If I’m going to have a brownie, I want it to be a completely blissful brownie, rather than a dry and dusty disappointment. You’re much more likely to binge your way through your baking cupboard (what do you mean not everyone has a baking cupboard?) if you’re not feeling satisfied with your snacks to begin with.

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Dolce Twenty currently offer three different subscription box sizes – mini, small, and sharing – to suit a variety of households and budgets. I was lucky enough to be sent a sharing box to road test. What a treat it was to find a tempting box full of delightful treats in the post for a change (alongside bills and junk mail, of course, because life isn’t kind enough to only send you confectionery in the post).

In the spirit of saving luxuries, I haven’t worked my way through the whole box yet. Believe me, that shows an impressive degree of restraint on my part. But everything I have tried so far was delicious. I let a friend have a piece of the Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Fudge (because I’m kind), and she agreed with me that it was particularly tasty. My favourite discovery has been Coco Chocolatier, an Edinburgh-based chocolate company. Their sample in the box was exceptional, and they also have some of the prettiest packaging I have ever seen in the chocolate world. I’m looking forward to working my way through the rest of the box over the coming weeks (okay, fine, days).

If I have one criticism, it’s that the box was quite heavy on fudge (three fudge products), and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more variety. I absolutely love fudge, but my husband isn’t a fan (I know! He says it’s too sweet!?). Luckily I was there to nobly eat his share of fudge, because I’m a wonderful person, but having three varieties of one type of product could be an issue if that product isn’t something you love. That said, Dolce Twenty are a very new company and they are still building relationships with their suppliers, so I am sure that, as time goes by, their selection of sweet treats will only expand and become more varied. And it was very tasty fudge.

All in all, I think Dolce Twenty are a great start-up business. I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow and develop. And in a world where everything often seems a bit rubbish these days, I think it’s a relief to occasionally get home from work and find a box of sweet treats waiting for you.

*I was kindly provided with a free sharing box from Dolce Twenty for the purposes of this review, but all views are, as ever, my own.
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Review: The Porterhouse, Oxford

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Review: Turl Street Kitchen (Oxford)

I used to live at TSK. I mean, not literally, but almost. I spent a few weeks studying there pretty much constantly. They’re open from 8am, and so I’d rock up at 7:59am, grab my favourite table (about which I became dangerously possessive, liable to hiss and snarl at anyone who looked vaguely as though they might be thinking of taking my seat), and hunker down. The staff all knew me, and I’d chat with the same guy every morning while he made up my order without me having to tell him what it was. I knew the breakfast menu far better than the material on Jacobean revenge tragedy I was suppose to be working on. The manager once gave me dinner for free.

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Then I moved into full-time employment, which cut into my hanging-out-in-cafés/bars/restaurants time severely. Life is cruel. All the staff gradually moved along, and soon I didn’t know anyone there any more. So, now that I am freelancing in cafés once again, I think it’s high time I muscled people off my old table.

TSK definitely doesn’t need to be reviewed by me, or by anyone really, because it’s been around since 2011 and it’s thriving. Everyone in Oxford already knows about it and its almost too successful: good luck trying to get a table there on a Friday night. Pretty much all the Oxford-based food bloggers I know about have written about it somewhere, and then there was the whole Giles Coren thing. And yet, I am writing about it anyway, because it deserves attention, and I’d rather be a tiny voice shouting in a crowd than sitting here silently.

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One of the best things about the place is that the staff will politely leave you alone. If you go to the restaurant side of the building then you will get good restaurant service, but if you are in the front room, the bar, or the upstairs lounge, no one is going to hassle you if you get a cup of tea and then sit there to work for four hours. It is one of the very few places in Oxford that caters to people who prefer to use cafés as offices rather than actually go into a real office. This is good news for me, because I work far better in TSK than at a desk. I think it has something to do with the bacon sandwiches and gin on tap. That said, TSK is full of the beautiful people, and I am always the only person there working on a PC rather than a Mac. Luckily, no one has yet noticed and slung me out.

