The Anchor, Oxford
Author Clover Stroud dons the elasticated pants to eat her way through this laid back, family friendly local gastro pub in Oxford's Jericho district. What a trooper!
Perched on the corner of Hayfield Road and the far reaches of Kingston Road, The Anchor is a bit of an Oxford institution, well known to generations of school-children, and their parents, who traipse between the huge houses of north Oxford and some of the many schools which dot these streets, including the nearby High School and primary (known affectionately as Phil and Jim).
The pub itself is sandwiched between the wife and leafy pavements of the Woodstock Road and the canal, which bobs with long barges just a few metres away from the pub. Rather appropriately, the pub was established, as far back as 1796, to serve the canal boat trade, and although it’s now more likely to serve the yummy mummy trade, it maintains something of this maritime spirit in its hulking and, let’s be honest, rather plain red brick exterior. It would be wrong, however, to judge this pub on it’s external looks, since inside it’s much prettier.
It’s changed hands rather too often in the past few years, but is now owned by landlord Julian Rosser, of The Duke of Cambridge, The Crown in Woodstock and The House, all successful Oxford institutions with proven track records. I visited on a damp night in mid winter to meet a girlfriend for supper, and was keen to see how the old girl was faring – the pub, too.
The striking black and white chequered marble floor and slate grey wooden panelling gives the pub a distinctive but relaxed atmosphere, with wooden bistro tables, a spattering of bright green ferns and some funky white pendant lighting finishing the look. There are splashes of colour in the waiting staffs egg yolk yellow aprons which warm up what otherwise might be a slightly chilly colour palette.
As well as the main restaurant, there’s a cosier bar with a wooden floor, and a blazing fire at the far end, and a conservatory with more tables, as well as two private dining rooms upstairs. On the dark evening in mid-winter, the pub was almost full; the bar was propped up by locals, with a few earnest students sharing plates of chips, and the main restaurant was busy, with a couple of big office parties having a cheery evening, and some expensive blondes sharing superfood salads and a couple of bottles of cold Picpoul.
SCOFF & QUAFF
There’s nothing challenging about the menu, which is characterised by old favourites- goats cheese salad with caramelised onions, grilled halloumi with Puy lentils, Moules frites, flat iron chicken and rib eye steak – with a few surprises thrown in: sumac marinated rump of lamb with a pomegranate and mint dressing sounded lush, but was sadly sold out the night I visited. There’s a short and sweet kids menu too with featuring easy dishes like home made fish fingers, pasta with a simple tomato sauce and a mini burger. We ordered a starter of salt fish croquettes with chilli jam and sweet potato and courgette fritter, which where all delicious.
I paired my perfectly cooked rib eye steak with some crunchy, tasty Kohlrabi coleslaw and divine sweet potato fries, and we also ordered grilled squash with lime and chilli.
This was actually a starter, albeit a very generous one, and easily served as a main course, as these are generous portions. We shared a tiramisu for pudding, and fresh mint tea to finish. As I said, no huge surprises, but it was easy, crowd-pleasing, well-cooked food.
OUT & ABOUT
Stroll back towards the centre of town by day, and you’ll walk straight down Walton Street, which crosses one of Oxford’s prettiest streets, Little Clarendon Street. It’s not exactly bursting with as many desirable boutiques as I’d like, although there’s a good and very cheap book-shop and a less cheap home-wares store but it’s definitely a nice place to lose an hour. At night, it’s buzzing with bars, including the Duke of Cambridge, Raouls and Freuds, which you could stagger between for a trio of cocktails, and maybe even a dance.
If you visit the pub during the day, Port Meadow, the vast area of ancient common ground to the north west down Aristotle lane is a must. Ponies and cows graze the meadow which is often flooded during the winter, and the huge skies with the distant dreaming spires are a sight to behold.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: The Anchor does exactly what it says on the packet as a relaxed and friendly local gastro pub. It was the perfect place to catch up with a girlfriend I hadn’t seen for yonks, but would also be great for a family get together, work drinks or a lazy Sunday lunch.
Not For: It’s probably not the place to take real foodies who are on the hunt for haute cuisine. And since it’s popular with groups of family and friends, it might disappoint as a deeply romantic dinner venue. That said, there were plenty of what looked like long-term married couples eating together, although as anyone who has been married for over a decade knows, romance and moody lighting was probably low down on their list of priorities.
The Damage: A generous supper with two starters, main courses, one pudding to share and tea came in at just over £60, although we didn’t drink any alcohol.
The Anchor, 2 Hayfield Road, Oxford OX26TT, Tel: 01865510282
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Words: Clover Stroud