The Hollybush, Witney

Over the years I’ve seen lots of pubs position themselves as gastropubs at the expense of the pub bit. For me, that’s always a shame because a pub captures the very essence of Great Britain and although the food bit is also important, this should not overshadow the public house roots, so I was keen to see if a certain gastropub in Witney was doing just that.

Having spent a bit of time in Witney over the years and having drunk at The Fleece, Izzi’s and also the Hollybush I wanted to check in on the latter and find out how it was faring. The pub has enjoyed a solid reputation under current owners Luke and Alex. Luke is the son of the previous owners and previously worked at Jacobs Inn, while Alex used to work at Izzi’s and also Jacobs Inn so both owners come from a culinary background.

The first thing that struck me was the vibe; the pub was busy when we arrived at 7.20 and continued to get busier and busier as the night went on. However, the nice thing was the mix of ages in the pub. The younger drinking crowd seamlessly blended in with the older generation, with both demographics drinking at the front of the pub and also sitting down for meals; already I was feeling at home and that’s before I tucked into a pint of the house ale which was superb (below). The bar-staff are polite, efficient and lively, adding to the positive atmosphere. Once we’d enjoyed our drinks in the bar and soaked up a little of the atmosphere we were seated and talked through the specials by Alex who was knowledgeable and passionate without overdoing it. He struck the right balance in showing us the menu and giving us some insight into the pub, its current setup and the specials.

A gastropub should always major on finer dining, but, like the whole setup, the Hollybush hasn’t forgotten that some pub classics are essential, like fish and chips and my personal favourite pub classic; the burger. So another solid tick in the box for the menu which mixes classic with edgier fine dining food.

Alex had done a solid job on selling us the specials, so my wife decided to opt for the Pan-roasted Scallops, caramlised cauliflower puree, granny smith apple and hazelnuts while I went for the Crispy Cornish lamb belly with mint salsa verde. These starters were light enough to get you teed up for the main event, but tasty enough to get the palet equipped.

Belly of Lamb at @hollybush_witney

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Scallops at @hollybush_witney

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For the main event, Mrs Ox opted for the classic burger pitched on the menu simply as “Burger & Chips”. In my eyes that’s a nice touch because you don’t need to wax lyrical about a burger, it shouldn’t be complicated because it’s a warming meal we all know and love and it came with bacon, cheese, tomato and a gherkin; it doesn’t get better than that. Of course, having seen it arrive, I tried a little and it was cooked with the rareness that a burger needs.

Burger 🍔 & Chips at @hollybush_witney

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So, if one of us had gone down the classic route it was only fair in the spirit of a review for one of us to try the more refined food so I went for the Chorizo Stuffed Rabbit Loin wrapped in smoked Pancetta Heritage Carrots, Cavolo Nero, Toasted Nuts & Seeds. This was presented as gastropub food, tasted like gastropub food and lived up to its billing. I’m a quick eater anyway, but this was devoured in under 5 minutes simply because it was so good.

For pudding, we were talked through some more options by Alex who was more than happy to talk us through some of the other elements of this pub; they have two Saturday football teams who are encouraged to come back to the pub after the game, another nice touch and something which harks back to pubs being parts of their community. Being a footballer and football fan myself, I know this is important because I’ve played for pub teams before and I know how well received this kind of thing is by the teams.

The other thing that Alex touched upon was barn at the back of the pub; a big space for private events and that very evening they were catering for 20. Not only had they squeezed us in at short notice for a table of two in prime-time, the service wasn’t even slightly affected; we didn’t have a clue that a large event was taking place in the pub. This was a surefire sign that they are competent, professional and assured. Once we’d learned a little more about what the Hollybush is, we then listened to Alex’s advice and ordered puddings.

On Alex’s recommendation I chose the Warm Pear & Almond Tart which comes with Cinnamon ice cream and honey while Mrs. Ox went for the Chocolate Fondant which was everything you would expect (runny in the middle & tasty). Both were the a good ending to a great evening.

