A FISHY ON A DISHY
Oxford isn't blessed with many fish restaurants but we're hook, lined and sinkered on Cuttlefish
There are so many places to eat in Oxford, but seafood is not a speciality well-catered for in our city of spires. Let me therefore present you with a fabulous fishy on a dishy in the form of Cuttlefish, a restaurant just over the Magdalen Bridge up St Clement’s St. ‘Over the Magdalen Bridge?!’ I hear you cry, horrified hands to face á la Edvard-Munsch. Yeah, like, totes, because there you’ll find all sorts of delights including my fave indie cinema Ultimate Picture Palace, the Jaqueline du Pre theatre for musical concerts, loads of cool bars like Kazbar and Cafe Coco on Cowley Road, the groovy young-persony Pegasus Theatre just off Iffley, and – tada! – Cuttlefish itself (formerly Sea Salt), owned by the same people who run La Cucina across the way.
Its position flush to the road talks to Cuttlefish’s status as a restaurant primarily for locals or those in the know – no tourist readily ventures past Magdalen Tower, and occasional city venturers are more likely to stick to places near the big car parks. Ergo, you’re already ahead of the pack on this one.
The exterior looks slick and attractive (though clearly al fresco isn’t on the cards here unless you want a side order of bus fumes with your meal) and when you step through the door that feeling persists. There’s a funky bike and rider on the wall lit up in fairy lights (no idea why, I should have asked) and the restaurant feels spacious but comfy and calm and just kind of – nonfussy.
Aside from Cuttlefish-themed lighting with tentacles spreading across the lampshades it’s just a simple palette of slate grey and wooden floors, with a couple of specials black boards thrown in for good measure. Which basically means it stands or falls on the service and the food.
In which case, let’s eat and see what the fuss is about.
I started with fried crispy whitebait fritters (£6.95). I’m a veteran of New Zealand whitebait (argued vociferously by my husband as being the best in the world). Hmm, not sure about that, these were delicious fat crunchy versions, with a fabulous sundried tomato and paprika dip that totally hit the spot with a chilled glass of S Blanc.
Truly, I could have stopped eating at this point, because it was much more filling than I’d expected but – shame! – I’d already ordered my mains by then, a doorstopper of a fish and chips that made up in lightness and flavour what it lost in its rather straightforward presentation.
I felt a bit cross with myself for not ordering more imaginatively because there were some amazing things on the menu – whole lobster with Hollandaise, or cuttlefish paella. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and I fell in love with the idea of F&C, and very fine it was too.
We were too stuffed for a dessert, but had I had the bandwidth for it, I’d have chosen a the lemon posset cup with crushed meringue. Or the chocolate and mascarpone cake, possibly with a chaser of white chocolate and passion fruit cheesecake.
We headed off to the UPP for a movie afterwards (literally a 3 minute walk across to Jeune St) and then back to our car, literally a stone’s throw from Cuttlefish in the small, hidden St Clement’s Car Park, a little secret that I’m half-regretting telling anyone about, but hey, it’s you, so that’s OK.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: fish lovers, relaxed locals, and larger parties- the restaurant is much bigger than you think from the outside. Regular specials go beyond the usuals to include black bream, grey mullet and other piquant poissons. It’s a great option for those going to the UPP cinema, or wanting to head up to Cowley Road for a drink afterwards. Very kid-friendly and if the little people in your life don’t want fish and chips (*thud*) there are the usual non-fishy options of burgers and steaks.
Not for: Tourists under time pressures will probably be best staying on the other side of the Magdalen Bridge, where the spires reside. Romantics might want to look elsewhere – it’s too casual to stare at each other over candlelight.
££: Good value I’d say. Most starters are £7-8ish, and mains fish and chips and burgers are £11, cuttlefish paella is £14. Understandably whole grilled lobster with French fries is pricier at £25.95. There’s a fixed price menu Monday to Friday until 6.30 at 2 courses for £12.50, 3 courses for £15.50.
36 St Clement’s Street, Oxford, OX4 1AB, 01865 243003. cuttlefishoxford.co.uk
Cuttlefish is open all day for brunch, lunch and dinner from 11am-10.30pm Monday to Saturday and 10am to 9.30pm on Sundays.