At number 74 Cowley Road, this cosy, quirkily-decorated little restaurant may look unassuming, but its seasonal menu of mostly British dishes packs a punch. With 6 starters, 7 mains and 5 desserts chalked up on a blackboard, choice isn't vast but it's definitely sufficient, and with dishes including free-range chicken breast served with caponata and four-cheese filo tart on the menu, you're bound to find something to tempt you.
Even though over half the tables were occupied (not bad for a Wednesday evening), the atmosphere was laid-back and relaxed. Service was friendly and attentive, the lone waitress offering us tap water just as my lips were forming the request and providing us with a big chilled bottle to go with our merlot (£14.50).
|Sweet spiced carrot fritters|
Starters of sweet carrot fritters with a chilli dipping sauce and a roast tomato and fennel soup with toast and basil pistou (£4.95 each) arrived promptly and were beatifully presented; the three fritters were robust and full-flavoured, sitting on a bed of well-dressed mixed leaves. The chilli dipping sauce complemented them well, whetting my appetite for my main course. K's soup didn't hit such a high note: rustic and chunky, its subtle fennel flavour was tasty but let down by the unexpected use of tinned tomatoes rather than the roasted ones advertised.
|Roast tomato and fennel soup|
Her main course of a 7.4oz organic beef burger served with salad, chips and aioli (£8.95) was more highly rated: cooked medium rare as requested, it was apparently a touch dry but the quality of the meat and the seasoning made up for this; the chunky chips were just the right side of crisp and again, the presentation was spot on. The presence of dill in the aioli was an odd and unwelcome touch, though.
My salmon and haddock fishcakes with buttered spring greens and lemon and caper dressing (£10.95) satisfied my remaning appetite: no skimpy portions here, these cakes were definitely worth the price tag. The haddock and salmon worked perfectly together and the chef had avoided the 'lumpy potato' trap that so many fishcakes can fall into. The greens and the light, fresh dressing gave the dish a welcome summer feel and prevented it from being too carb-heavy.
|Salmon and haddock fishcakes|
Happily full of food, wine and conversation, we couldn't resist one of the tempting-sounding desserts and opted to share a slice of dark chocolate and orange cheesecake (£4.50). Rich and sweet at the same time, the orange flavour was somewhat lacking, and although I had no problems polishing it off, I don't think it's the best of the Door 74 desserts - I still harbour fond memories of a chocolate semi-freddo I ate there two years ago.
|Dark chocolate and orange cheesecake|
At just over £50 for 2 courses each, a dessert and a bottle of wine, Door 74 gets the price-quality ratio just right. I have to admit it wasn't the best meal I've ever had there, but then I had high expectations: their food is consistently good, the service unintrusive but friendly, and the menu always offering classic yet creative combinations with something to suit everyone. For a quality meal in a relaxed atmosphere, you can't go wrong.
Door 74 is at 74 Cowley Road. Reservations recommended at weekends. Tel: 01865 203374. Open Tue-Sun (brunch only on Sun).