There’s a corner of Oxford that has become so gastro, it’s becoming hard to move. Not only that, but all the restaurants and pubs which qualify for the new East Oxford tag, are of a similar ilk, making it hard to choose between them, the food being superb in all.

Gastro is however a word that the all new Oxford Blue shies away from, its website proclaiming “we are not a gastropub. This term is so misleading these days and it does not guarantee anything. We aim to create an environment where people can pop in just for a pint or a glass of wine without feeling pressured to eat,” a premise that we ignored completely, aiming to do nothing but.

The former grungy student pub, is the latest addition to the line-up, whose history swirls around its walls like the ghost of students past, despite the new landlords’ efforts to transform it into a gentle resting place for weary souls. Perched between the Iffley and Cowley Roads on Marston Street, it was easy to miss on a foggy, wet, autumnal evening, so easy in fact that our two London friends missed it entirely and we had to send out a search party. We found one of them perched at the bar at The Magdalen Arms further down the road having a reviving drink before he was sent once more into the breach my friend. And having started in the enemy camp, which is such a bustling, lively place, The Oxford Blue was quite Dickensian in contrast, with far fewer tables and a more eclectic mix of clientele. Trying not to panic, and wondering whether we’d wasted the Big Smoke inhabitants’ time by raving about this new little restaurant (I didn’t say gastro), we stood at the bare bar and then quickly moved to the reserved table in the dining room end of the pub. But on opening the menu we all gave a collective sigh of relief, because no one would cook this kind of food if they didn’t love it. So while the budget obviously wasn’t spent on a massive refurb job, it certainly shows in the kitchen, which is the right priority for me.

Just the printed words - warm scotch egg with mayonnaise, parma ham with celeriac remoulade, slow roast belly of pork with mash and spiced apple sauce, gnocchi with wild mushrooms sage and parmesan cream - were so welcoming I could have wept, each dish accompanied by a wine suggestion. This a start-up with the best of intentions.

And so we dived in, enthusiastically ordering pates and platters galore. One of the shared platters (£9.50) comprised of deep fried artichokes with sweet chilli sauce, celeriac remoulade, imam biyaldi, grilled halloumi and warm hommus, and just writing about it makes me want to grab my coat and race down for another serving because it was mighty fine, the attention to detail given to each of its parts, making it sing.

The artichokes were little crispy pieces of heaven, the halloumi much more tender and tasty than usual and the warm hommus almost unrecognisable from its supermarket counterpart. And even though the men were feasting on the venison terrine with caramelised onions and grilled sourdough, which was more of a pressed meat than a pate and as impressive as it sounds, they couldn’t help but sneak the odd, envious glance our way. Continuing the meaty theme, the boys then opted for the 350g Charolais rump steak (£22.50), raised just outside Chipping Norton, and the more demure onglet steak (£15.50 ) (no prizes for guessing which one Mr Greedy ordered), which came with bearnaise or peppercorn sauce, chips and salad. And, like medieval war-mongerers after a battle, they both hunkered straight down. The meat was tender, the accompanying sauce perfect, the chips spot on, and the quantity of steak so vast that even Mr Greedy couldn’t finish it, much to his own surprise.

The Korean barbequed lamb with new potatoes and spring greens was less of a success, foisted by its own petard. “Tasty but confused,” was the feedback from the Londoner, who then left most of it behind and ordered the crumble instead. The roast pumpkin, tomato and white bean stew with pesto, which I thought would be a tart little Spanish number was much more mellow than expected and proper comfort food. Had I been snowed in I could have eaten it by the ladle, but being fairly full already I struggled on because it was delicious and incredibly filling at the same time. How I then managed the panna cotta with berry compote for pudding I have no idea, but I struck gold here, because it was quite divine, so simple but so easy to get wrong, this was perfection on a plate. The apple and blackberry crumble was also fittingly seasonal but lacked tang and the warm chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, was a close contender. All sloshed back with some fine vino, all our senses were suitably intoxicated, and desperately unwilling to venture back out into the drizzle, the cosy walls and atmosphere drew us in late into the night.

Like Cinderella at the ball, we squealed in alarm when we realised the time, remembering too late our poor babysitter, and disappeared as quickly as we’d arrived in a puff of smoke. In fact, when the fog cleared the next morning, we wondered if the whole evening was a figment of our imaginations. But if you wander down that way, before you opt for The Magdalen Arms, The Rusty Bicycle or Oxfork, spare a thought for The Oxford Blue, because it deserves to be counted, and in this climate provides perfect, hearty fare for a cold, stranger in search of a good meal. Almost seasonally biblical then.

The Oxford Blue

32 Marston Street



01865 460215

The Particulars...

Opening Times: Monday to Wednesday from 5pm to 11pm, Thursday and Friday from 5 pm to 12 midnight, Saturday from 12 noon to 12 midnight and Sunday from 12 noon to 11.30pm.

Parking: It’s East Oxford, of course not. You have to fight for a space like everyone else.

Key personnel: Mark Bradbury in the kitchen, fresh from Qi and Branca, with Chris Murray out front, choosing the wine.

Prices: Salt and Pepper Squid with Sweet Chilli Sauce and Lime £6, The Bannister Burger with Triple Cooked Chips and Salad £10.95, Grilled Chicken Escalope with Frites, Rocket and Parmesan £11.50, Pan-fried Sea Bream with Puttanesca Sauce, Roast Aubergine and Aioli £14.00

Make sure you try the.....: Thursday nights steak night with a free glass of wine matched to the steak, and Sunday lunch where there are always at least two rare breed roasts on the go. There is also a performance night every Tuesday, The Oxford Bluebird, with tapas and wine deals.  Plus ‘“Jazz night at the Oxford Blue” every third Wednesday courtesy of Nick Gill from Oxford Classic Jazz.

In ten words: Latest contender for the East Oxford gourmet crown. Don’t discount.