Sunday, 24 July 2011

Cowley

This is the bohemian, multicultural, ‘rough’ area full of student houses which isn’t really that bohemian or rough at all by normal standards. It also happens to hold some of the best eateries in Oxford at very reasonable prices. After all, the costs of overheads must be cheaper in such a ‘rough’ area, right? I will mention SantoriniArbat and Atomic Burger. Firstly, because they’re the most notable restaurants there and secondly, because I happen to have photos of some of the meals I’ve enjoyed there.
The first time I went to eat at Santorini, I went with my then-boyfriend, the girl he eventually cheated on me with, her best friend, her brother (who eventually ended up coming to my college) and a couple of other awkward individuals. But still what shines in my mind from that first trip is the kleftiko. A tender, juicy lamb shank in a source they claim to be made of olive oil, oregano and thyme but I’m sure must include some sort of addictive substance/witchcraft. And my only regrets of the evening are that I was too full to finish it. Santorini does generous portions. I was only too thrilled to have set up the loop that I did: I mentioned how good ‘Greek place’ was to people, they insisted that we should go, I went there again and ate more and then talked to other people about it. The second time I went, I ordered the kleftiko again but it wasn’t as good. But it still retained some of that moreish richness of the first visit. On subsequent visits, I sampled the meze menu. My favourites are the meatballs, the chicken filo pie (which I never ordered myself because something about the combination of chicken, leek and filo pastry just didn’t do it for me but I got to eat another’s, the glory of shared plates…) and the tuna steak. But in all honesty, it’s difficult to order wrongly here. Greek place, for now, is safe in my top five restaurants.


Arbat is a garish yellow building with a menu outside that doesn’t really invite people to enter. But I, ever curious, wanting to taste what Russian food is (I wasn’t fooled by the myths of cabbage and potatoes), entered all the same. Both cabbage and potatoes do feature on the menu but it’s doing the cuisine an injustice to say it’s JUST cabbage and potatoes. Although I wouldn’t be too annoyed if it was – I love both cabbage and potatoes. My friend and I went for the appetisingly titled ‘Manty’ and ‘Plov’ (I’m being unfair – they might sound very appetising in Russian). When my Manty (dumplings) arrived, they reminded me of how I’d felt from looking at the exterior of the restaurant. They looked rather pallid.


But I, the intrepid food lover (lol), went forth and thrust my knife square into the middle of one of those spaceships. Inside was delicately spiced, perfectly seasoned lamb, a happy companion to the sweet, almost smoky pumpkin. I don’t know what herbs they used to season the filling but by Jove, it worked. My one criticism was that the sour cream was unnecessary. I understand that they added it because otherwise there would be no wet on the dish but I think the sour cream detracted from the flavour. So I ignored it. Despite my satisfaction at my own meal, after trying some of my friend’s I felt as though I’d ordered badly.


Plov was a lamb and rice dish not unlike a lamb biryani. The spicing reminded me of that of a curry (except without the chilli-hot) and the rice was fluffy and moist. It was like my dream-biryani. Anyway, I don’t know if Arbat is authentic but the Russians are lucky if it is.
I love Atomic Burger. It’s the Oxonian home of pop culture kitsch from the 80s. The place is filled with action figures, cool posters and toys which at some point had kids willing to sacrifice a limb. There’s also a projector hanging from the ceiling playing various 80s sci-fi videos. The burgers are all named to match the theme as well. As much as I might love the place for its décor and general milieu, the food is pretty good too. It’s cheap, filling and I have to give them props for offering actually-interestingnot GBK-interesting toppings. The sci fries (chilli garlic fries) in particular deserve a mention: they’re designed to give your lips a pleasant sting. Most students around the area will have visited at some point and left not-disappointed. But not many will have experienced the breakfast menu. I went for a birthday breakfast which I had been contemplating skipping because I was feeling tired and livery after the night before. I’m glad I went, the juevos rancheros are something else. Two eggs with pleasingly gooey yolks and salty refried beansall covered in a tangy tomato sauce and scattered with chilli flakes and jalapenos. This wasn’t OK food mitigated by the company and the environment, this was potentially the best breakfast in Oxford. The chilli kick really wakes you up and it has its merits as a hangover cure too.

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