Category Archives: Bars

Bang – it’s back

The launch party certainly set the scene of announcing the fact that the Big Bang was back, for anyone that fancies a British! There was: wine; jazz; sausage and a huge number of sausage lovers. After attending the launch party several weeks ago, I thought it was time to try the Big Bang in its new setting for a proper sit down meal, with friends.

 

It was the start of the dark nights, the Oxford Castle Quarter had decorated their trees with white lights, making me feel slightly festive and it was early November. Tsk.
On arrival we were seated at our table, personalised with a name and time in pen. Keeping the raw and simplistic element that I’ve always enjoyed about the Big Bang. The menu is in a newspaper format, still on issue number one, inside, you’ll find sharing platters, roasts, drinks, puddings and most importantly, sausages, mashes and gravies.

 All in all the start of the evening in the castle complex seemed quiet, for a Thursday night. Our waitress came along and took our drinks order and talked us through the specials. I was however focussed on one thing, sausages. 
I opted for a trio, due to indecisiveness if I’m honest. I went for 1 wild mushroom and garlic sausage, 1 thai spiced sausage and 1 stilton and walnut sausage. this was accompanied with my choice of mustard mash and the red wine gravy.
My friends went for trios too, including the toulouse, the cheapskates and the wild venison, going on memory. Between the three of us we tasted 9 of the Big Bangs sausages, which can’t be bad going for the first evening visit.

 

Max Mason, has made the Big Bang what it is today. His personality and passion has got his sausages on the map, and that map is for now in Oxford. I know people who do not live in Oxford, who have come to Oxford just because they were told the Big Bang was back.

For pudding there was one answer from our table. STP. Delicious.

The service for the evening was spot on, considering our seat was fairly hidden from the main bar and visible area, we were not missed by the waitresses or Max. By the end of the evening the restaurant had certainly picked up in customers. I had initially been worried that the venue might rattle with an echo, like a canteen. I was wrong, the venue was comfortable, smart and works well for the new Big Bang home. So if you hadn’t heard already… The Big Bang is back. Max is back. And sausages are on the Oxford map again. Phew.

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Cafe Cocos Cowley road

Last week I met up with my recently married friends, this was the first time I’d caught up with them since the big day.

Cafe Cocos and Kazbar sit on Cowley road near St Clements, between them sits an alfresco dining area, which always reminds me of summer holidays spent in Spanish squares surrounded by restaurants and bars.

Cocos has that holiday feel to it this is created by decor and atmosphere, the relaxed vibe is clear to passers-by, the large windows that wrap around the restaurant show off the venue inside. Coco’s serves breakfast lunch and dinner and if you don’t want food? It’s not a problem!  They have plenty of cocktails and happy hours too. There are two Coco’s in Oxford, the original one is on Cowley road and the second, slightly larger venue is near the train station.

I hadn’t been to Cowley roads, Café Cocos for an absolute age, but when I returned I opted for my favourite pizza, prawn saganaki, no matter how tempting the king prawn and coriander sounds I’ve not yet moved on to it.

Prawn Saganaki £9.55 king prawns, feta cheese, tomatoes, spring onions & garlic

My friends both had a Merguez & tzatziki each. This was the first visit for Rich and I suspect that he may return again, the pizzas were certainly enjoyed.

Merguez & tzatziki £9.35 spicy beef & lamb sausage, spinach, onions, peppers, garlic, mozzarella & topped with cooling tzatziki

To drink we had: 2 x Peroni £3.and 1 Cocktail £6

I think that £41 between 3 people for an evening is not bad going!

The service is friendly and relaxed, and you don’t feel that they want to boot you out of the door once you’re finished. The only slight grumble would be that we were left for a little too long between clearing the tables and getting the bill, fine for a Friday or Saturday night, but not on a weekday.

As the sun and the heat will be with us at least for the weekend and I suspect summer holidays away are a little while off most peoples’ radars, why not take yourself down to Cocos this weekend? You never know, you could be in another country in no time, without the jetlag, depending on how many cocktails you have!

http://www.cafe-coco.co.uk/

The Oxford Blue – Marston Street

Between Iffley Road and Cowley Road sits the Oxford Blue on Marston Street. And it’s changed!
There are wine boxes decorating the back of the bar, a bird flying through a mirror and a moose head over a table. This pub has become a more artistic spot, it’s more about its food and wine, and I hope it continues to grow. From what I’ve seen so far it’s good. Price wise its sensible: £12.50 being the most for a main course. Between £4 – £7 for a glass of wine. There is: Bar food; Starters; Mains; Platters; Sides and Desserts.

