While flinching about a speech given to diners, Katherine MacAlister loved the pumpkin raviolo and parsnip soup
As a dry month is to an alcoholic, so February was as carnivorously lean as possible.
Not to quite the same extent as Jay Z and Beyonce maybe, who went vegan for a month, but then neither did I have an in-house chef concocting delicious meat-free morsels on tap. What I did have was an invitation to Brookes Restaurant’s Celebration of Contemporary Vegetarian Cuisine on Thursday.
Run by final year students, and headed up by Owen Farr, the evening was open to the public and boasted a five course taster menu for £27.50.
Taking a veggy friend along we wondered: Would Brookes feed us the same patronising menu as vegetarians get in most hostelries or would it offer something new?
A perusal of the menu had us not so much whooping in delight, as satisfied. It wasn’t the most novel and exciting selection but the menu was local and seasonal. Plus there wasn’t a whiff of goat’s cheese, a relief as vegetarians have probably started collectively bleating thanks to the amount of this cheese offered. Why it’s so popular I can’t imagine. Anyway, back to Brookes and its wonderful hospitality. We were meeted, greeted and seated, coats in the cloakroom before you could say Billy Goats Gruff, menus in hand, a lovely rhubarb cosmopolitan in hand. The place was packed out without a single seat left.
We started with parsnip soup with an apple crisp which was a highlight. Not too thick, the creamy potage was balanced by the tartness of the apple. Then a plate of beetroot three ways (terrine, carpaccio, pickled) with a horseradish sauce, a brilliant mix of colour and texture, although more horseradish cream would have been good. The pumpkin raviolo with Spenwood cheese, pine nuts and basil shoots (an unknown cheese making it on to the menu, I nearly cheered) a nice take on pesto and delicious.
Then a man stood up, who spoke about organic farming and saving the earth. While he was interesting, I thought it patronising that vegetarians merit being preached to when they are the converted. Talk to the steak eaters. We nodded and got back to eating.
The next course, although nicely presented was a bit, well, earthy. Wild mushrooms on a flat mushroom, was just too much mushroom for me. Joined by a timbale of red cabbage, broccoli and a ginger crumble with a celeriac puree, it was more like Christmas dinner than a spring offering.
But we were detracted from the ragout’s minor deficiencies by the arrival of our tall shot glasses of dark chocolate mousse with blood orange sorbet and caramelised orange.
I was encouraged by the ethos of Brookes which is a hospitality training centre and a great value restaurant.
Next student themed events include: The Diner Revolution tonight, Britain's Forgotten Fish: A Supper to Save the Sea on March 18, Flavours of the Caribbean on March 20, The Great Gatsby on March 25 and Roald Dahl’s Fantastical Feast on Thursday March 27.
Brookes Restaurant, Oxford Brookes University, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane, Oxford
01865 483 803