A quick rifle through the archives revealed the shocking truth that the last time we wrote something about The Oxford was nearly five years ago.
Why? No real reason, other than it merely sunk into the background a little. Sure, it’s always been a good place to meet friends – especially in-coming ones from the tube – but dinner in its high-ceilinged dining room had, at least for us, become a distant memory.
Then this summer it looked like it had closed down. Worried readers tweeted or emailed us, and we contacted its parent pub group, who also own The Vine, to see what was going on. Happily it was a case of good news: it reopened in the autumn with shiny new signage, a scrubbed exterior – and a newfound sexiness inside, too.
This is partly down to a dapper bloke called Giles Stafford, a bar consultant of many years’ experience who set about lightly reinventing the place. There’s now a fluidity from entrance right through to the dining room. There’s low lighting, a chef’s table by the open kitchen, and booths removed to create space. At the far wall, dark panelling has displaced the chalked-up blackboard of yore.
The other news – new menu aside – is a smart first-floor cocktail haunt (read our review here). Upstairs the furniture is eclectic (think vintage Mad Men), heavy-duty velvet curtains hang from sash windows overlooking Kentish Town Road, and candles light the bare-brick back bar.Back downstairs, the dining room was disappointingly quiet on our November visit, although the bar was suitably lively. Head chef Abdi Ibrahim, previously at the Prince Arthur in Hackney, has created a menu in keeping with the times. Classic pub dishes remain, but as we discovered, they’re served with some imaginative twists. There are also those ubiquitous healthy detox salad bowls, as well as Granger & Co-inspired mains, like raw tuna poke.
It was a rather chilly evening, so we stuck to hearty, and weren’t disappointed. Scottish scallops, soft as butter, came strewn with crispy slithers of pork belly, parsnip curls and whorls of celeriac puree, with just a hint of vanilla. Even better was miso-glazed rabbit, the flesh as tender as any I’ve eaten, balanced by the vinegary crunch of pickled red cabbage, and tangy leaves in tarragon mustard dressing.Charred cauliflower was a let-down after such initial culinary heights. A sticky, cheesy root vegetable dauphinoise took centre stage, leaving half a dozen mild-tasting florets (and a bit of kale) somewhat under-employed. It wasn’t bad: but give me the cauliflower shawarma at, say, Berber & Q in Haggerston any day.
Our other main, however, was a show-stopper. A glistening Scottish ribeye, with herb-crusted bone marrow, was served pillowy medium-rare, with a slice of potato cake, creamy mushroom duxelles sauce and sweet torched onion. In fact its presentation, on a charcoal plate, as with all the dishes, was exceptional. A side of broccoli with almonds and truffle oil elevated the brassica into something quite luxurious. This kind of food is, we concluded, what we want from a meal out.Yup, it’s boring to rave, but desserts were similarly magnificent: a malted chocolate fondant, sharpened by blackberry sorbet and mellowed by matcha green tea powder just won out over a refreshing apple and blackcurrant parfait, with granola crumble.
And don’t forget to drink up: the new wine list is full of organic and natural vino, from creamy Sicilian whites to oaky reds.
Will it be another five years before we publish another assessment of the Oxford? Let’s hope not: 2022 feels a very long way away.