REVIEW: Dirty Bones, Oxford
Will Muddy's resident vegetarian Nancy find things to her liking at Westgate meat-feast Dirty Bones? Let's find out.
I’m a bit of a Westgate stalwart these days so any given day you’ll catch me sipping cocktails on the terrace, munching avo on toast at The Breakfast Club, or slurping on a big bowl of noodle soup at Pho. But being vegetarian, Dirty Bones has never been at the top of my hit list (a name like that doesn’t exactly scream veggie heaven). But I’ll do anything for Muddy of course, so I headed over to the NYC-inspired hangout to test their plant-based offering – and a few cocktails, naturally.
Dirty Bones opened its first bar/restaurant in a Kensington basement back in 2014, before exporting its NYC comfort food + cool vibe + killer cocktail formula to Shoreditch and Soho. Oxford is the first regional branch (aren’t we cool?) and our outpost can be found on Westgate Oxford’s rooftop terrace. It’s open from brunch (on weekends) through to dinner, plus there’s live music on a Thurs and a DJ on at weekends until late. Groovy.
For a midweek mealtime on a balmy summer’s evening, Dirty Bones was busier than expected with a mix of post-work punters spilling out onto the terrace through the sliding doors and a few families with teenage children tucking into sharing dishes. The space, a bar area at the front and restaurant at the rear, has an uber-relaxed vibe – there’s no rushing to clear plates and get you out the door here. There’s soft hip hop and blues music playing in the background and waiters enthusiastically chatting away to diners.
The interiors were immediately added to my future living room Pinterest board, thanks to the curved velvet seating in mustard and dark blue, offset with industrial touches like pipes running along the ceiling, copper accents and super-sized Edison bulbs. The dark colour palette and wooden panelling creates an intimate feel, despite the large space, with the walls peppered with funky prints, photographs and modern art.
I visited in daylight but I can imagine that there’s a real atmosphere in the evenings when the lights are dimmed and the music is cranked up. I especially liked the cool neon sign above the restrooms (no toilets here, it’s Brooklyn, baby!) and quirky shelving unit crammed with nostalgic vinyls and retro ornaments.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Firstly it must be noted that Dirty Bones has a cracking cocktail offering. Straight off the bat I opted for a ‘strong and sassy’ Clementine (Bacardi, vodka, passion fruit, clementine juice, lime, rosemary syrup and egg white) which was just the right amount of sweet and creamy, the perfect way to lose my egg white virginity. My friend chose the Lil’ Basil (gin, apple juice, lemon, agave, basil) from the new Sessions menu – four cocktails all with a lower ABV (such a great idea). It was super refreshing and you could still taste the botanicals.
The staff really know their stuff when it comes to the cocktail list and were pleasingly honest – we were advised against the Hot Mezze, apparently it’s an acquired taste! – so if you’re stuck on what tipple to choose, ask away.
When it came to the food, I had wondered how I’d get on – the menu is heavy on burgers, steaks and chicken wings. But I was pleasantly surprised by the small but perfectly formed selection of starters for veggies and vegans. In my pre-veggie days I had a penchant for hot wings so here I chose a plant-based alternative, Buffalo Aubergine served with ranch dressing. The batter was perfectly light and crispy and the dressing was nicely balanced with the hot sauce (the secret ingredient is Frank’s hot sauce, but I was sworn to secrecy so shhhhh!).
My friend opted for the Mac Balls, below – comfort food doesn’t come any more comforting than deep fried cheesy pasta. Indulgent, delicious (the sweet chilli sauce was a nice touch) and definitely not for those on a diet.
As for veggie mains, there’s only a vegan burger and Yankee dog, but I chose the latter and it really was tasty. Sometimes meat substitutes can be a bit tasteless but the hotdog was flavoursome and tasted pretty much like the real thing. All the classic trimmings- ketchup, mustard, onion, although no cheese as it’s vegan, but I’m sure it could be added.
My friend tucked into a beef short rib cooked in an espresso-spiked BBQ sauce with no complaints and I was pleasantly surprised to see that all the meat comes from UK suppliers in Norfolk, Suffolk and Northern Ireland.
For our second round of drinks I went for another egg white number (I’m a convert), a cucumber vodka-based Backyard Sour off the waiter’s recommendation (10/10, it was delicious) and my friend went for a rhubarb-based Brooklyn ‘Barb, a little bitter for me but if you love Aperol it’ll be right up your street.
Sides are definitely for sharing, our cheesy truffle fries and heritage tomato salad were huge, and we left with doggy bags. We were too full for dessert but I spied a sticky toffee pudding, peanut butter cookie cup and a few naughty sounding milkshakes on the menu.
OUT & ABOUT
For an evening jaunt there are a string of bars along the terrace, but if you’re heading out of Westgate territory, Sandy’s piano bar is a short walk away (I’ve spent many nights belting out Robbie Williams’ Angels here until the early hours), as is Oxford’s original rooftop bar The Varsity Club, with its gorgeous views if you can manage to wrangle an up-top table.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: After-work or post-shopping dinner and drinks, or a girly night out with the cocktails flowing (and with The Alchemist always rammed I’d say this is a great alternative). And it’s surprisingly good for those on a plant-food diet.
Not for: Anyone who’s calorie counting or on a diet – these are American-sized portions. Dirty Bones does cater for families (teenagers will LOVE it, plus there’s a kids’ menu), but my first choice would be coming here for a grown-up, relaxed meal.
The damage: Starters and sides are around £6.50, burgers and hotdogs around £10, whilst meatier mains range from £9.50 for crispy fried chicken up to £18 for beef short rib. Desserts are all priced at £6. Cocktails are reasonable at £7.50 for lower ABV up to £10.50 for boozier offerings. It’s also worth mentioning Dirty Bones’ Bottomless Brunch (oh hello!) which is just £22.
Dirty Bones, 304 The Westgate, Queen Street, Oxford OX1 1TR. Tel: 01865 808040.