Herewith a guide to eating in and out in and around Oxford:
The absolute best restaurant in the region is fairly obviously Raymond Blanc's Manoir au Quat'Saisons at Great Milton, about eight or nine miles east of the city. Sensational food, wonderful place, perfect service. Also fantastically expensive. Lucy and I ate there on my birthday (two days before our wedding) a couple of years ago. Total bill for two = GBP260. But without doubt the best meal of my life. Best dish - a chocolate and pistachio souffle. Totally welcoming and friendly, unlike some upscale restaurants I've eaten in. They have a fair bit of accommodation now. It looks lovely, but it's very, very expensive. OK for rich Americans or City boys I expect.
In the city itself, the food scene is developing apace. My favourites:
Le Petit Blanc (Raymond's first brasserie; he now has places in Cheltenham and Birmingham too) on Walton Street, about a ten minute walk from the city centre. Interesting mix of cuisine grand-mere and modern influences. I once had rabbit 'facon Maman Blanc' with a mustard sauce that was excellent, but made my wife think I was eating cat. GBP30/head and upwards, depending on what you drink.
Loch Fyne: a new place, also on Walton Street, owned by the Scottish seafood producers, part of a growing chain. Ate there for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Average to mediocre fish soup, OK smoked mackerel pate, fabulous plat de fruits de mer. GBP 23 for the shellfish platter, which I thought terrific value. Nice bottle of white Chinon from an estate I hadn't come across before too. They have a fishmongering option too - must try it.
Livebait: in the city centre, the same operation as the two London Livebaits. Just opened in the last month. A friend of mine has a summer job in the kitchen, she says the chef is a psycho but the food is good. I haven't eaten there yet.
La Gousse d'Ail: opened earlier this year in the building previously housing the Lemon Tree restaurant in North Oxford, about two miles from the city centre. Chef-prop Jonathan Wright was previously head chef at Le Manoir. Clearly aiming for Michelin recognition. Has had some good write-ups in the papers; I haven't been there yet, but a cursory glance at the menu tells you it's a) ambitious and b) expensive. Up to GBP90 per person for the tasting menus. One friend who's been there says it's not as good as it should be at the price. I want to go but am short of cash ATM.
Chiang Mai Kitchen: Thai place, slap bang in the city centre, in a very beautiful old building. I'm not an expert on Thai food, but I've always enjoyed eating here. There isn't much Thai in Oxford; this may not be authentic, but the atmosphere is pleasant and the food is good. GBP20 and upwards per person, again, depending on what you eat.
There are now three Lebanese restaurants in Oxford. Dunno why the proliferation. Al-Shami is the oldest established; a Good Food Guide regular for at least 12 years, it's on a backstreet in the rapidly gentrifying Jericho area. I think it's resting on its laurels. We eat Lebanese quite regularly, and I don't think Al-Shami has it anymore. Al-Salam has been open for a couple of years on Park End Street near the railway station. Not a prepossessing location, but the food is excellent, with the exception of some of the side dishes. I particularly like the sujuq (Armenian sausages); the grills are good too. I haven't tried the chicken shawarma, so can't say whether it passes the Howler test. They occasionally have a belly dancer, which is entertaining if disconcerting. The third Lebanese place is called Restaurant du Liban; it is newish and located above Boswell's department store in the city centre. Apparently they have bellydancers every night. I haven't been. It looks pricier than the others.
The best Indian food I've found is at Aziz, half way down the Cowley Road. Bangla stuff, so probably not for Howler, but not as greasy and made with better ingredients than the usual muck.
I've not found ANY decent Chinese food in Oxford.
IMO the best pizza in town is at the Gourmet Pizza Company on Gloucester Green. Apparently they have a couple of places in London too. I only go there for the English Breakfast pizza which features brilliant black pudding.
There is good snack and deli food, as well as brilliant food shopping, to be found in the Covered Market. The cheesemonger is outstanding, and there are several excellent butchers. I particular rate Feller's, who specialise in organic meat.
Pub food is up and down. Takeout is variable as ever, but I strongly recommend Peppers' burger bar at the top of Walton Street. I recommend the blue cheese dressing.
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