Muddy eats: The Chester, Oxford
I eat at plenty of gastropubs, but not many tick the gastro box, plus properly, truly, buzzily local. But helloooooo to The Chester in Oxford, where have you been all my life?
This cool pub is within tickling distance of that cool little enclave of funky premises that includes The Magdalen Arms, Oli’s Thai and OxFork but on the other side of the Iffley Road down a side street. It’s been on my radar for a while. I waited patiently while it was refurbed, knowing that the guys behind it were the same ones who had brought us the very funky teeny tiny cafe Brew in North Parade as well as the brilliant Oxfork.
When it finally opened, I had a look at my diary and fainted, realising it would be yonks before I made it in. But lo! I finally made the pilgrimage last month on one of those ridiculously balmy nights that made you feel cheated that you weren’t, in fact, in the Caribbean, barely contained by your bikini and flirting inappropriately with the barman (ah, just me?).
I’d never visited The Chester in its previous incarnation so I can’t pretend to know befores and afters, but what I liked the night I visited was its sense of space. I suppose on a quiet night it might make it harder to create an atmosphere but when I ate it was busy and I loved the proportions of the room. Entering through a middle door there were still two ‘sides’ to the pub but they flowed better together than some I’ve reviewed.
The pub is styled well, and it’s attractive and interesting with its banquette seating, quirky touches like the Corn Flakes boxes and old typewriter, and the funny little fella on the outside of the pub.
There’s a paved and tabled terraced area out the back with pretty lighting but it’s not overly ‘done’ which I liked because after all, we were coming for the vibe and the food.
Talking of which… The food is very good. Loved the way the bread and butter was presented with that funky wooden knife.
We went for a shared mezze starter which was a bit of a mistake, only in the sense that it really filled us up before our main course, but it was absolutely delicious.
Next up I had the fish special – not a great shot I grant you, but it was quite dark at the table and even worse that I’ve lost the bit of paper where it told me what I ate (yes yes, must try harder), but I can tell you it didn’t long, despite an incredibly large portion and a cheeky white to go along with it.
Finally, the creme brulée. Look how pretty and oozy.
It was so hot in the pub on the night that Mr Muddy had to go out into the courtyard outside to cool down – here it is in all its glory.
I love the lo-fi lights and the suburban feel of the streets around it – it definitely gives the pubs its local edge, along with the stacks of bikes outside. I’d say if you’re looking for a glamourpuss gastropub, all refined and buffed, this place might not be for you. But if you want to share your space with laid back trendy locals and enjoy superior pub food while you’re at it, book up, you’ll love it.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: relaxed weekend lunches with family and friends, a funky local for a drink or two (they put on very good beer fests there). A great option if you’ve been to Pegasus Theatre – it’s about 3 minutes walk away.
Not for: Anyone looking for vistas. The courtyard is concrete, and it’s down the bottom of a narrow street, and the parking is a bit tricky as it’s mostly residential.
£££: Good value. We likey.
The Chester, 19 Chester St, Oxford. Tel 01865 790438. Facebook page