Warm Pear & Almond Tart at @hollybush_witney

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Sometimes I come away from a meal and think the food was good but the venue OK, or vice versa, but I came away from the Hollybush thinking the whole experience has been carefully thought out and well crafted. With a mixture of young and old revellers, classic and fine dining dishes, great drinks and cocktails and the option to have bigger events alongside normal dining means it’s a venue for any occasion and I urge you to go.

I can’t find fault with my experience, with even the traffic from Oxford to Witney being non-existent, it was a lovely evening.

Food Of The Ox Rating: 9/10

http://www.hollybushwitney.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thaikun, George Street.

If you browse the Thaikun website you will find out that the phrase “Thaikun” means “Your Thai” and it’s easy to see how this approach has been passed into the restaurants.

Admittedly, it’s taken me a while to get to Thaikun since it replaced Cleaver but having tried to book previously, I now understood why it’s always busy. It’s a hustling, vibrant place that is full of diners and atmosphere.

When we arrived we were taken down to the lower floor and seated and immediately surrounded by memorabilia.  My group all decided a cold Chang beer was essential for this experience so while we decided what to eat we sipped cold Thai lager; ideal.

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In terms of food we all wanted starters and decided that three hungry boys needed the Sukumivit Platter to share – described as the following: “a taster platter with some of the best-selling dishes, from the night street food market of Sukumvit 38, in Bangkok – Thai fish cakes, chicken spring rolls, honey pork and steamed vegetable dumplings.”

This sharing food was nothing short of spot on. The perfect amount of street food bites to get us warmed up for the main event:

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In terms of the main event, I went for Duck Massaman curry with sticky rice while my friends went for Prawn Geang Phed (Red Curry) and Goong Phad Gra Tiam (Garlic King Prawns):

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The food was excellent and the pictures don’t do it justice; strong flavours, presented well in a busting venue didn’t disappoint. This is the ideal venue to kick an evening off or for a relaxed meal with friends and we were event treated to a procession through the restaurant to celebrate someone’s birthday which just added to the atmosphere – you will definitely go away feeling this is your Thai.

FoodOfTheOx rating: 8.5/10

https://www.thaikhun.co.uk//thai-restaurant/oxford/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Brilliant Brunches in Oxford

Combibo’s Coffee, Gloucester Green

Gloucester Green is hidden away at the back of Oxford’s bus station but actually has a cluster of cool eateries and the family owned cafe, Combibo’s Coffee is well worth a look. Their extensive brunch menu will have give you some serious decisions to make on what you should eat!

The Handlebar Cafe and Kitchen

Formerly Zappi’s which was famous for exeptional coffee and banana bread the Handlebar has become an eatery with a chilled vibe and some exceptional food options. You will find it on the second floor of Bikezone usually pretty full and serving amazing brunch dishes like the below as well as lunch, dinner and drinks with a changing menu in an awesome setting.

Jacobs Inn, Wolvercote

Part of the House of Jacob brand, this pub in Wolvercote is a venue suitable for brunch, lunch and dinner but how can you ignore the kind of breakfast treat below? Don’t ignore their other venues too; Jacobs & Field and Jacobs Chop House, both in Headington and both serving up great brunch dishes. However, if the below doesn’t grab you then you could always try their signature “Jacobs” breakfast.

GAF, Magdalen Road

Formerly Oxfork, these guys are serving up awesome food amongst other treats. This area of Oxford, just off the Cowley Road,  is a foodie haven with Oli’s Thai, The Magdalen Arms and The Rusty Bycycle just a stonesthrow away, you could spend an amazing day sampling awesome food in just this area! However if breakfast is your aim then make sure you check out GAF.

The Milk Shed, Weston on the Green

Serving up culinary treats, this venue is based on a farm, slightly outside of Oxford in Weston on the Green. All food is made on site daily and they use as many local ingredients as possible. It’s well worth making the effort to visit with dishes like this on the menu:

#regram from @sarahvic_1 ~ best breakfast I've ever had! 😍 ~ now there's a compliment!!!! #customergram #themilkshed

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Craft Burger, Headington

It’s always intriguing when a new eatery opens in Oxford and its surrounding suburbs. When I heard that Headington was welcoming a new burger joint to its offerings, I was pleased. Obviously I was pleased because I love burgers, but for me Headington is an area with so much potential for eating out and with Jacobs & Field and Jacobs Chop House providing great options it’s a welcome addition to the ranks.

