Nice coffee

Wanting a coffee and somewhere to sit to do some work, I wanted to try something other than the usual high street chains such as Costa and Caffe Nero. The 58 High Street branch of Taylors in Oxford, looked nice and inviting, and the sign said they had seating inside. Great I thought, time for coffee.

I asked for a flat white and a croissant, which was part of a morning offer. Alas it was only after I ordered that I realised that the so called seating was in fact some stools at the back of the shop. The coffee was going to come in a paper cup, rather than china, and the croissant in a paper bag! Not quite what I wanted or was expecting. I had to ask if they had butter for the croissant, they gave me margarine… that isn’t butter.

The service was excellent, very friendly, warm and welcoming. Not over the top, nor in your face. You were made to feel welcome and important to them as a customer and then they ensured you knew what was happening and when. This is important if you are unsure of the process of ordering, receiving and other stuff with coffee.

So I got out the laptop and got working, the coffee was actually rather good, and the croissant was fresh.

I think this is an ideal place for takeaway, but isn’t a place to sit and do stuff whilst drinking coffee.

Time for a Thai blast from the past

When I was working in Oxford, five years ago, one of my favourite places for lunch was Sais’s Thai in the wonderful covered market. Back in 2014 I wrote about one of my lunches there. Since I left Oxford, I’ve not really had the chance to go back, or certainly no time for lunch. So it was with a little trepidation and anticipation that with time for lunch I found myself venturing into the covered market to see, if firstly Sais’s Thai was still there and if there was room for me for lunch.

Sais’s Thai

It was still there and though just before midday, it was quite crowded, but there was room for me. I could see it was still a popular place.

The menu was as interesting and tempting as I remembered, and I was particularly pleased to see two of my favourite dishes were available that day. So I went with the two dishes and rice. You queue up at the counter, expect to be shouted at a little, and you place your order, which is then plated in front of you. There are some extras, and you can also get a range of drinks. There are also bottles of chilled water (probably tap water) and glasses to have if you don’t want to buy a drink. It’s then a matter of finding a free place to sit, prepare to share your table with others.

The crispy belly pork takes deep fried pork and combines with a range of stir fried vegetables in quite a spicy sauce and Thai Basil. This is quite a hot and spicy dish, but was just as good as I remembered it.

Crispy Pork Belly

I really like this dish, so much so that I often try and recreate it at home. The combination of crispy flavoured pork, a variety of vegetables and a nice spicy sauce is delicious.

I was also pleased to see that they had a squid dish, this was a special and it was stir fried squid with vegetables in a spicy sauce.

Spicy Squid

I was really impressed with the squid, it was so tender, almost melt in the mouth. Squid in a lot of places is overcooked, so is tough and rubbery, this squid though was really soft and tasty. Full of flavour as well.

I really enjoyed my lunch, it was a real blast from the pasta and it was nice to see they had maintained their quality and range of dishes. It was a little more expensive than I remember, but okay I can live with that.

Fancy a salad

There are many places to grab lunch in Oxford, I have walked past the Art Café quite a few times as it is quite close to where I work.

The Art Café in Boon Square in Oxford, as well as being a café also does a takeaway service. I’ve not yet eaten upstairs, but have had the odd sandwich from them too. They have a nice selection, with a range of breads, interesting fillings and they are quite tasty too.

This time I chose the Chicken Pesto Salad, which includes chicken breast, mixed salad leaves, green pesto, mozzarella and pinenuts.

Chicken, mozzarella and pesto salad

It did look very nice. It comprised a bed of a variety of crisp lettuce leaves, quartered tomatoes, slices of cucumber, some slices of chicken and mozzarella. On top was, what I thought was a small amount of pesto, enough for the chicken, but not really enough for the salad, and a scattering of pinenuts.

Probably the best way to describe the salad was okay. It wasn’t disappointing, neither though was it good. It was a good sized portion for the price, however I think the main issues was that the salad, as in the lettuce and tomatoes looked good, but lacked flavour. If there was more of a dressing, this might have made up for the blandness of the salad.