On my first visit to the new Oxford Blue, I had the Cheese platter to share – £10.50 Oxford Blue, Manchego, Westcombe Cheddar, Oxford Isis, Mebrillo. And a money bag of croutons – these were kept warm by the bag! The service was friendly and the barman was chatty, he suggested that we have the Charcuterie platter next time as it was also very good. I’ll opt for the Vegetarian platter next time but it’s clear that good produce is key to the new Oxford Blue.

After a great first visit and lunch, I decided last to try the Sunday lunch. I follow @TheOxfordBlue on twitter and often see tweets highlighting their variety of meat, they specialize in rare breed free range meats and Organic Vegetables. After further investigation their vegetarian options are good too, so I went ahead and booked via twitter, so if you’re on twitter and fancy a change give them a tweet and book in. If you don’t follow them already find them: @TheOxfordBlue

Last Sunday I selected my lunch from the specials board, opting for the Smoked haddock – this was a dish with a white cheesy sauce with tender stem broccoli, and perfectly runny poached egg on the top. The fish was delicious, I haven’t had smoked fish for a while and it certainly reminded me to have it more.

Slow roast belly of Gloucester Old Spot Pork & spiced Apple Sauce. This went down well and ended with a clean plate. Apparently the crackling was ‘Awesome’ as well as tasty, the nice big Yorkshire pudding went down a treat too, it’s rare to get them as good.

 

We shared the: Warm Chocolate Brownie with hot fudge sauce, this is unusual, purely because I’m not normally drawn to chocolaty puddings. This was a good choice after having warming Sunday dinners. I did feel unable to move for a short while afterwards! #Piglet

It was quite quiet for what I’d usually expect for most pubs on a Sunday, especially with such a great menu choice on offer. Perhaps this is because the usual crowd have moved on? Or those that weren’t keen before aren’t aware of the changes inside! So step off the main routes, wander down Marston Street and you’ll find some good food and wine. Mothers Day is around the corner and she wouldn’t be disappointed with this venue.

So it might not be the sports pub that it used to be but so what!? I admit I was slightly dismayed at first: ‘Where should I watch the boat race this year?!’
However there is plenty on offer @TheOxfordBlue
Wine tasting with nibbles night, they had one back in Feb and have plans to host another one in April. I couldn’t make it in Feb but hope to be available in April!
They also have monthly Jazz on the 3rd Wednesday of each month, so if you like jazz set the reminder in your phone and turn up!

You can sign up to their mailing list to keep up to date with all things new: http://www.theoxfordblue.com/

Jude the Obscure, Jericho

Jericho

After a bit of Oxford shopping at the weekend we found ourselves over by The Randolph hotel, so decided to keep walking and head on into Jericho, as we had an afternoon with no great plans, which is rare! We turned into Little Clarenden Street, which is a lovely narrow one way street always decorated with white lights, criss crossing down the street, so no need for christmas decorations. This one street is packed with multiple restaurants, a wine shop, a hairdressers, a variety of unique shops from kitchen appliances to wedding dresses and a cocktail bar to complete the street.

Turning onto Walton street, the main street in Jericho, you will find a couple of cocktail bars, Raouls is a personal favourite of mine. Sadly  over the road from Raouls, several shops/restaurants were recently closed down, due to the ‘need’ of using the building for another use, so across the street is looking quite different from how it had done previously.

Jude the Obscure

Previously I’d only ever sat in the side garden of this pub, which has a great sun spot on a sunny day, there is also some seating at the front, either side of the entrance. Last weekend it was a ‘sit inside day’, although sunny it was certainly not warm! The pub wasn’t full but there were several large groups in the pub ready to eat after their day shopping in the city Centre. The curved steps leading into arched doorway make for a unique and attractive entrance. As you walk in, the bar is in front of you in the middle of the pub.

The tables and chairs are scattered throughout the pub, leaving the bar as a centre-piece. The venue has a mix of dark wood paneling and light walls, which are covered in brightly coloured old posters advertising various plays, films and musicals. We took a window seat, to watch the world go by, the seating was comfortable and had a homely feel to it. The large mirrors on the walls make the pub feel light, despite the dark wood. There was only one member of staff on the bar in the middle of a weekend lunch service, apparently the number 2 had not turned up. But the staff member that was on her own kept her cool and did a great job juggling the drinks orders as well as keeping an ear out for the kitchen food to be ready for service.

