REVIEW: GÄF – is this the grooviest restaurant in Oxford?
Yup, that looks like the pre-planning stage of a Muddy Stilettos review…
So here I am in GÄF, a very cool cafe/restaurant up the Iffley Road in Oxford that describes itself enticingly as ‘veg-centric’ – veggie enough to please superfood loving clean eaters, but not so hairshirt that flaming dirty carnivores like me won’t give it a try.
It opened in June last year on the site of the former Oxfork, and is a funky addition to nice-guy-and-ninja-entrepreneur Drew Brammer’s growing portfolio of Oxford establishments in Oxford that includes The Chester pub, The Bear and the Bean cafe on the brilliant cafe Brew on North Parade. Actually he did originally own Oxfork too, sold it to the Turl St Kitchen and then finally bought it back again to create this new venture.
First up let me tell you that you’ll love the look of GÄF, with its Athol Whitmore paintings (he sells through the Sarah Wiseman Gallery in Summertown), flamingo wallpaper, Scandi modern meets rustic tables and chairs and mezzanine and basement levels. You could easily transplant GAF to Soho or Hackney and it would feel right at home. In fact, I’m racking my brain to think of another restaurant in Oxford that has this edgier, contemporary vibe… um nope, I think this is it!
I actually ate here before Christmas, but with an extended closing of the restaurant in January and no readers wanting to be tempted by food in early 2017, I held onto the review until now, figuring that we’re out properly socialising in March now, but still holding onto the dying embers of our healthy eating plans.
Perfect for GAF then, as the idea behind the restaurant is that you can order multiple small plates – think of it as a tapas type arrangement. So the food comes out to you as and when in a steady stream. As with all tapas meals you’ll want to watch how much you’re spending as one small plate is typically between £5-7 (they recommend 2-3 per person making it a £21ish meal) but when you see how beautifully the dishes are presented and the quality of the food you’ll think it fair value for money.
Rather than give you a blow by blow account of each thing we ate – not least because the menu evolves as the new season veggies come and go – I’ll give you a visual smorgasbord of the type of thing you can expect. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the veggie dishes as much as I did, but it’s really inventive, interesting cooking and the presentation makes every course feel exciting.
On the current dinner menu on the website there’s a monkfish dahl to please non-veggies, with the rest at the more taste explosive end of vegetarian – think celeriac, brussels, chestnut and cumin (£5.50), burnt cauliflower, romanseco, ‘Mac ‘n’ Cheese’ (£6) and white chocolate, gherkin and watercress (£5). One thing I’d say too is to choose according to how hungry you are – I know that sounds about derrrrr but not all the plates are created equal in full-tummyness so potatoes, parsnips and buckwheat will be your friends.
Also worth letting you know that in the day GAF goes all breakfasty and brunchy – bacon makes it onto the menu, HUZZAH! – with English breakfast making it onto the menu next to the like of Spiced Gypsy Toast with chorizo, pomegranate and coriander (£6) and that perennial favourite smashed avocado on sourdough with chilli quinoa.
If you’re not local to this part of the city, you can easily get a bus from the High Street that takes you up Iffley Road where you can also find Pegasus Theatre and the monthly flea market outside The Magdalen Arms (next one is on 1 April). So plenty of reason to venture somewhere new and sample GAF’s pleasures while you’re there.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Discerning veggies, of course, but also foodies in general who are bored of the gastropub thing and want to eat beautifully presented veg-cuisine in a stylish, modern environment.
Not for: those with buggies might find it tricky as the spaces are all quite small inside (though there’s an outdoor terrace if the sun shines). Those who equate veggie small plates with cheap eats might have a shock at the final bill.
££: On the upper side of average prices, but in my opinion worth the small premium because it offers something unique in the city.
GÄF, 39 Magdalen Road, Oxford OX41RB. Tel: 01865 243280.