Overall I much prefer the sandwiches and baguettes they sell at the Art Café and I am not sure if I will get a salad again.

Sasi’s Thai

Within the Oxford Covered Market are many places to grab lunch, either to eat there, or to take back to the office.

One place I like for lunch is Sasi’s Thai in the Oxford covered market. They serve a variety of Thai dishes, as well as salads, cakes and coffee.

They have a counter, the food is cooked in an upstairs kitchen, and a range of tables, chairs and soft chairs. It can get busy, so you can’t always get a seat. It’s quite a nice and busy environment, with a pleasant ambience. If it is too busy you can always do take away.

My usual choice is either a single selection from their range of dishes or two served with rice.

This time I chose the chicken with cashew nuts and the crispy pork with basil.

Thai #photo365

The chicken dish was fresh and tasty with good flavours and I always enjoy the crunch of the cashew nuts. The crispy pork consists of deep fried pork belly combined with Thai basil, peppers, onions and chilli. Tasty combination of flavours and textures long with a nice bit with the chilli.

If I was to make one criticism I do think that sometimes their portions are a little on the small side, but that is just a minor point. The day I took the photograph above, the dish was a good size.

Their range of dishes include green and red curries, egg and cinnamon soup, pad thai I have also had some quite nice fish dishes too.

I’ve not yet tried the salad or even the coffee, but the food is great and well worth checking out.

Not such a long queue today

Oxford covered market | 2


Within the Oxford Covered Market are many places to grab lunch, either to eat there, or to take back to the office.

The Alpha Bar is one of the most popular establishments, so much so, that the long queues usually put me off from buying lunch from there. Another problem with their popularity is that they often run out of their popular dishes. As a result I don’t go there as often as I probably would like to.

Today the queue was short, so I managed to grab a nice salad. There is plenty of choice, and you can choose small or large. Take a main, such as chicken, feta, tofu or as I chose, grilled halloumi. You then choose a couple of sides, I went with the orzo and pesto, with the cous cous. There are a range of toppings, including pesto, hummus or as I chose, some olives. The halloumi was freshly grilled, which was good, the rest of the salad was tasty and fresh and I thought good value at £3.95.

In addition there are a range of hot choices, such as Tuscan Beef served with potatoes or rice.

As well as food, there are a range of drinks available, and surprising for me I’ve not tried the coffee.

The Alpha Bar does have a few tables outside, but this is generally a place to buy lunch to take away. It does some great food and it is really good value for money. The only real downside for me, is that it is that good, that there are often long queues, so I am often forced to miss them out.

Image via Howard Stanbury on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Pie with all the trimmings

I mentioned in a previous post how much I had enjoyed pie and mash at Pie Minister. The Pie Minister in the Oxford Covered Market on a Tuesday has a special offer, basically any pie with all the trimming for just £5, the usual price is £7.95 so quite a good saving.

Normally I can’t get in on a Tuesday as, you might well expect, the queues are quite long. I generally don’t have a lot of time for lunch, but also I don’t like queueing! However on a recent Tuesday I was lucky to get in quite quickly. The place was busy though. 

I went with the traditional steak and kidney or as they call it Kate and Sidney. This was served with mash, gravy, a side order of mushy peas and topped with cheese and crispy onions.

Pie with all the trimmings

It certainly looked the part. I did enjoy the pie which was full of a rich delicious filling, big chunks of steak and kidney combined with a nice crunchy pastry shell. The mash was smooth and well seasoned, the mushy peas were also very nice. However I am not sure if the cheese added anything, there was something rather disconcerting about biting into a portion of hot pie with cold cheese, in some ways it was a little unpleasant. If I go again, though I will go with the mushy peas, I will avoid the cheese!

Pie and Mash

Pie and mash

In all this cold weather there is something very comforting about pie and mash. Very much a comfort food, it’s not something I actually eat very often.