So I ventured in for a mid-week lunch and was pleased to see that it’s a fresh, vibrant restaurant with a trendy, stripped back decor doing exactly what it says on the tin, Craft Burgers, not trying to be all things to all men. Check out the menu below for it’s simplicity and appeal:


I didn’t want to complicate things too much, so I went for the classic craft cheese and a pint of Meantime Pale Ale. The other great thing about Craft Burger is they also offer a range of craft beers on tap and by the bottle (and other drinks too…). The fact that my ale was served in a Tankard just served to reinforce my opinion that this place was doing the basics well and sprinkling a little bit of nostalgic quality on top like this:


So on to the main event, the burger. Well burgers needn’t be complicated and sometimes less is more and my choice served to strengthen this.


As you can see, I went for standard fries and enjoyed a couple of sides of onion rings and sweetcorn on the cob, also tasty. All in all this was a great feed; solid, well presented and tasty – what more do you need?

For me, this is the type of burger to rival the brilliant Atomic Burger which hasn’t enjoyed a real independent competitor in Oxford until now. Putting this place in Headington is a masterstroke, and I hope to see it doing well over the course of 2017.

Food Of The Ox Rating: 9/10

http://www.craft-burger.co.uk/

 

 

 

The Pint Shop, George St., Oxford

The Pint Shop on George Street has been open for a while since deciding to replicate a successful business in Cambridge. After the dust had settled following the usual opening buzz, I checked in on a busy Friday service to see how its getting on.

First things first, most restaurants that aren’t set within a pub tend to focus on food with drink as an accompanying aid, but not here; drink is the first thing you see in the bar. This is a decent shout for anyone looking for drinking spot, but we had opted for food so we ventured down to the basement to check out the culinary offerings.

There’s plenty of variety on offer (you can check the Dinner Menu here), but I was drawn to the Southern Fried Chicken with Saffron Aioli (pictured) to start. Priced at £6.50 this was a solid foundation. Combined with a pint of Adnams Broadside I settled in to catching up with my two mates in what was a relaxed but busy enough atmosphere. Whilst one of my friends had the same as me to start (and main, but both were on his recommendation!), the other had the Shrimp Pasty with Pickled Red Onion (pictured) which was also tasty. (Of course I had to try some!). We all agreed that the starters left us warmed up for a solid feed, but wanting our mains; I went for the Devilled Lamb Shoulder Kebab with Flat Bread and Chilli Sauce (pictured)  priced at £12.50, just as one of my friends did while the other ordered the Overnight Pork Belly, Braised Hispy Cabbage, Apple & Mustard Sauce (pictured) priced at £15.00.

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Chicken!

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Lamb Kebab!

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Shrimp Pasty!

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Pork Belly!

I’ve got to say at this point that the waitress who looked after us did a brilliant job of advertising which sides to have with our meals. Mine was simple; what does anyone pair with a kebab? Of course it’s chips, in this case of the House variety (£3.50). My friend Tom had the Scalloped Potatoes with Baron Bigod Cheese with his Pork (£3.50). The pictures I hope do it justice, but it was good food, in a lively venue, accompanied by a great choice of ales.

I think to sum things up it’s enough to say that I would go here without the food as the variety of drinks, particularly ales and beers is appealing. The combination of simple, tasty and reasonably priced means it’s now a focal point in the city centre as the starting point for an evening with friends. It’s interesting that I came to this conclusion, as I think anyone would, without reading The Pint Shop’s vision on their website . Here’s an excerpt:

“Pint Shop is all about creating a place that embraces eating and drinking equally. A place where you feel equally at home having a few beers, a light lunch or a full blown feast. A place where people from all walks of life, rub shoulders with each other.”

It does exactly what it says above. My rating is a solid 9/10 – great atmosphere, food and drinks.

http://www.pintshop.co.uk/