Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Category: England: Oxford

Food Friday: Oli’s Thai, Oxford

I grew up in Oxford. For the first 18 years of my life, the city never seemed to change. Admittedly there were a few restaurants, shops and clubs that you could guarantee would have swapped hands each time you came home from a term at university, but other than that you always knew where you stood with Oxford (usually at Carfax Tower, waiting for a friend running late because of traffic and/or an overdue bus).

Obviously some things always – will always – stay the same. Which isn’t a bad thing; I’m always surprised by how comforting I find the site of the old colleges or passing Christ Church meadows.

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The food and drink scene, however, is another story entirely. Every time I come back there seems to be about three new places to try. This time was the turn of Oli’s Thai on Magdalen Road, which had been receiving rave reviews.

Oli’s Thai opened last summer and is a real family affair. Not only is it run by husband-and-wife team Ru and Ladd, who met working a local Thai restaurant (Chiang Mai), but the eponymous Oli is their four-year-old son. I don’t know whether it’s because I knew that before going, but, despite the simple (but nice!) decor, the restaurant also seems to have a ‘homely’ feel that makes it really feel like a family-run business – partly because of the friendly staff, and partly because it’s so small. I think I counted five tables, not including the seats at the bar in the window. Despite this, they hadn’t crammed the tables in – which you might expect considering they were turning people away later in the night – so you never feel like you’re on top of your surrounding diners.

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That said, the first thing we actually noticed was the amazing smell. So mouths already watering and stomachs rumbling, we decided to share some prawn crackers to start. These came with perhaps the best peanut satay dip I’ve ever tasted. My friend, K, also had some sweetcorn fritters and chilli sauce. I was forced to try one (all in the name of research and enabling K to eat her main course, obviously). They too were brilliant – really fresh and just the right amount of crumbly. And this is coming from someone who’s not a huge sweetcorn fan.

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For mains, I went for the duck penang curry (at £10, the most expensive thing on the menu), a leg of duck served on the bone, covered in a tomato-y-coconutty curry sauce and served with green beans. It was amazing. The meat was tender but its skin crisp and the sauce was equally as perfect. K went for the aubergine curry (£7.50), which she said was really, really good. Both dishes came with plenty of sticky, white rice; it was only afterwards I realised how refreshing it was that this was part of the menu price.

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Despite the restaurant being full (we booked, which I’d definitely recommend) and their aforementioned having to turn people away, we weren’t rushed at all throughout our meal. And that’s even without us being particularly big spenders – the shared prawn crackers, starter, 2 mains and 2 alcoholic drinks (a beer and a cider) came to just £18 each, including tip.

Overall it was a great evening – great food in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. Although there may be plenty of new restaurants to try in Oxford, I can see me forgoing them to come back here many, many times.

The details
Oli’s Thai
38 Magdalen Road, Oxford, OX4 1RB
http://olisthai.com/
Booking: Recommended. Only taken by phone, 01865 790223

Photos
1st photo courtesy of TripAdvisor
Exterior photo of Ru and Ladd and second interior photo from Foodie on Tour
Photos of prawn crackers and curries my only, please credit if re-using

Food Friday: The Mole Inn, Toot Baldon, Oxfordshire

Two apologies this week: one for the lack of a Food Friday last week. I have no good excuse for it… Secondly, I forgot to take my camera to this restaurant and it’s lacking in food photos on Google Images. So I’m afraid you’re just going to have to imagine how good it looks. But there are interior shots, and it’s pretty, so I hope that makes up for it in some way!

It’s always useful to have a fall-back restaurant. Somewhere close by where you can guarantee a good meal. In my last year in London, it was The Stag in Hampstead. In my university years at Cardiff, Daiquiris (or, um, Gassy Jack‘s) – quite different, admittedly, but by no means inferior. In John’s hometown in Stroud, it’s Nailsworth’s Passage to India or The Amberley Inn.

All of these restaurants Food Friday-worthy in their own rights (and almost certainly will feature in one soon.). But a few weeks ago my family found ourselves celebrating my birthday at our standard special occasion haunt in Oxford, The Mole Inn.

The Mole Inn exterior. Photo Credit: Roger Sweet

Situated about five miles from Oxford city centre in the village of Toot Baldon, The Mole Inn is more like a restaurant than the pub – or even gastro-pub – suggested by its name. It even has two AA Rosettes for Culinary Excellence and has held a Michelin Bib Gourmand listing since 2005. Yet it still retains the charm and homliness you’d expect from a village local. It’s just a bit brighter and more focused on food than drink (there isn’t really a separate drinking area for example, unless you’re waiting for a table or sit outside). The floors are tiled and wooden, the décor country kitchen (as done by Country Life) and brick fireplaces are set into the walls. John is a particular fan of the thick, wavy wooden bar. The staff are always incredibly friendly, too, adding to the cosy feel.

