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Restaurant review - Cleaver, 36 George Street, Oxford
Katherine MacAlister gets the salad day blues at a new city centre restaurant which has plenty of meat but no veg
I learned my lesson pretty quickly at Cleaver.
If you’re going to go, don’t be a pansy, go the whole hog or not at all. It’s a ribs, chicken or burger kind of place, literally. Ribs come as a half or whole rack, burgers range from classic to, um, classic with cheese, bacon and jalapenos, and you can order a whole chicken in one go, a half, quarter or just the wings. Here endeth the lesson.
Don’t do what I did and order the salad, because you can almost hear the guffaws of the ghosts of cowboys past shouting out ’isn’t salad a kind of garnish?’ You can imagine them snickering as they gnaw the last ounce of flesh from their ribs, chucking the bones into a big pot in the middle of the table, ‘yeah salads are for sissies.’
We went en-famille, Cleaver being that kind of place and the kids loved it. I, on the other hand, as I said, opted for a motherly blue cheese salad, and got my swift comeuppance. Next time I’ll join the ranks because the salads aren’t to be recommended. They don’t even come with a dressing. When I asked for some the waitress looked perturbed and then returned with a bottle of balsamic and a bottle of olive oil, chez 1970s Italian trattoria, DIY obviously being my only hope.
The others, however, fared much better, the ribs being a huge success, which when paired with skin-on fries and onion rings, as well as the best milkshakes this side of Texas, meant they were onto a winner.
One thing’s for sure, meat is back in a big way, not that it ever went away, but in terms of dining out it looks as if the domination of Italian food is waning, and even George Street has been affected. Byron, Gourmet Burger and now Cleaver all boasting carnivore-friendly menus, albeit it an American style format, but meat nonetheless.
The name Cleaver says it all really, the menus being adorned with said meat chopper, their chosen butcher’s instrument. The writing is on the wall as they say, and very urban walls they are too; the decor following the warehouse/factory trend which most restaurants seem to adhere to these days, the furniture being recycled from industrial sites such as hospitals and power plants.
Which means Cleaver feels cool, contemporary and funky, an utter transformation from its previous incarnation as Fire & Stone, although to be honest anything would have been an improvement.
Cleaver is the fourth in this particular restaurant chain, so a relatively small cluster at this stage. The George Street restaurant is a big space to fill, with the gaping hole of the bottom floor to circumnavigate.
However, sat in the window on a busy Saturday, watching the world and his wife go past, it was full of people like us, families, young couples and friends, all gnawing away happily. The service was quick and the food instantly likeable, although pretty unhealthy – it was a bit like being on the Atkins diet, not a vegetable in sight, apart from the unfortunate salads.
But it was the puddings that sealed the deal.
The banana bread and butter pudding with vanilla ice cream was quite something, and a necessity after my abstemious and nasty salad.
The New York vanilla cheesecake was another hit, the crumbly base and creamy topping being highly praised.
The cost was £56.80 for three of us, about right for George Street, where a pizza with drinks and dessert will set you back about the same amount. And while I wouldn’t race to go back, my kids already have, Cleaver being in the right place at the right time.
Cleaver, 36 George Street, Oxford. OX12BJ. 01865 251718. www.cleaverrestaurants.co.uk