16 August 2008

Eating Out in the Shire

This week's A Little Place I Know column in the Grauniad featured a considerable contingent from my own neck of the words, even if Doktor Landlord pointed out that the guy who wrote the piece wasn't entirely accurate in claiming to be the co-founder of the company he works for (all three co-founders were apparently at St Jocks' at the same time as Doktor L).

The Mole is indeed a great, country gastro pub, which was refurbished a few years ago and has a really nice, light, airy dining room - perfect for those crazy English summer evenings when you aren't quite sure whether the rain will hold off. The food has always been pretty tasty too and I go there infrequently enough for the menu to change each time, meaning I've had top-notch (Oxford) bangers and mash on one occasion, salmon on another and some quirky pasta dish on another still. In the summers between university, when I could drive, I had a habit of taking visitors to the Shire from out of town for dinner at the Mole, but often ended up disappointed as I hadn't booked. Error. (Although one time, this did mean ending up at the nearby Crazy Bear instead, which wasn't exactly tragic.)

As for the Wheatley Deli, I feel a certain nostalgia for it as it's located next to the bus stop where I caught my school bus for six years. Sadly, though, the deli itself didn't open until I had left school. Years of "small town propaganda" thanks to Dawson's Creek, meant I really wished there was a local coffee shop or cafe for me to go to and read or write (even though this was 1999 and slightly before I - or the masses - had picked up my penchant for purveyor of caffeinated beverages). Still, I have whiled away many a happy afternoon there while doing time in the Shire, on those Saturdays when I really can't face driving into Oxford and playing the oh-so-fun game of hunt-the-parking-space.

As for Aziz, they do a pretty decent line in curry too (not that I am exactly a connoisseur of any curry but the very mildest). The other branch, which sits on the other side of Folly Bridge from the great Head of the River pub, and which has a nice al fresco section, is much more pleasant than the trendier Cowley Road branch in the summer.

What with Jamie Oliver's new restaurant (Jamie's Italian) opening on George Street - central Oxford's most awful street, full of chain restaurants, crap bars, dire clubs and drunken, vomiting consumers, as well as the bus station - it seems Oxford is really trying to up its game on the restaurant scene. To be honest, though, it's always been better than Nowheresville, where it is famously hard to find a happy medium between plural Michelin stars and bland, Italian chains. Little Clarendon Street and Walton Street (natch) still remain my favourite areas for dining out and drinking in Oxford - the highest proportion of independent and otherwise more interesting restaurants and bars are located there, along with the (formerly pornographic - explicit? - but now) arts cinema.

As for my own village in the Shire, it isn't exactly up in the running for any kind of award just yet. With two pubs - one terribly old fashioned and full of the local farmers and BMW workers and the other now with a barely mediocre Indian attached - but still nowhere to get a decent meal (apart from chez moi, when Maman is there, anyway).

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