I was going to write about another restaurant in the new Westgate this week, had already written half of it actually. And then I ventured out into a snowy central Oxford to see a show and afterwards there was only one place I wanted to go. No1 Ship Street.

And in the name of Christmas, the season of goodwill and independents, who are currently being swamped by the giant commercial machine that is The Westgate Centre, I've decided to divert my attention this week to somewhere closer to my heart.

Besides, I had neither the desire nor strength to trek all the way over to Queen Street, through the new shopping centre, up to the top of the roof terrace and join the queues of revellers wanting to try out the newest place.

I wanted familiarity, friendly faces, guaranteed good food, a classy atmosphere and a fun night out, without the hassle. I wanted the whole shebang in one easy, central hit.

And No1 didn't let me down. Situated down the Dickensian feeling Ship Street, Christmas lights tinkling through the snow, the windows lit up and welcoming, its opulent but relaxing interior beckoning, Ross, the new owner and manager, was on hand and ushered us upstairs to the sleek bar and tapas restaurant for a sneaky cocktail, where we unwound and caught up.

Our window-seated table then awaited us on the ground floor where we settled amongst the office parties, dates and friends, hungry and keen to get going on the adventurous and exciting menu, despite the lateness of the hour, the ground floor restaurant being open from noon-10pm Monday-Saturday.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will know I have been there before. In fact I consider myself a regular. But my dining companions were first timers, and thus enormously overexcited because the menu is so enticing, offering an eclectic mix of retro classics such as devilled kidneys, house terrine with toast, fish soup and sirloin tartare, mixed in with really novel additions.

And what No1 is so good at is raising any innocuous sounding dishes to a whole new level. But then as Ross is fellow proprietor with head chef Owen Little, one begins to understand the equal billing of the kitchen and front of house - a perfect partnership.

It also means that dining out there can be as low key or sophisticated as required, serving everything from steak and burgers to lobster and pheasant.

Take our starters for example; the depth of flavour in the lamb kidneys (£7) was inspiring; the tenderness of the delicate organs evidenced a reverent hand in the kitchen, with just the right hint of curry and colonialism in the garlic toast, cumin and coriander spicing.

The wild mushrooms on toast with fried eggs and truffle (£8) were a joy. The mushroom mix was smoky and woody, creamy and earthy, our elbows jabbing as we all vied for the last forkful. The cauliflower panzanella, which you can have as a starter or main, was another staple with a twist, cut through with charred little gem, burrata and honey, giving it a smoky, sweet mix of textures and flavours.

The girls were now aware, that while fun and atmospheric, No1 Ship Street really delivers on the food front. They therefore waited in anticipation for the mains - the house special of half a lobster, chips and a house salad, the steak and the risotto, all ordinary textbook dishes, transformed into something really special.

The lobster then; despite its distance from the sea, was wonderfully fresh, light and beautifully cooked, a delightful dish that didn't take itself too seriously but delivered on all fronts. The steak followed suit, those beautifully thin frites, served hot crispy and salty, the flat ironed meat sliced, cooked to perfection, served with cafe de paris or anchovy butter, and dressed with watercress, which went down a storm.

And finally the risotto, which I only ordered because it was one of the only dishes I hadn't tried, which was a masterpiece. Served in a carved out squash, it was a vision to behold, the squash cooked just so, so it was tender and soft, mixed in with the rice and parmesan into a wonderfully wintery, gooey definition of comfort food. The accompanying salad needed more dressing but it was a very minor criticism.

Desserts were ordered and came in an indecent amount of time as it was getting late, the evening having sped by, because it's impossible not to enjoy yourself here. The peanut butter parfait with toffee sauce (£6) was as deceptively delicious as ever although the rich chocolate pot with kinder ice cream and orange syrup (£7.50) was a bit hard.

Wine finished, diners departing, we put on our coats, hats and gloves and disappeared back out into the snowy city centre, the lights of No1 Ship Street following us down the dark streets. But the welcome lasted much longer and I for one, am so delighted that No1 has opened in central Oxford and we finally have somewhere decent to eat in the city centre.

No.1 Ship Street

1 ship street



01865 806637