   

What we ate:

Hand-battered Halloumi Fries With red pepper and chilli dip. (v) £2.95
Middle Eastern Hummus With flatbread and crudités. (v) £3.95

This was ideal for the nibble that we wanted on that afternoon. Had we wanted a larger meal there was plenty to choose from, as well as some good meal deals and offers for those on a budget on the run up to Christmas.

With my nibble I had a lovely glass of New Zealand white wine. The name escapes me, however it was not your average plonk that you may sometimes happily have in a pub on a Saturday. The variety of beer, ale and cider would also suit anyone that gets bored with the standard stuff.

Overall this pub was well priced, good service (considering the staff situation), and generally a nice atmosphere, in the peaceful suburb of Jericho, if you’ve not been for a while pop in, I think the mulled wine will be up and running by now.

Bang goes the Sausage

So it’s true, after 7 years, the time has finally come around that the Big Bang will be closing. I was lucky enough to have an excuse to go last night. (Not that you need an excuse!) If you’ve not been already then I can’t belive it, but if for some bonkers reason this is true, then you now have until the 30th August 2011 to give it a go. It’s on Walton Street and currently looks like the Union Flag!

Last night it was heaving, like a great Friday night restaurant should be. Top floor, street level and the basement were full with hungry sausage fans. In the Basement, where we were located there was a great vibe. It was like a game of sardines, (one where you get a table and elbow room mind), other tables were encouraged to move up to make room to seat our table to sit down.

Another table had a birthday party and when they started to sing, Max Mason flew down the stairs to present the birthday girl with a free drink! His enthusiasm certainly makes you enjoy your evening even more.

Our service was speedy but our evening was relaxed, there was no rush to eat up and go, which pleased the birthday girl in our party. Our table selected their sausage combos. You can have what is suggested on the menu; which is 2 sausages, a particular mash and a well matched gravy. Alternatively you can mix it up and select exactly what you want, mixing your sausages, the variety of mash and your choice of gravy.

There were two vegetarians in our group, myself and the birthday girl there are 4 choices for the vegetarians, which is pretty good, especially when you know that they are all full of flavour and taste of the contents that you expect. A few others opted for ‘the ‘big bang trio’ due to wanting to try as much as possible, and some of our group went for an option straight from the menu with no mix ups.

The plates arrived: sausages, Mash, Gravy, Cabbage and Peas. x 7.
I had chosen 1 walnut and Stilton sausage (warning contains nuts), 1 garlic and mushroom sausage, a mustard mash, and a Stilton gravy. The garlic and mushroom sausage had a good boost of garlic. My favourite one of the two that evening was the walnut and Stilton sausage, it had a great Stilton flavour, possibly helped by my Stilton gravy too,  the walnuts were most definitely inside, giving the sausage a good strong flavour.

I don’t think anyone is missing out here by picking the vegetarian sausages, but the meat sausages here are great quality. (You don’t have to eat them to say that, you can see it for yourself!).

Max Mason’s The Big Bang, shows no sign of slowing down, despite having less than 2 weeks to go in the current venue and currently nowhere else to go. The energy that Max has for this place will, I hope, get The Big Bang re opening in Oxford very soon, his website ‘news page’ has talked about this: ‘There are currently no sites in this darned costly town where we can afford to move back in, so if anyone knows of anyone who has pots of money and would like to invest, please send them for a sausage in our final week.’
http://www.thebigbangrestaurants.co.uk/ee/index.php/news/news-item/going_out_with_a_bang_closing_after_7_years/

If when The Big Bang has gone you fancy doing a DIY sausage and mash feast of your own, head down to the Covered Market in Oxford. I would suggest going to ‘David John Butchers’ they sell similar sausages that you find on the menu at The Big Bang, both Meat and Vegetarian. It’s not a replacement idea, but a useful to know temporary filler, until the restaurant revives somewhere else in Oxford.

We finished our evening at Raouls bar, a short crossing of the road was all that was needed. This bar is a favourite of mine it’s always buzzing. It sits on two levels the basement and the street view. It’s well-known for its coctails and has a menu/book of cocktails, which if it wasn’t for the desire of having a very tasty drink as soon as you get in there, it could take you a while to read. I find the best tactic with Raouls is to ask the bar staff if they know your favourite tipple and see if they can recommend an alternative slant, that they think you’d like. You might surprise yourself.

That evening I had a Flower Power Sours;
3 Parts ABSOLUT MANDRIN
2 Parts Lemon Juice
1 Splash Elderflower Cordial
1 Part Mandarines Liqueur
1 Splash Sugar  Syrup
1 Peel Orange