I like to think that Eat with Ellen is quite diverse when it comes to the reviews I include. You just need to take a look at the Where I’ve Eaten page to see I’ve written about places from across the country, and further afield. But despite my best efforts, there are still a lifetime’s worth of places I haven’t tried. Which is why I’m not ashamed to say I’ll jump at the chance to try somewhere new.
That’s what happened with The Perch in Oxford. I’d be lying if I said it was ‘on my radar’, or on my list, but once I’d checked it out online it was an invite I wasn’t going to refuse. An ‘historic riverside pub in Oxford’, serving ‘proper British pub food inspired by modern and traditional recipes’. Yes please.
My invite was to try the new spring menu, packed with seasonal classics and dishes that conjure up images of warm evenings, outdoor dining, and light, fresh meals. So on a not-so-warm (pissing it down in fact) evening, I headed to Oxford to meet fellow blogger Jess, whose fab blog The Weekend Tourist documents her and her other half Tom’s travel and treats (check it out, you will get lost in their adventures). After a belting trip down the M40 I found myself nearly heading into Oxford, before taking a turning down a tiny country lane to Binsey village, the idyllic home of The Perch.
It’s a classic country pub. Somewhere that’s warm and welcoming in bad weather, and I imagine stunningly beautiful during the daytime on a summer’s day, especially in its huge beer garden. Jess and Tom kindly allowed me to gatecrash their night, and the three of us settled in to work our way through the treats on the menu.
I’ve got to say, the menu at The Perch was one of the more inspiring I’ve seen recently, packed with dishes a bit different from the norm and screaming of locally-sourced stuff. There’s nice touches like little nibbly bits with a difference – goodbye olives, hello quails eggs – and appealing platters to start that can be had individually or to share.
I managed to conquer my usual indecision (I didn’t want my new pals to be cursing how long it takes me to decide on dinner before we’d even got started) and went for one of these boards – the Butchers Board. Smoked goose, home corned beef, Kelmscott salami, country pork pate, homemade bread and pickles.
This picture definitely doesn’t do it justice. A variety of rustic-looking meats circling what at first glance just looks like a collection of random veg, and a small but perfectly formed mini loaf of bread – warm, light, and oh-so-easy to dive into. The meats were all great, tasty and rustic. My favourite was the smoked goose, followed closely by the country pork pate – surprising for me since I’m more a fan of smooth pates like Brussels.
Surprisingly, it was the pickles that stood out on the butchers board. As I say, they just looked at first to be a collection of veg, almost a garnish. But a taste showed that they’d been rather expertly done. Crunchy, tangy and vinegary and the perfect contrast to the rich meat-laden board.
Jess went for a wild rabbit, chicken and smoked bacon terrine, with grape and apple chutney and granary toast, which I’m told was brilliant. And Tom went for the Fish Plate – the equivalent of my meaty feast. Juniper cured salmon, dill-cured herring, crayfish cocktail, crab pate, more of the delicious homemade bread and caper berries. A great spring starter.
The main course menu was packed with variety, from hearty pot-roasted ox cheek, to fish options like steamed Brixham mussels. There are quite a few vegetarian options as well – things like spring pea, baby spinach and wild garlic croquettes that tempted even me.
Having got my meat fix for my starter, I decided to go for grilled sea trout fillet. You don’t see sea trout all the time on menus and I’m a big fan. The last time I had it was at Purecraft in Birmingham so I was keen to see if this would live up to it.
It came served with crushed jersey royals, spring onion, parsley and cockle butter. A great dish for spring, the fish is less fiddly and fine than normal trout, yet still has that delicate taste and texture. It was adorned with gorgeous shoots and herbs, and sat on top of its simple bed of potatoes, all swimming in a lovely light butter.
Jess went for one of the tempting meat-free options, choosing Wye Valley asparagus with Jersey Royal salad, quails eggs and Caerphilly. It was certainly impressive on the plate, a pyramid of green, yellow, white and cream packed with cheese, eggs and asparagus and far from any idea that salads are the measly portions on the menu.
But it was Tom who won. He picked off the specials board of the night, choosing a pork and black pudding rissole with mustard-creamed leeks, red cabbage, and horseradish chutney.
In contrast to our rather light, spring-suiting meals, this was a robust-looking and (I’m told) tasting dish. Check out Jess’s blog for some far better pictures than these and you’ll probably see why I suffered a fair bit of food envy when it came to this one.
I’m happy to say that I’m not the only one who can’t resist desserts. Like the earlier courses, the choice on offer included some puds that you don’t often see on a menu, so after some lengthy procrastination, we came up with the cunning plan to order three different ones and all have a bit.
First up was the Queen of Puddings. Sponge, soaked in plum jam with meringue on top that’s then baked. It looked like a cloud in a dish, and proved to be so incredibly sweet that each of us laughed out loud with our first mouthful. I’m talking serious sugar hit here.
The dark chocolate mousse with honeycomb and bloody orange was a welcome contrast. I loved the bitterness of the chocolate and the refreshing citrusy orange. And finally, the rhubarb and custard ‘Eton Mess’ was again, rather sweet and certainly different from your average traditional Eton Mess.
Luckily for us, each of us had a favourite, meaning we could lay claim to it and finish it off. For Tom it was the Queen of Puddings (too sweet even for me), while Jess quite enjoyed the Eton Mess. That left me with my top choice of the chocolate mousse. Hurrah.
As we left The Perch, a quick glance around offered a view of the stereotypical example of a popular country pub (in a good way). People enjoying a drink on comfy sofa around the fireplace, diners finishing up their meals, a soft hubbub of relaxed enjoyment.
Peeping out of the windows, I caught a brief glimpse of what seems to me is a brilliant garden to wile away warm summer afternoons munching on food that offers something a bit different from your average gastropub. A perfect reason to go back, I reckon!
I was invited to The Perch to try the new spring menu. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review.