What is it about Magdalen Road at the moment? Has it been touched with culinary fairy dust or is there something in the water?
While we know about the hares in this gastro race, The Magdalen Arms and the equally cheering Oxfork, The Rusty Bicycle is certainly the tortoise. While the former establishments scoop awards, eco-credentials and recognition by the barrowful, The Rusty Bicycle has been serving delicious food for several years now without calling any attention to itself, secure in the knowledge that it’s loyal and growing following are happy.
The Rusty Bicycle used to be The Eagle and, having lived nearby as a student, I remember the old pub being synonymous with bar brawls.
But now, as soon as you open the door you relax, because the calm, clean and welcoming interior is remarkably unthreatening, while being comforting enough to warm the hardened arteries of my heart.
Its unfussy, unassuming tone is reflected in the decor’s washed wooden interior, whose tables and benches are scattered with cushions, with a woodburning stove thrown in for good measure.
All this was well and good but how was the food? Judging by the menu, fun and exciting, which was a good start. It took us ages to decide what to have because it all sounded so enticing and we both changed our orders twice. Fraser, the gorgeous red-headed manager, didn’t bat an eyelid as we ground our teeth trying to decide between the Rusty chicken pot noodle, the spiced lamb burger with tzatziki and hand-cut chips, or the grilled portabello mushroom and halloumi burger.
Eventually we settled for the chicken, mushroom and tarragon pie of the day (£9.50) and the Ploughmans Board (£8) because it included a bit of everything, including the soup of the day, without a mention of pickled onions and coleslaw.
From the instant our food was put in front of us, we realised this was no ordinary pub, such was the love, care and attention put into each morsel. Take the ploughman’s, which came on a rustic wooden board; the bread is home-made, the butter came pressed with fresh herbs and garlic. The soup, an unassuming sounding winter broth of squash, potato and leek, came with an Asian twist using lemongrass and lime juice to season it, and had me in raptures. The cheddar was Cerne Abbas, the pickle home-made and the little pot of roasted beetroots gave it all a seasonal touch.
My friend loved her pie. It arrived on another manly wooden board with a portion of perfectly cooked sweet peas and some delicious thick cut chips. The delicate, flaky pastry lid was seasoned with thyme and rosemary and the moist chicken and mushroom filling were cooked in a delicious creamy sauce.
As for my £3 portion of cheesy chips, they would have been stunning on their own, but with the melted Cerne Abbas cheddar and a sprinkle of rosemary, their memory keeps me awake at night.
We succumbed to the orange chocolate pot with Tia Maria cream (£3), between us and it blew me away. A tiny teacup of what tasted like melted chocolate orange, with a topping of boozy single cream was superb and again hugely memorable.
So there we have it. I have fallen hook, line and sinker for The Rusty Bicycle’s considerable charms.