Restaurant Review: The Royal Oak

I’m not a fan of the concept “gastropub”. Stuck in limbo between “pub” and “restaurant”, it doesn’t have the relaxed cosy feel of a pub, nor the sophistication of a restaurant. The food can be more about style than substance, and rarely is there a real ale in sight. There are many exceptions, of course, but if I hear a place I like has turned into a gastropub, it’s usually a place I won’t like for long.

What I am a fan of, though, is pubs with great food, which is where I would put The Royal Oak. Situated neat the split of Woodstock and Banbury roads in the city centre of Oxford, it used to just be another ordinary pub. Recently, though, it’s come under new management and they’ve gone to town on the food menu, and the results have really shown. This new menu, the chilled out atmosphere, and the fact it is open until midnight, mean it has become an attractive place to spend the evening, as many now do.

Food 9/10: I’ve now been here enough to try a few different things on the menu. My favourite has been an ox cheek pie, but since the menu changes frequently, I imagine to make use of food that is in season, the ox cheek pie wasn’t available when we visited recently. Instead we ordered from the set menu- two courses for £8.50 or three for £11.50- and between us settled on chicken and chorizo skewers, pea and watercress risotto, hake fishfingers and chips, and chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. The results were very good, the risotto being creamy and fresh and the skewers crispy and flavoursome. Superb value for money, particularly.

Drinks 8/10: A great selection of real ales, including a particular favourite of mine, Doombar. They’ve also got a couple of proper ciders on tap, Aspall’s and Addlestone’s, with the latter being a cloudy cider, a nice touch for cider fans. The whisky shelf is well stocked as well, with many regulars and a few irregulars.

A look at the wine side of things suggests The Royal Oak is more “pub” than “gastropub” though. Hard to find a wine list around the place, most are usual pub fare for wines. This isn’t necessarily a problem, given the great selection of other drinks here and the atmosphere, but don’t expect anything great.

Atmosphere and Service 7/10: The Royal Oak is a little in the mould of a country pub, with wooden pillars and old comfy chairs abound. With many smaller rooms and lower ceilings, there is a cosy feel to wherever you are. The few picnic tables make for nice sitting outside, if the sun ever returns to Oxford.

The staff there are friendly as well. Checking that everything was fine with our food was a nice touch. Not serving our meals with our request, though, was not. We wanted the starter to come out with one main, and the other main to come out with the pudding, as we were in a little bit of a rush, and when they came out as you might expect- starters, mains, puddings- we became pushed for time. Otherwise though, not a problem with the service. It is still a pub, after all.

Here, restaurants are reviewed based on some idea of restaurant expectation, not objective quality. If the latter was used, anywhere moderately affordable would look like an undesirable place to eat, given it would have much lower numbers than hugely more expensive restaurants. So if a hamburger restaurant was being looked at, 10/10 would represent a top hamburger restaurant, and 5/10 might represent a poor one. So a top class French restaurant could have lower numbers than a hamburger restaurant, but be more desirable to eat at, as it is held to higher standards. It makes sense, trust me.

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