Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Gardener's Arms

With a cosy wood-panelled interior complemented by a log fire in winter and a beer garden for those occasional days of British summer, the Gardener's Arms on Plantation Road is a perfect unfussy English pub. Except according to their website, it's 'Oxford's premier vegetarian restaurant'. With a completely meat-free menu, at least part of that label makes sense, but without even wading into the mire of the pub-gastropub-restaurant debate, the idea that the Gardener's is a restaurant is confusing. Yes, it's currently the only place in Oxford to currently serve exclsuively vegetarian fare in the evening, but with a menu of burgers, curries and wraps, its edible offerings place the Gardener's firmly in the pub category.

Established with the aim of providing an environment where carnivores could dine with their vegetarian friends and not miss that meaty presence on their plates, much of the menu seems designed to appease meat eaters while satisfying the palates of those who forgo flesh. As a result, textured vegetable protein (TVP) makes more appearances than I'm used to seeing on vegetarian menus, with chilli and meat-substitute burgers sitting alongside vegetable-based offerings. There are plenty of the latter too: a mushroom pie, an Indian thali platter, Greek salad and a selection of calzones, among other dishes.

I opted for the thali platter (£9.95), which consisted of the curry of the day (a dhansak on this occasion) served with rice, poppadoms, mango chutney and sag aloo with some salad adding another shade of green to the plate. The dhansak was mild and tasty; the sag aloo slightly unusual with what appeared to be thick-cut chips nestling among the spinach. The portion was enough to satisfy even the hungriest of diners, and the selection of small dishes is ideal for variety-seekers (or the indecisive).

Indian thali platter
Less successful was T's Mexian platter (£9.95): chilli served in an intriguing-sounding 'boat' (which turned out to be a not at all nautical dish, sadly) topped with grilled mozzarella and served with flatbread and a tomato and red onion salsa. T was less than impressed: expecting a vegetable-packed chilli sauce, he found himself faced with a dish of over-seasoned TVP with just a few kidney beans and a rather token apperance from some green peppers. The flatbread was a little on the stale side and the salsa rather tasteless.

Mexican platter

The chilli was definitely the dud dish of the bunch: both A's veggie burger quarter-pound veggie burger (£8.50) and N's spinach, tomato, olive and feta flatbread calzone (£8.95) were much more successful. N confessed that on previous occasions, she hadn't even noticed that the burger was vegetarian: meat-eaters afraid of the green stuff should take note. Served in a basket with chips, it was certainly classic pub food: tasty, filling and unfussy.

Veggie burger
The flatbread calzone was another success: a huge portion that defeated N, it was packed with spinach, tomatoes and cheese, yet wasn't too salty despite the often thirst-inducing combination of feta and olives. We all felt it was a bit on the pricey side for something you could easily make at home, though.

Spinach, tomato, feta and olive calzone

As pubs go, the Gardener's is a winner: with a laid-back atmosphere and no indication that they would ever dare stray into over-sanitised gastro territory, it's an ideal spot to settle in for the evening with a drink or two. Despite not eating meat, I'm not entirely convinced I'd go out of my way to dine there, though: if I found myself famished over a drink there, I wouldn't hesitate to order, but I don't think I'd make a special trip to Jericho just to dine at the Gardener's. A meat-free menu in a pub is definitely a welcome sight, as drinking dens aren't exactly famed for their ability to cater well to vegetarians, but the idea that the Gardener's is a restaurant created false expectations in my head. It does good (if pricey) pub grub: if you want a burger and a pint then great, but if fine dining's what you're looking for, look elsewhere.

Verdict: 6.5

The Gardener's Arms is on Plantation Road, Jericho. Tel: 01865 559814. 


  1. Wow, that Mexican platter and the pizza look divine... I think I could be talked into going here pretty easily :) It's always good to have a vegetarian choice though (one of my daughters is a veg.)

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