The Oxford Kitchen
*The* place for relaxed fine dining in elegant Summertown - and if you need another reason to try it, a new Michelin chef starts in January!
Summertown in Oxford has plenty to recommend it – great schools, indie shops, and smattering of bars and crowd-pleasing eateries – but fine dining restaurants are a rarer breed out this way. The Oxford Kitchen, set on the main street, is the stand-out candidate. I mean that literally – the enormous round crystal chandelier in the window is a veritable beacon from the road, and the classy slate grey of the building also flags it up compared to it local neighbours. But its fine dining creds are about to sky rocket too, with Paul Welburn taking over as executive chef in January. Welburn, the former head chef of W1, held a Michelin star there for five years and has bee working with current chef John Footman since October on the transition.
Relaxed brasserie probably sums it up best. In the summer the windows concertina open, creating an inviting vista and there are some charming decor touches inside like the bookshelves and pop art on the walls and the huge chandelier that suggest a younger, funkier clientele than is probably the norm here.
Upstairs the interiors feel a bit tired (certainly the back room needs a facelift), but there’s no absence of atmosphere in the restaurant, particularly downstairs which is where I’d suggest you eat, and it was relatively busy on the night I visited.
The food is the big calling card at The Oxford Kitchen, and though it seems strange in a way to review the food when a new chef is about to stamp his own size 10s through the offering, at least you’ll get a sense for the ambition of this restaurant. I ate from the 6 course Autumn Tasting Menu that included confit duck liver, hay smoked beef fillet (my favourite course – see above), a raspberry gin and tonic, and Madagascan chocolate, blackcurrent and beetroot sorbet.
I tend to find tasting menus incredibly filling and by course 5 I was pretty much done, so you might want to think about the a la carte if you’re like me, but I couldn’t fault the execution of the food, except perhaps for the cheese course, where my husband’s very traditional relationship with cheese (his preference: slate plate, lumps of cheese, biscuits, quince jelly) was challenged by what I could only describe as a posh Twister lolly.
AROUND & ABOUT
The charms of South Parade will keep you busy for an hour or two (or more if you’re hitting the North Wall theatre – highly recommended) but otherwise it’s into Oxford with you – just 10 minutes on the bus to get to The Ashmolean, the colleges and Westgate for shopping.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Special occasions – those tasting menus are indeed special. Ideal al fresco-ising in the summer with the outdoor tables and chairs.
Not for: I wouldn’t waste my money taking my kids here! And I’d be using this for serious eating, not a dropper-inner with girlfriends or business meetings. The busy road won’t appeal to any but the most dedicated outside diners.
£££: On the pricier side, as you’d expect with fine dining. The Autumn tasting menu is £55 (sommelier pairing is an extra £40 if you want to go down that route). For New Year’s Eve there’s six course Tasting Menu at £85 per person with Kir Royale and snacks on arrival, including festive specials. If you want to go a la carte it’s £35 for two courses, or a good value £40 for three.
The Oxford Kitchen, 215 Banbury Road, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7HQ. Tel: 01865 511 149.