Oxford has cocktail bars aplenty, and some fantastic restaurants, but where do you go for a swanky night out? No1 Ship Street is the answer and it’s exactly what the city centre needs.

Opening a few weeks ago, Ross Drummond has transformed what was the rather unassuming News Café into a plush, sleek, luxurious and rather decadent location.

And while food is usually an afterthought in such places, at No1 it’s right up there, alongside an excellent champagne and oyster bar, meaning that whether you venture in for a quick cocktail, a night of socialising , dinner, or all of the above, you won’t be disappointed.

Which is exactly what we did, dressing up and hitting the town in style. No1 is that kind of place - the sexy decor, low lighting, velvet, leather and suede furnishings luring you in.

Upstairs is the oyster and champagne bar, also boasting a wonderful array of cocktails which we ploughed through, from a blood orange margarita to an espresso martini and the wonderful St Ives Pie (£8.50), a concoction of dark rum, apple, apple liqueur, vanilla, brown sugar and ginger beer served in a copper cup. With champagne available by the glass, you can perch on the soft grey suede bar stools and people watch to your hearts content.

Sharing platters are also served upstairs for those wanting to snack and nibble rather than dine. My only criticism is that the upstairs kitchen needs a better extractor fan, because the waft of cooking fish and meat isn’t conducive to drinking bubbles.

Suitably refreshed, we then made our way downstairs to the restaurant itself. Head chef Owen Little has a great reputation in the industry, a sure sign that Ross is taking the food seriously, and the menu reflected that with some really interesting dishes.

The fish soup (£7) for example with croutons, red pepper and aioli, was his take on a bouillabaisse and spot on, with a wonderful rich, ripe, spicy depth to it. The wild mushrooms with toast, fried egg and truffle (£8) was a wonderful mix of textures, the earthy juices soaking into the bread underneath. The cauliflower panzanella sounded intriguing - usually a dish of bread and ripe mediterranean vegetables - but it worked really well with charred little gem, buratta and honey; a novel and well seasoned dish.

Mains wise, the Torbay sole (£17) came with capers, samphire and caper butter sauce - a vision on the plate and an enormously generous portion, the fish itself beautifully cooked. The equally substantial English rose veal shin (£16) with borlotti beans, fennel and parmesan croquettes was really accomplished, the veal falling off the bone, with the crunch of the croquettes and the soft cheesy potato offset by the hint of fennel in the background.

A plate of smoked beetroot with chicory, burnt orange, creme fraiche and oats (£11) was lovely and refreshing.

We did manage pudding, somehow, the flaming fruit brulee hard to resist. Appearing perfectly crisped, the waitress arrived to pour the booze on top and light it. And while fun, the alcohol rather ruined the actual eating of it, transforming the perfect brulee into something sloppier and less appetising.

The peanut butter parfait on the other hand was a marvel, and we piled in. Sweet, salty and finished with a toffee sauce it was delectable.

I have to admit I was surprised by No1, because I had assumed it was a case of all fur coat and no knickers. In short, I wasn’t prepared for the food to be this good. It was enough to have a slick new operation in Oxford city centre, somewhere new to go out, somewhere to get dressed up for. To enjoy our meal so much was an added bonus.

So go, put on your heels and lipstick and get down there. Oxford has been crying out for No1 Ship Street - so fill your boots.

No.1 Ship Street, Oxford, OX1 3DA



01865 806637