An ideal eaterie for meat-lovers in Headington is proving a big hit, as Christopher Gray discovers

In accordance with the long-held journalistic maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words — probably 5,000 of mine — I invite readers to examine the images on this page today, confident that they will say much of what is needed about the newly opened Jacobs Chop House, in Osler Road, Headington.

They will not, of course, be appreciated by less passionate carnivores, including some collegaues. “This is definitely one for you,” said one when the matter of a review was being considered.

In truth, I am considerably less of a meat-eater than I used to be, finding fish both healthier and generally better flavoured. But I am happy to revert to my old ways from time to time, especially when the meat is of the high quality that I knew it would be here.

The Chop House, which supplies a modern slant on a delightfully Pickwickian tradition, is the brainchild of business partners Johnny Pugsley and Damion Farah. Their Jacobs & Field grocers and coffee shop, in nearby Old High Street, has become a Headington institution over the past four years. Jacobs Inn, which they fashioned from the old Red Lion pub in Wolvercote, has proved another big hit since it opened last year. The place was packed when I visited with friends on Sunday for a drink in the sunshine.

The Chop House, in premises long occupied by Café Noir, looks set to be another success. Indeed, it already is, to judge from the crowded tables, both upstairs and down, when Rosemarie and I visited last Friday night. That patrons were happy bunnies was evident both from what I could see and what they told me. Conversation with neighbours is an inevitability — a happy one — with seats in such close proximity. In the basement, which I inspected on the way to the mixed-sex loos, things are especially cosy. With all the cooking going on down there open to view, every table is, in effect, a chef’s table of the sort I discuss today in Gray Matter.

We were above, with Rosemarie seated at a long banquette whose elevated position invited a certain regality in her demeanour. I was one of those, seated opposite, that she looked down upon.

The popularity of the place was reflected in difficulties relating to demand and supply. Both the starters we requested (potted salmon in my case; split pea and ham hock soup in Rosemarie’s) were sold out.

Substitutions had been made when assistant manager Steve appeared to tell us that Rosemarie’s main course choice of burger was likewise all gone. Since the cooking of our meal was clearly not yet under way, this gave me the chance of amending my order. I had been very taken with the look of a plate of slow-roasted beef short ribs that had just been delivered to an a adjacent table and wanted some too, instead of my veal chop. This was no problem.

My eyes had not deceived me, for the big chunks of meat, served on the bone, were tender and delicious. I was pleased, too, with the buttery mash and a lightly cooked curly kale.

To start, I had excellent mushrooms and cubes of Oxford Blue cheese served on toasted sourdough bread (see left).

Rosemarie did not consider herself quite so fortunate. Her starter of fried fish (cod at a guess) was generous enough, with three or four good-size gougons, but the batter was too thick for her taste (though some people, I suppose, might like it).

And while you might expect a bacon chop to be salty — it’s the nature of the beast, after all — this one was exceptionally so.

She was wreathed in smiles over pud, though (on which I passed), declaring the gooey cherry bakewell tart with clotted cream to be utterly delicious.

By then, our tongues loosened by the gluggable house red, we were in animated conversation with neighbours Sally and Rory — he a long-time barman at Raoul’s in Walton Street. I said I would give them a name check, and here it is.

I ought to mention, too, that one of those looking after us (very well) was Josh Love, whose father spent many nights, as I did, in the bar (then called The Bistro) where Raoul’s now operates. Small world.

Jacobs Chop House
3 Osler Road, Headington, 0X3 7RA 01865 764486

Opening times: Breakfast 9am-noon; lunch noon-5pm; dinner 5-10pm. Sunday breakfast 9am-noon, lunch/dinner noon-9pm. Closed Monday.
Parking: Free two-hour parking in adjacent streets.
Key personnel: Owners Johnny Pugsley and Damion Farah; general manager/chef Steve Merivale.
Make sure you try the... potted salmon (£4.50), pea and ham hock soup (£4.50), grilled cod cheeks with white beans and chorizo (£12), beef short ribs with greens and mash (£12); Chop House burger (£10) pearl barley with purple sprout-ing and Oxford Blue (£8); cherry bakewell tart (£5).
In ten words: Quality meat (and veggie dishes) served in unfussy, friendly style.