A chance discovery in the Oxford Covered Market introduced me to the delights of the Pie Minister. I am sure that it is supposed to be pronounced MIN-IS-TER, for some reason I have in my head it should be pronounced MINS-TER as in York Minster. I just think Pie Minster sounds much better than Pie Minister. It’s a lovely little place in the market and despite the fact it is called a market, this is not a stall, it’s a small restaurant (well probably more like a cafe) in the heart of the market. The Oxford Covered Market is a lovely quirky place in the heart of Oxford with lots of lovely stalls, shops and places to eat. If you ever visit Oxford then do visit the market.

Pie Minster on first appearances, feels more like a wartime soup kitchen, than a restaurant, there is a counter where you place your order. You can take away or eat in. If you want to, you can buy the pies to take away. Within Pie Minister there are communal benches with tables, that have a variety of sauces on them, as well as bottles of tap water and glasses. There are also bar stools by the window with space to eat.

Pie Minister offers a range of pies with a wide variety of fillings. From the traditional steak and kidney or as they call it Kate and Sidney, through to vegetarian pies such the Wild Shroom, with wild mushrooms, asparagus, white wine & cream.

On my first visit I went with the Deerstalker Pie, with British venison and outdoor reared dry cured bacon with red wine and puy lentils. This I had served on a bed of mash with gravy. You can add more trimmings, but I decided to stick with just pie, mash and gravy. It was quite reasonable at £6.00.

This was served on a tin plate, which added to that atmosphere of a wartime soup kitchen. The pie was really really good. Often when you have pie, it is either a small stew with a puff pastry lid (that is often cooked separately), or it’s a huge pie which you cut into find it’s full of space and there is a small amount of filling at the bottom. No the pie at Pie Minister was full of delicious filling full of flavour, the pastry had a good crunch. The mash was smooth and well seasoned and the gravy was not too thick and not too thin. It added to the dish and did not overpower it, it tasted as gravy should and didn’t appear to be made from a gravy packet.

I really did enjoy the pie and would certainly recommend Pie Minister. There are a fair few branches across the south and they also have a market stall that visits those farmers’ markets that are now a regular feature of most high streets.

Eat beautiful?

itsu Oxford

I hadn’t heard or seen an itsu restaurant or shop before, but I was out in Oxford and found their branch on Cornmarket Street. They have been in London for a while, since 1999 according to the website.

The blurb says

The early pioneers of Pret are the creative force behind itsu.

Years of listening and reacting to customers encouraged us to build a new type of food place dedicated to skinny but delicious food; sixty two dishes- light, green and good for you.

Apparently the secret to Pink Floyd’s breathtaking music is as much about what they left out as what they put in; a bit like itsu, less fat, more bounce.

There was a lot of choice and within the different types of food on offer lots of variation. It was quite difficult to decide on what to choose.

The salads looked great, well presented, as did the sushi. The food looked fresh and inviting. The shelves were well stocked and there was a lot of choice.

itsu salad boxes in Oxford

I was tempted by a box of sushi, but as the weather outside was cold and wet, I went with the chicken and rice “potsu”. It is described as chargrilled chicken, ithai sauce, kombu relish, brown + wild rice & seven veg.

itsu Chargrilled Chicken Potsu

It was rather nice, filling and tasty. The chargrilled chicken was full of flavour, and the vegetables were fresh and had a nice crunch. The sauce was very spicy and in some ways I could see how some people might find it overpowering, but I did like it. It was nice to eat something very different for lunch, something that wasn’t a sandwich or the ubiquitous panini.

It was an interesting environment in which to eat, there were raised communal tables with high stools. It certainly is a good place to go if you are in a group, and I am sure in a place like Oxford with lots of students they are trying to attract that market. The decor and colours are best described as bright and colourful, very different from the dark and wood you find in coffee shops.

I enjoyed the food, quite liked the environment and was inspired by the menu. I will certainly go again.

Oxfordian French

I was recently invited for a meal out in, of all places, Oxford. The choice was Pierre Victoire, an independent family run French style restaurant. This is no way a regular haunt so was interested to see what the food was going to be like. What surprised me the most was how crowded the place was for a Wednesday evening. True there were a couple of big groups in, but it appeared to me that every table was taken. I don’t think I was the only one that was surprised, I got the feeling the staff were surprised too. They took our orders and then forty minutes later took them again as the original order had gone “missing”. Later on the desert choices went missing too! In the end we were in the restaurant for four hours, in reality I think it could have been much shorter. I did note though that other people weren’t getting forgotten as we were.

