Saturday, 14 July 2012

Ashmolean Roof Top

If you want to marvel at some Egyptian mummies, check out some Chinese ceramics or study some still-life paintings, you'd go to the Ashmolean. If you want to enjoy a post-work drink with a difference, accompanied with a tapas-style bite to eat, turns out you'd go to the Ashmolean too.

A prestigious museum isn't the first place that springs to mind when you think fine dining, but in-the-know Oxford residents have been enjoying the Ashmolean's top-floor restaurant since the museum's extensive re-fit finished in 2009. With lavish lunches and afternoon teas on offer during gallery opening hours, the Ashmolean Dining Room transforms on Thursday and Friday nights. Step through the concealed doorway on St Giles and take the lift skywards: an evening on the roof terrace awaits.

The restaurant itself is full of light, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows maximising the view of the historical Randolph Hotel and beyond to Oxford's famous spires. One of these windows is a sliding door, opening onto the terrace. Thanks to our wonderful British weather, this terrace is sadly under-exploited for much of the year, but once summer rolls around (hurry up, would you?), this space is the place to be. There's an extensive area of decking with tables and chairs for informal dining, plus a patch of real grass with deck chairs that's perfect for lounging after a hard day's work.

In addition to a well-chosen wine list, a selection of wines and beers, the Roof Top menu also offers three appropriately-named cocktails: the Randolph, the Oxford Fool Sling and the Rooftop Daiquiri £6 each). N, D, M and I tested the range between us, with the vodka and cointreau Randolph and the rum-based daiquiri winning particular praise. The watermelon flavour of the Randolph makes it the perfect summer drink. Sadly the weather on our visit didn't quite fall into the 'perfect summer' category, but we didn't let a spot of rain stop us from ploughing through the entire food menu.

With dishes designed to be shared, the Roof Top's is ideal for a sociable post-work bite (or what I like to all a pre-dinner dinner). Or, if you order everything on offer as we did, you'll have more than enough for an evening meal. The select menu features a range of 'small plates', priced £4 each or 3 for £11. There are also sharing boards featuring either meat or cheese or a combination of the two for £14.50 a pop. These nibbles are definitely pricier than a bag of crisps down your local pub, but they're also a damn sight tastier – and more filling.

Meat and cheese boards

Friday, 6 July 2012

Riverford Supper Club at Oxfork

Since the closure of The Ball Green Door, I'd been hoping for another supper club to pop up on the Oxford scene. So when news of Riverford's summer supper club at Oxfork dropped into my inbox, I was quick to sign up. The second seasonal collaboration between organic produce purveyors Riverford (best known for their fruit and veg box deliveries) and East Oxford café Oxfork promised to be a fruitful one. With both businesses keen to promote local produce and eating with the seasons, the idea of holding a supper club where Oxfork chefs whipped up a meat-free menu with Riverford goodies sounded like a winner to me.

With priority for tickets given to Riverford customers, would-be diners had to part with £25 to secure a seat at the supper club. Held on a Wednesday evening in June, the event consisted of nibbles from Riverford's new range washed down with a glass of prosecco, followed by a three-course meal. I had expected to find our fellow diners mingling and chatting on arrival, but instead everyone was seated. To be honest, apart from sharing a table for 4 with 2 other diners (the layout of Oxfork doesn't really lend itself to group dining), little about the evening was reminiscent of a supper club in the more usual sense. Perhaps 'pop-up restaurant' would be a more appropriate tag, given that the venue isn't the chef's home, but as Oxfork is a permanent fixture, that doesn't seem quite the right label either.

Semantics aside, it looked like we were in for a good evening: who doesn't like being greeted by a glass of fizz? Every seat was full; there was a lively hum running through the restaurant. N and I took our seats and sampled a selection of the pre-dinner nibbles on offer from Riverford's 'picnic' range: olives, a couple of dips accompanied with crudités, plus two pies – a homity pie and another unspecified assortment of pastry-encased veg. The homity pie in particular was tasty, with a slightly spicy flavour. As we picked at our entrées, a member of the Oxfork team and Oxford's Riverford representative Jake talked us through the way the evening would unfold: three courses, with organic beers and wines available to purchase by the glass or bottle, followed by coffee and hopefully questions with the chef.

Broad bean and cheese bruschetta

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