It’s almost a secondary concern, but the food is great. Delicious, unpretentious, sustainably and ethically sourced, and affordably priced. Lunch and dinner menus change daily, reflecting what’s in season and what happens to be in the kitchen, so it’s hard to get bored. This, again, is good news for me, because I go there too much and am bored easily.

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Duck and potato hash with poached egg, radishes, and watercress.
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French toast with bacon and maple syrup.
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Wye Valley smoked salmon and cream cheese on toast.
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Strawberry and raspberry cheesecake trifle.

Above all, TSK is independent. Oxford is full of mediocre restaurants, and is being choked by chains. We are very lucky to have, among the Pizza Expresses and the GBKs, gems like the Turl Street Kitchen. A place with its own atmosphere and style, with a clear vision and an ever-changing menu.

Just don’t take my table.

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Review: Big Ron’s Burrito Shack (Oxford)

As reviews go, this will not be the most comprehensive, detailed, or useful one you’ve ever seen. That’s because, when I stumbled upon Big Ron’s Burrito Shack, I wasn’t planning on doing a review at all.

I’d had a really long day which had involved driving a hyperactive puppy to Swindon and back, and I was running late for Catweazle. Dashing down Cowley Road on the hunt for some quick takeaway food to grab for dinner, I saw that Big Ron’s Burrito Shack had opened, at the original Atomic Burger site, and that people were heading in.


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I love burritos. Quite an indecent amount, actually. Until now, the only real burrito destination in Oxford has been Mission, and I used to go past it on my lunch breaks when I worked in an office. It took the restraining influence of James to ensure that I didn’t eat all the burritos, all the time. They’re just such a great meal. All the food groups in a conveniently portable wrap, completely customisable and totally delicious.

I walked in, and was greeted by a very friendly guy on the door.

‘Do you do takeaway?’ I asked, hopefully.

‘Ooh… Sorry, we’re not really doing takeaway tonight,’ he said.

‘Oh, no problem!’ I replied. ‘I’ll go and find something else.’

‘Actually, hang on,’ he said, ‘I’m sure we can sort something out. Go and talk to the woman in blue behind the counter and tell her I said it was okay for you to get a takeaway.’

‘Really!? Fantastic! Thank you!’

I went up to the counter, where I was greeted by another incredibly friendly person, and set about perusing the menu. Normally I wouldn’t go for chicken in a burrito – just because other options seem more interesting – but it was tequila and lime chicken. That sounded pretty delicious, so I went with that plus, um, all the available extras. Just, you know, a bit of shredded lettuce, black beans, pico do gallo, sour cream, guacamole, Monterey Jack cheese, and salsa. I was hungry, okay?

I got out my wallet to pay.

‘Oh no,’ protested the friendly woman at the counter, ‘You don’t pay! Everything’s free tonight.’

‘Wait, what? Why?!’

‘Oh, it’s a private party,’ she explained, ‘For the launch.’

Oh. Right. I had accidentally walked into a private launch party that I wasn’t invited to, asked for takeaway that they weren’t offering, and gotten free food that I wasn’t entitled to. Well done Hannah.

I was sort of mortified, and kept apologising and offering to pay, but all the staff were incredibly kind and understanding and insisted on giving me my massive free burrito.

So, I can testify that not only are the people working at Big Ron’s Burrito Shack very lovely, but that their burritos are delicious. I haven’t got a very good picture, because I was walking and eating at the same time and only had my phone on me – plus burritos are hard to photograph well at the best of times – but trust me, it was great. The tortilla was soft, yet robust enough to contain all of the fillings, which were fresh, full of flavour, and well-balanced. The chicken had a strong punch of tequila and a kick of lime, which ran through the burrito and married perfectly with the softer accompaniments of the cheese, sour cream, and guacamole.

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We will definitely be going back to sample the other filling options – I was also very tempted by the Texas pork – and the various degrees of spicy salsa. I should also point out that normally they will be offering a full takeaway service; they just hadn’t been planning on doing so on launch night when I stumbled upon them. Also, they probably won’t give you your food for free. But I’m sure the service will be just as charming all the same.