Friday, 5 August 2011

The Rusty Bicycle

I first discovered The Rusty Bicycle one Sunday at the end of last year when, in the midst of moving house, my long-suffering dad and I tried our luck at the Magdalen Arms. There was no room at the inn, but the barman did me a bigger favour than he realised when he pointed us up Magdalen Road in the direction of the Rusty. With a more relaxed, friendly feel than the MA, we soon felt at home tucking into Sunday roast (dad) and a Moroccan bean and halloumi salad (me). And here's the disclaimer before you read on: I've been a relatively regular customer ever since.

As discussed in my review of sister pub the Rickety Press, I like a smartly decorated yet still casual pub with a selection of good food on offer, so the Rusty is right up my street. I have fond memories of devouring the tastiest fish and chips I've eaten below Birmingham (I maintain that northern chippies do it best) followed by a delicious Earl Grey infused sticky toffee pudding. I nearly had to be rolled home afterwards, but it was worth it. My mum has notoriously high standards, but even she deemed the Rusty worthy of a repeat visit after trying their mushroom risotto (the fact that they do fizz by the glass also helped).

Post-Rickety Press visit, I decided the time had come to review the Rusty's culinary offerings. On arrival, I was a little disappointed to discover that the menu is now more limited in scope: a selection of nibbles, sharing boards, wraps, burgers and a few salads and healthier bites are what's on offer nowadays (roasts are still available on Sundays, though). Everything sounded tasty and was reasonably priced, but the selection isn't exactly extensive. Perhaps the menu's been reduced for summer, but I hope the fish and chips makes a comeback at least.

A & I kicked off our evening with a pot of houmous with 'harissa rose relish' and pitta bread (£3), which was (not to put too fine a point on it) absolutely delicious, or as my rather sophisticated notes attest, 'fit'. Presentation was perfect, with the chickpea, onion and harissa relish adding substance and a touch of spice.

Yummy houmous
Stomachs suitably stimulated and half of my reduced menu-related toys back in the pram, we awaited the arrival of our wraps. And what wraps they were: nobody could accuse me of having a small mouth, either literally or metaphorically, but even I was unable to get my laughing gear round one of the Rusty's 'chunky khobez wraps'. That's the thing: they're not really wraps. They're more like flatbreads enclosing the customer's filling of choice: a visually appealing presentation device, yes, but not really designed for ease of eating. And I suppose 'wraps' is easier to fit on a menu.

Sweet potato falafel wrap

Lamb kofta wrap

Ease and elegance issues aside (this is pub grub after all), my sweet potato falafel wrap (£5) was both flavoursome and filling. The homemade falafel were moist and tasty, and the addition of a spiced yoghurt dressing and a pot of that gorgeous houmous were excellent complements. As for the wrap, I alternated between attacking it with my cutlery and tearing strips off it to smear in the dip. A's lamb and feta kofta wrap with tzatziki (£6) was another appetizing option, with high quality, well-cooked lamb enhanced by the Grecian accompaniments.

To conclude, we opted for a Sailor Jerry's chocolate pot (£3) from the small dessert selection, which also features G & D's ice cream. Expecting a miniature dish of chilled rum-infused chocolate, we were initially nonplussed by the espresso cup of what looked like warm milk chocolate mousse. And then we dipped into it. Don't judge a chocolate pot by its temperature: this cup of chocolatey, rummy goodness was delicious.

So, we had a tasty and cheap meal in a lovely pub with a great atmosphere. It wasn't exactly what you'd call a gastro delight, but it was a definite cut above standard pub fare, with high quality, seasonal ingredients served up in interesting combinations. I can't help but hope that the extended menu makes a reappearance come autumn, but I'll still be returning regardless - for the houmous if nothing else.

Verdict: 7.5 (but 10 for the houmous).

The Rusty Bicycle is at 28 Magdalen Road, Oxford OX4 1RB. Tel: 01865 435 298.

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