Tim Hughes enjoys his catch of the day – and finds it was well worth the wait – at the ever popular Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill
THERE are many great things about living in Oxford.
One of the country’s most beautiful cities, it is blessed with some lovely architecture, great cultural life, pleasant countryside and some fascinating, and deliciously eccentric, people.
Then there’s the food. Surrounded by rich farmland, we have great producers meaning local restaurants do a roaring trade in locally-sourced produce.
The one downside for eating out is our distance from the sea.
For all the cornucopia of agricultural fruits with which we are blessed, we are almost as far from the sea as you can get. And for lovers of fresh seafood, and coastal expats, that can leave us hankering for truly fresh fish.
One Oxford establishment has made it its business to convince us otherwise. Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill, in Walton Street, is a little splash of sea spray in the midst of landlocked Jericho.
Despite its resolutely urban surroundings, its lofty interior has the appearance, ambience and, on our visit, the slight chill, of a converted Scottish boathouse.
As we enter, we suspend belief.
Freshness is everything. And judging by the clamour for tables in its large, surprisingly Tardis-like twin-floored interior, it is hugely popular.
Perhaps it is a little too popular. After following our waiter on a little dance around a swathe of empty, yet apparently pre-booked tables, we were eventually seated – and waited. And waited some more.
Beckoning over a waiter we gave our order and waited again.
A deft bit of hand gesturing ensured we at least had a bottle of wine – which made the waiting all the more pleasant and even amusing, as we were proffered, and rejected, a range of plates which we hadn’t ordered, and which were clearly destined for other tables.
Not to worry though, as we had wine – though it was rapidly depleting, so much so that by the time the starters arrived it was time to order another bottle of crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
It did, however, go very well with my impressive, but rapidly devoured starter of oysters (£11.75 for six) – served with thick wedges of lemon and a sharp, tangy mignonette (vinegar, pepper and shallots).
The oysters were plump, juicy, brimming with liquor and bursting with flavour. For a moment I was beside the sea, at last. I could almost hear the seagulls. We also went off piste with something nautical yet Latin – king prawn tacos (£7.20).
These came with whipped avocado, refried beans, chipotle and oregano mayonnaise – and, crucially, fresh chilli – which we made no attempt to remove.
While small and innocent-looking, they were tiny fireballs which burned all the way down – something I happen to like, but others may wish to be wary of.
While delicious, and beautifully presented, they were extremely diminutive and not particularly generous for the price.
The same could not be said for our main courses (which followed another lengthy and wine-draining wait). My seafood grill (£23.45) was a marine marvel.
A chunk of Scottish salmon came with a piece of gilt-head bream, scallops, king prawns, mussels in the shell and squid and was bolstered by sauteed potatoes, spinach and a pleasant paprika butter.
It was a satisfying dish – tender and very high-quality fish cooked to perfection and so fresh it flaked on the fork.
The nicely rubbery squid (if you like that kind of thing, and I do) and the sweet and juicy shellfish made it a mermaid’s feast in a casserole dish. The potatoes went uneaten. I was defeated.
My partner was fairly impressed with her cod fillet (£15.75), which purported to have been served from the restaurant’s Fish Market – aka the counter near the kitchen – and served pan fried with a tangy seaweed butter. All very grown-up – but not as much fun as my Neptune’s nosebag of a dinner.
A portion of fish and chips spotted on a neighbouring table looked far less ample – the mushy peas served in a pot not much bigger than an egg cup. Still, you wouldn’t come her for cod and chips would you?
With that amount of fish going down, you can’t wander off without dessert.
While there were some interesting choices (a chocolate and burnt banana split sounded tasty), I felt as if I’d swallowed a whale, and we both made do with creme brulee – which, as such things go, was perfectly good: light and fluffy and with a serious sugary cap to satisfyingly crack.
I’ll probably be back at Loch Fyne. Despite a slight air of chaos, and those lengthy finger-drumming, and wine-hammering waits for service, it’s a reasonably fun place to eat and there’s no denying the quality of the food.
Who needs to sit in traffic on the way to the coast, when you can set sail for salty Jericho?
Loch Fyne Seafood and Grill, Walton Street, Oxford,