I really liked the atmosphere and the design of the place, it felt rustic French to me, no pretentions, this was going to be good solid French cooking, no messing. There were no fancy tablecloths for example. I don’t go to France much these days (okay the last time was nearly twenty years ago) but my memories of the restaurants I use to eat at, were family run affairs with great food. They weren’t chains with system cooking, these places cooked their food from fresh and used good local ingredients.

The house wine was a rough and ready red wine that wasn’t unpleasant, but did lack finesse, however that didn’t really matter as this was rustic restaurant and the wine suited this environment just fine.

The menu wasn’t too short, but also wasn’t excessively long either. I always worry about huge menus, how on earth do they manage to keep the ingredients fresh for such a range of choices. If you have a huge kitchen with lots of chefs and lots of covers then fine, I understand, but a small place with not too many covers you sometimes think how? Well actually I know how, the places use tins and jars. I remember going to an Italian restaurant in London and they had one of these huge menus, I distinctly recall the tomato sauce I had on my pasta was from a jar, it certainly wasn’t fresh. So looking over the menu at Pierre Victoire I wasn’t disappointed with the number of choices I was inspired and looking forward to ordering and eating.

For my starter my immediate reaction was to go with the pigeon breast, roasted pink and served with sweet potato, a red wine jus and parsnip chips. Upon reflection I did quite like the idea of the Moules or the Crab Salad. However in the end I went with my first choice of the pigeon.

pigeon breast, roasted pink and served with sweet potato, a red wine jus and parsnip chips

This was beautifully cooked, pink, tender and lots of flavour. The red win jus was just right and had the potential to be salty, but was seasoned perfectly. I did enjoy the parsnip chips and the sweet potato, but did think that there was slightly too much of the sweet potato. As a result for a starter it was quite a substantial dish. Having said that, it was beautifully cooked and I really enjoyed it.

For my main course I was torn between a range of dishes. I did like the sound of the chicken, Suprême de Volaille, a chicken breast roasted with a baby spinach & wild mushroom farce and served with gratin dauphinoise and a red wine reduction. However I always seem to be cooking chicken at home, so really wanted something other than chicken (but it did sound nice).

The steak and frites (chips) would have been the “boring” choice, so that was another item on the menu eliminated.

I really did quite like the idea of the roasted duck magret and confi’d duck leg served on a leek and potato rosti with a blackberry and ginger sauce, but as I had had the pigeon for a starter,I felt it would have been too similar a dish.

In the end I went with Moules~Frites, the fresh Cornish mussels served marinières à la crème.

Moules~Frites, the fresh Cornish mussels served marinières à la crème

The mussels were lovely and fresh, there was a good sized portion and they were delicious. Slight criticism was that the diced onion in the sauce was undercooked, but apart from that it was a dish full of flavour and very satisfying. I also really enjoyed the pommes frites that were the right size and texture.

I did like that the restaurant also served bread and unsalted President butter along with the meal, perfect as an appetiser and to mop up juices and sauce.

Desert for me was a no brainer, it was going to the cheese. Well so I thought, I did for a second or two consider the hazelnut desert however the thought of plate of cheese won out. Someone else did order the hazelnut dish and I didn’t think that much of it. I was expecting more of a pave, a slab of sweet terrine (or pate), but what they had was very different.

The cheese and accompaniments arrived on a wooden chopping board. Alongside the three portions of cheese consisting of Saint Albray, Roquefort and Camembert Artisan, was bread, biscuits, celery, grapes and chutney.

Saint Albray, Roquefort and Camembert Artisan

Didn’t eat the celery, don’t like celery, never liked it. Cheese was good, even the strong Roquefort was nice with the chutney.

Overall a delicious meal and some great company too. I finished my meal off with a single espresso which was perfect.

We chose from the “Party Menu” which was £21 for three courses.