Why was I surprised by how good the food was at Gees? Had I forgotten? Had I assumed it was resting on its laurels, or was it genuinely because the North Oxford restaurant is much better than it used to be?
Perhaps it's because Gees' setting tends to dominate, a quintessential Oxford landmark, the Victorian greenhouse bucking the trends and staying chic and competitive despite everything.
And it's a lovely setting for a meal. That walk up the side framed with plants, the comfortable bar which serves a great Garden Rose cocktail, separate from the restaurant itself which then opens up in front of you; a bustling, lively, light, architectural, relaxing space in which to immerse yourself.
You can tell it's a Mogford restaurant, in both the style and the food, but while The Old Parsonage is more discreet and traditional, Gees is allowed to shout a bit louder with its mediterranean inspired menu, not as loudly as its more commercial and mainstream cousin on the High Street - Quod, the glamour puss of the portfolio where the atmosphere certainly takes precedence over the food.
Gees also offers a lovely, fresh spring menu, with some genuinely interesting ingredients. What was Morcan, toasted pugliese or risotto Milanese? The answers are a type of Spanish salami, an Italian bread and a classic pepper based dish for anyone interested, but the questions kept us on our toes.
There were six of us and we worked our way through much of the menu: to start the guinea fowl and rabbit terrine with the pickled carrots and courgettes, a deliciously chunky pate with a delicate jelly. The brown anchovy, samphire and caper pizzetta (£8.50) was thin and crispy allowing the ingredients to sing, the nettle and garlic soup (£6.50) was as rustic as it sounded and a wonderful deep foresty green that urged you to go out foraging for yourself. The asparagus with hollandaise (£7.50) may have sounded less exotic, but boy was it spot on, certainly the best I've tasted this season. Cooked to absolute perfection it had a wonderful bite matched by the silky dipping sauce. If you can cook the simple things this well.......
The risotto Milanese (£14.50) was ingrained with soft charred toasted peppers and saffron, which complemented rather than overwhelmed the dish, cooked to perfection. The whole plaice had sold out and been replaced with sole, which, once wrestled free of its numerous bones, was a delight with the roasted fennel, samphire, capers and lemon butter. (£19.95) My kind of food.
The rack of lamb special (£25.50) was a visual delight giving Mr Greedy some serious food envy issues, served with new potatoes, samphire and black olives, and again perfectly cooked. While the bland sounding burrata with chickpeas, chilli and rainbow chard (£15.50) was concocted by a genius, the softness of the cheese and the depth of the flavour soaked into the chickpeas which still had a bite but were soft inside, plus the burn of the chilli and the soft greenery of the chard was clever beyond belief.
The 'unreal' amaretto cheesecake (£6.50) followed, not too sweet or sickly with a beautiful biscuit base, although the creme Catalan, (£6.50) akin to a creme brûlée, was a tad colder than I'd have liked. It needs to be warm and creamy. All washed down by some beautiful wine.
A top night then, which I marvelled at because we take our Oxford culinary institutions for granted. Never again shall I pass Gees over in favour of its newer contemporaries or ignore it for long.
GEE'S RESTAURANT & BAR, 61 BANBURY RD, OXFORD OX2 6PE
Gees is open all day from 10am until 10.30pm
EXPRESS LUNCH MENU
2 courses £13.50
3 courses £16.50Being so seasonal the lunch menu is subject to change on a weekly basis so do check back closer to your visit.