Katherine MacAlister reviews new Summertown restaurant The Bicycle Shed

Off somewhere nice?” an acquaintance asked at the bus stop, en route to Summertown.

“The Bicycle Shed,” I replied. “It’s just opened and serves predominantly veggie food as well as a good selection of meat and fish.”

“Oh,” he said as if I’d said ‘dog food’, before shrugging and patting me on the shoulder in consolation.

Which gave me a brief snapshot into the life of a vegetarian and the snide remarks they must experience on a daily basis; the condescension, the marginalisation and the side-lining.

Fortunately the tide is changing, and, if The Bicycle Shed is anything to go by, it’s a done deal, unless those in Summertown are just ahead of their time.

Perhaps The Bicycle Shed had this in mind when taking on the old Saffron property.

Hailing from the same company which owns city centre pubs George Street Social, St Aldate’s Tavern and The Grapes, it aims for a much more community-based feel.

Aware that Summertown is crying out for some new eateries in such a populated and affluent area, especially as Portabello in South Parade shut up shop on Sunday after 16 years in business, it was a good call, because when I arrived for dinner mid-week the place was heaving. The outside seating area was rammed with local inhabitants soaking up the last vestiges of our Indian summer.

Inside, the bar area was similarly crowded, despite a large seating area plus standing room, meaning this is a proper drinks venue where you can spend the entire night without even noticing the restaurant.

However, hungry diners can retreat to the long, thin, separate room at the back where trestle tables, and banquettes showcase the space, where we spent a most enjoyable evening.

First up I’d like to say that the staff are an absolute delight. The wonderful Dana from Italy was a gift of a waitress, overseen by the lovely deputy manager Ericka. But everyone, from the bar to the restaurant staff were friendly, professional and a real asset.

Those expecting a vegetarian menu though will be surprised, because it’s more half and half, with several vegan options.

Much to Mr Greedy’s relief, there was still steak (a massively reasonable £16 including chips), as well as chicken and fish to be had.

Disappointingly though, some of the vegetarian options were rather predictable – mushroom risotto is rather last century. I was expecting something more inspired and liberating, something to entice the carnivores rather than deter them.

Take the charred broccoli, quinoa and golden raisin puree starter, chosen by an ardent meat-eater to get into the spirit. It arrived to a few stifled giggles, resembling more of a side dish than a starter, exactly the sort of fare that gives vegetarian menus a bad name. It needed a few extra components, a dressing, something to lift and transform it from ordinary to trail-blazing.

The goats cheese croquettes were nicer – crunchy on the outside, soft and strong on the inside, but again, crying out for an accompanying dip, something zingy.

Indeed, if I had one criticism it would be that most of the dishes desperately needed a sauce, jus, gravy, roux, dressing, coulis or dip to complete them.

This was certainly true of the mains, the cauliflower steak with red and black quinoa and golden raisin puree was desperate for a moist component.

Ditto the cod fillet with jersey potato samphire and caper butter mash, because although the fish was beautifully cooked, it needed a bisque or sauce to bind it all together and stop the potato being too claggy.

Ironically, the steak, chips and herb butter was great – a lovely cut of meat, cooked perfectly, nice chips, job done. Pudding wise, the bay panna cotta was wobbly and delicious and the deconstructed apple crumble with ice cream fun.

As we pushed our way through to the bar, I wondered whether the vegetarian community would enjoy the uncomplicated, unpretentious, bustling, environment as much as we did or hope for something more ambitious.

The Bicycle Shed

204-206 Banbury Road, Summertown. OX2 7BY

01865 981475