I've been twice since the November reopening, and I'll be back within the month. And I live in Oxford. This is the kind of place you wish was at the end of your street - the kind of local restaurant that raises house prices. Attention to detail can be seen from the decor (warm, stylish, sophisticated) to the service (informed, attentive, unintrusive), but is of couse most evident in the excellent, excellent food. Striking the balance between simplicity and innovation can be difficult for a restaurant with evident ambition, but chefs Tom and Shaun have created a menu that takes brasserie classics and gives them a fresh, intelligent and original feel. A generous starter of crab risotto with a perfectly poached duck egg was a soft, warming treat on a winter's night. Shamefully, on both my visits I had the same main course - oxtail pudding with langoustine scampi - because it was so good the first time; rich, deep beef paired with sweet, crispy little parcels of seafood, and the only dish I've ever eaten that uses soya beans for texture and flavour rather than as a way of getting protein into cheerless vegans. Tellingly, the second time I visited this dish had been tweaked to neaten the presentation; another sign of that attention to detail I mentioned previously.
Dessert was equally impressive. On my second visit, my sister-in-law had christmas pudding fritters. I hate christmas pudding - it's heavy, boozy and boring. These fritters were light, fun little things floating in an airy creme anglaise. I had the cheese, which came with a slice of Guinness-infused malt cake that has to get some sort of starring role in its own pudding; if they put it on the menu with pistachio ice cream I might move in.
The wine list has been extremely well put-together. I'd previously had the Lebanese red we chose to accompany our main course at two Michelin-starred L'enclume - it was a bit cheaper this time. It was also nice to see an English sparkling wine making an appearance on the list; a perfect way to begin our meal.
This is serious, clever cookery without a hint of pretension, prepared by people who evidently love what they're doing and served by staff who know what they're talking about. The food, wine, ambiance and service combine to make Towngate that rarest of restaurants - a place that feels relaxed and sophisticated at the same time, a brasserie you could visit weekly without ever getting bored. Residents of Hipperholme - you have been given a gift, and I am extremely jealous. Make sure you appreciate this place; it's a gem.
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