Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Loch Fyne

Loch Fyne may be a chain, but with 42 branches dotted around the country, you won't exactly find one on every high street. Oxford's Loch Fyne is located away from the centre in trendy Jericho, setting it apart from the bulk of the city's chains in location as well as feel. The Loch Fyne menu varies slightly depending on location, and changes several times a year to reflect the seasons.

Keen to experience the pesecetarian joys Oxford has to offer, I followed my visit to Fishers with a trip to Loch Fyne to road-test their 2 courses for £9.95 offer. Sitting down at our table, we almost felt like we actually were on the coast rather than miles inland: the air conditioning was turned up so high my friend's hair was blowing in the breeze. A quick word to the friendly staff quickly calmed her barnet and regulated the temperature, but I couldn't help but wish we'd been placed on one of the tables around the edge of the dining space, rather than in the centre of the restaurant where the tables are a little too close for comfort.

Heating issues dealt with, I selected from the 2 course menu currently available Monday to Thursday evenings. With options such as Wiltshire trout with lemon and coriander butter and pan-fried salmon, the deal covers the classics, with the a la carte menu offering more 'exciting' options including fish curry and pasta dishes as well as straightforward fillets of fish. Both vegetarians and meat lovers are catered for on the offer, though, with both a meat-free and a meaty starter and a main among the choices (5 for each course). I opted for steamed rope-grown mussels with shallots (but minus the bacon) followed by Scottish hake with sauteed new potatoes and samphire in a mustard dressing, while my dining companions went wild and hit the a la carte menu.

Although my mussels looked perfectly generous for a starter-size portion, I couldn't help but feel a bit of mussel envy when I saw the size of AM's pot of cream and white wine-drenched molluscs. A little lacking in flavour (perhaps due to the omission of the bacon), they were decent enough but nothing to rave about, while AM's moules marinieres were decidedly tasty.

Steamed mussels
J's coarse peppered mackerel pate with oatcakes was not only perfectly presented, it was full of flavour and moreish - and I'm not normally a fan of mackerel. The portion size was also generous: no skimpy servings here, then.

Mackerel pate

Main courses followed a similar pattern: as is to be expected, the a la carte beat the offer's offerings on both size and taste. My hake was decent, with a pleasant enough sauce, but it was far from memorable. The seasonal addition of samphire had me thinking back to my meal at Fishers and its superiority: not their aim, I'm sure! AT's fish and chips was far more appealing, both visually and in terms of taste: although it was cooked with the skin on (can anyone explain why this is the norm down south?), the fish was light and flaky and the batter crisp without being too dry or too greasy. AM's scampi and chips received a rave review, with the superior quality of the scampi evident, while J's moules marinieres also went down a treat.

Hake with new potatoes and samphire

Fish and chips


Scampi & chips
As we polished off our mains, a couple nearby were cracking into the crustaceans in their 3 tier seafood platter: featuring crab and lobster as well as an array of shellfish, it certainly looked impressive - but so it should for a £55 price tag.

With a comprehensive menu of sustainably-sourced fish dishes (and a selection of meat and vegetarian options), Loch Fyne has something for everyone, from the least adventurous eaters to those happy to get stuck in and prise the heads off prawns. Its 2 course offer may help to keep the bill low, but to make the most of the experience, opt for a la carte dining instead: the portion size and taste make it worthwhile.

Verdict: 6.5 (5 for the 2 course menu)

Loch Fyne is at 55 Walton Street, Oxford OX2 6AE. Tel: 01865 292510. If you sign up to their newsletter, you receive a £10 discount voucher.

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