Intellectual & Gastronomical Pursuits Part 1 – A Trip to Oxford

A few weeks past, Wifey and I were in the doldrums of post Xmas haze. The celebrations of the festive period were far behind and Chinese New Year looks far away. Therefore, we were glad we had booked a ‘staycation’ covering Oxford and Cirencester. Always a good chance to try a few more restaurants too.

After a driving down on a sunny Sunday afternoon, Wifey and I were ravenous. Dropping the bags at the hotel, we made a beeline for the city centre and ended up at Thaikun as Wifey was in the mood for noodles. This Thai chain has branches in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, Cambridge and of course, Oxford.

Inside was spacious and as can expected, very Thai with canoes, rickshaws and Thai signage bedecking the interior.

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Whilst trying to work through the extensive menu, I ordered a draft Singha (only available in their Oxford branch) whilst Wifey had a very coconutty Thaisky cocktail from their special cocktail list.

We found we couldn’t choose any particular dish so opted for their starter and main platters and a side of sweet chilli crackers.

Our starter platter, “Sukumvit 38” consisted of:

  • Honey Pork – crispy and chewy with a velvety texture, very moreish!
  • Chicken Spring Rolls – nice and mild with a good amount of meat
  • Fish Cakes – flavourful, with an underlying chilli aroma and taste
  • Salt and Pepper Squid – nice light batter but a touch greasy and underseasoned for me

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Whereas, our main platter “Pinto Siam” contained:

  • Stir Fried Pork Belly in Red Curry Sauce – this was nice and crispy, and a little bit spicier than I’m used to with Chinese pork belly.
  • Chicken Massaman curry – easily my favourite dish, nice and sweet with plenty of star anise flavour coming through the creamy overtones.
  • Beef in Oyster sauce – nice veggies but the beef had a little too much of the chargrill for me.
  • Coconut Rice – we’d swapped this out from the Egg Fried Rice that usually accompanies a platter. It was sticky with a mild coconut aroma and flavour coming through.

Post meal, we caught the bus back to the hotel to sleep it off.

The next day started with a general shopping trip and wandering around the city centre to get our bearings sorted.

After picking up a few bags, we stumbled upon Beerd, a spin-off from Bath Ales and billed as Oxford’s first “craft beer and pizza bar”. Based in Oxford’s last surviving Victorian pub, the tiled interior was very pretty and curiously all draft beers were served by the schooner.

I picked a “Cubic”, a triple hopped pale ale. As expected, it was a very citrusy and hoppy beer and didn’t last long! Wifey had a “very nice rose”.

They had a lunchtime offer of a £5 pizza which we added an additional two toppings for £1 (prosciutto and pepper). To accompany, a side of sweet potato fries and homemade garlic mayo. The pizza was thin, crispy and not doughy, though it could have done with a tad more sauce. The proscuitto was flavourful and earthy and was complemented by the sweet pepper. The fries were longer cut than usual but nice, hot and crispy. The garlic mayo was fresh and with a not overpowering garlic flavour.

Post pizza, we headed to the cinema, our cultural day starting tomorrow.

Day 3 began with a large breakfast at Cafe Loco, a little walk from the main part of the city centre by the Alice in Wonderland shop.

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Wifey picked an Eggs Benedict Royale and I had a Full English.

 

The breakfast was an uneven experience. Wifey’s eggs came with a hard yolk rather than soft boiled. The smoked salmon was nice, as was the muffin. However it was swimming in hollandaise which was way too salty to me, but fine for Wifey.

Mine came on a cold plate, never a great starter for me. The toast was pre-buttered, a trend which I’m happy to do without. My beans were congealed, the tomato had seen the grill for approximately a femtosecond. The bacon and eggs were just there, not bad or good, just “meh”. At least the sausages (though small) were flavourful and the highlight was the fried mushrooms. Very nice and Wifey liked these very much, having swiped most of them!

 

Appetites mostly sated, we stopped at the day’s first museum. The Ashmolean is the world’s first university museum and is made from the collections of University Art Collection and the original Ashmolean Museum. It has a very wide range of collections covering from Ancient Cyprus to Modern Chinese Paintings. Entry is free (suggested donation boxes abound if you wish to give a small sum).  Wifey and I highly recommend it if you’re in Oxford with a few hours spare. We’ll be back in April for the Andy Warhol exhibit.

 

Next stop was off to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers museums.

The Natural History Museum holds the University’s internationally significant collections of geological and zoological specimens. The first exhibit we came across was the live beehive which was fascinating, I even managed to find the queen (pink dot on the back).

Next to what all young and old paleontologists love, the dino’s!

 

Nestled into the rear of the Oxford University Museum Natural History is the Pitt Rivers museum, one of my favourite museums in the world. The museum contains archaeological and ethnographic objects from all parts of the world and all time periods, arranged according to type of object rather than place of origin or date. They are displayed to show how the same problems have been solved at different times by different peoples. Unfortunately, the low light meant no pictures but I suggest you go and see what you can find. You can even get a torch.

Museums done, time for more food. After returning to the hotel, Wifey and I took a detour out of the city centre and visited The Fishes in the little village of North Hinksey.

A member of the Peach Pubs group (see previous posts here and here), it’s a beautiful gastropub which even Raymond Blanc is a fan of!

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We started with Bread and Olives. The mini ciabatta style bread was warm, fresh and doughy with a very punchy garlic butter. The plump olives were nice and salty with a good tang.

For starters, we shared a Scotch Egg with Chorizo stew and Truffle Mayo. The breadcrumbs were just right and combined with nice meaty sausage meat. The egg inside was a soft texture and soft with a golden yolk (perhaps a touch runnier would have been nicer).  The chorizo stew tasted more of tomato than anything else yet was a very pleasant accompaniment. The truffle mayo was very creamy but needed more truffle to come through.

For mains, I chose the lamb with butternut squash whilst Wifey picked the sea bream and shallots. We shared a side of honeyed carrots and parsnips.

My lamb was delightfully tender, it fell apart with a touch of the fork. It was beautifully seasoned and the mint just was powerful and gave a piquant counter to the sweet butternut squash.

Wifey’s sea bream was light and flaky with crispy skin. the slight saltiness of the fish combined well with the lightly pickled shallots.

Our honeyed parsnips and carrots had a good mix, with earthy and al dente parsnips and sweet soft carrots.

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To finish, Wifey had Mango Sorbet and a coffee and I had just enough room for a slice of St Clements Cheesecake. The curd was utterly delicious and I mopped it around the plate with the tuile. The cheesecake itself was at the same time heavy with a light flavour and a good crumbly base. The sorbet was a refreshing end to a full meal.

With that, it was ta-ta to Oxford and off to our next destination, Cirencester…

 

When: 17/01/2016 – 20/01/2016

Where: Oxford

Who:  The FishesThaikunBeerdCafe LocoThe AshmoleanOxford University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers museum

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