And then there’s the food. I’ve been to The Mole a good number of times and I genuinely don’t think I’ve had even an average meal there. This visit was no exception. To start, I tried the chicken koftas. In squares rather than the kebab-shapes I’d expected, they were tasty and not too dense. The sweetcorn salsa tasted like sweet chilli sauce and added a nice touch, as did the radish tzatziki.

John went for the calamari with aioli, which he helpfully describes as ‘wonderful’. I’ve had them before and can confirm that he is telling the truth. There’s quite a lot of them though, so come prepared with a hungry stomach!

The lovely interior. Photo Credit: Where’s Best

Dad chose the duck, which, although being quite a lot of salad still went down well, Mum enjoyed her thai fish cakes. My sister sampled the only vegetarian option, Goats Cheese croquettes. They looked – and apparently tasted – great, though could easily have been a small main – they were huge!

Mains were equally satisfying. As is tradition, I had the steak. This time it was a bit on the medium side of medium-rare, but it was still really tender and tasty, and the garlic and tarragon butter was nice if a little messy and greasy! The fat chips are always amazing, too.

John enjoyed his usual of the fish & chips, his only comment being that he wished they offered the option of fat chips with the dish (not that the skinny ones aren’t good, but who doesn’t want fat chips when they have the chance?). Mum had the beef bourginon, which she said was lovely, Dad had the fish mixed grill which looked pretty tasty – and I hate fish! Unfortunately there was only one vegetarian option again for Hannah, linguine with wild mushrooms. Not hugely exciting, but it did come as a huge portion size – she said it was good, but quite rich, and that, combined with the portion size, meant she could only eat about half of the dish.Though that could also have had something to do with the aforementioned size of her starter…

Although we were too full to eat dessert this time, from previous experience I know that they’re definitely worth leaving space for if you can.

At £6.95+ for starters, £15.95+ for mains (except the vegetarian option, which is £13.95), £5.95+ for desserts, and wine starting at £17.50 a bottle The Mole Inn isn’t cheap – it’s our ‘special occasion’ haunt for a reason! But it’s worth it now and again for the good food in great surroundings, and the staff are always brilliant – the Chief Proprietor even comments on every TripAdvisor review. It’s more than worth the venture out of the city centre. Just make sure you book first!

The Information
The Mole Inn, Toot Baldon
Location: Toot Baldon, Oxfordshire, OX44 9NG
You can view menus here
Bookings: Phone 01865 340001

Weekend wanders

One of the best things about living in Didcot – especially in summer – is how close you are to the countryside. Within a 10 minute cycle of our house there’s some lovely cycle/footpaths which lead to nearby villages via endless fields boasting gorgeous views. More importantly, both East Hagbourne to the south and Long Wittenham in the north are home to some great pubs, complete with beer gardens – the perfect (arguably essential) accompaniment to any country walk or cycle. The Fleur de Lys in East Hagbourne does particularly good baguettes and has incredibly friendly staff. Long Wittenham’s Vine & Spice is more of a restaurant, offering Indian food, but its large beer garden is perfect for enjoying a mid-walk pint.

Didcot Power Station from Route 44. Hazy glow courtesy of Instagram.

Another great thing about these paths is that they are mostly flat (or at least the bit from Didcot to Upton definitely is) – perfect for a relaxing cycle or walk regardless of your ability or age. The majority of them are off-road too, so great for families or less confident cyclists – and just in general (there’s no denying that no cars makes for a much more pleasant journey!).

The Fleur de Lys, East Hagbourne. Photo Credit: Oxfordshire Churches on Flickr
Mid-walk treat in the Vine & Spice beer garden.

This weekend we took on Route 44, an 11-mile route south of Didcot. Although we only ventured as far as Upton this time we’re already planning our next adventure down to The Ridgeway, a trail along one of the oldest roads in Europe. Though judging by my slightly red palms today, I might just have to invest in some cycling gloves first!

Your Spirits Will Sour, on Route 44 (Sorry..!) Photo Credit: Visit Oxfordshire

The Details

Cycle Path Information: Sustrans provides information on routes across the UK and free maps. South Oxfordshire & Didcot information can be found here.

Getting Here: First Great Western run regular trains to Didcot Parkway run from London Paddington (45 minutes), Oxford (15 minutes) and The West (Bristol Temple Meads is 1 hour away). Visit First Great Western for more details, and information on which routes allow bicycles on board.

Staying here: See TripAdvisor for information on local B&Bs and hotels.

Fields of green on Route 44