Self-promoted as 'the busiest brasserie and bar in Oxford', Quod is a bit of a High Street institution: all gloss and chrome, it's true that it's usually bustling with tourists and locals alike, drawn by its atmosphere and sleek good looks as well as its menu. I must admit that since a brush with a main course portion of ravioli featuring a mere nine parcels of pasta (£1 per spinach-stuffed sheet) many years ago, I haven't been Quod's biggest fan. But on a day like this, I was willing to give them a chance.
As it was a bank holiday, the £11.95 two course menu wasn't on offer, so we perused the selection of modern British/European brasserie fare, from seasonal dishes such as fennel, cucumber and dill salad (£5.50) and roast chicken breast with courgette and saffron risotto (£13.95) to burgers, pasta and some interesting-sounding pizzas (including courgette, broad bean and spinach with lemon and pecorino). Avoiding the £11.95 artichoke ravioli, I opted for a starter of gazpacho (£5.95), while D went for the steak tartare (£7.95).
The idea of raw meat may be completely alien to me, but D's quite the fan of uncooked flesh, and as a chap with high standards I was happy to believe his assessment of the beautifully-presented dish as an eight out of ten. Topped with a quail's egg still sitting in a half shell, the patty of beef came with tomatoes and cucumbers already blended into the mixture: apparently this isn't usual and D prefers to mix in the vegetables himself, but the quality and taste of the well-seasoned meat made up for it.
I should have known better than to order gazpacho. After sampling heaven in a bottle thanks to Pedro's mum, chilled blended vegetables will never taste as good again. I can only assume Quod's blender was on the blink though, as I received a dish of cold chunky vegetables with two cubes of ice nestling on top of them. I have been presented with 'rustic'-style gazpacho in the UK before, but the ice cubes in a £5.95 portion served in a restaurant of this ilk was just plain lazy. Unfortunately, the tomato, cucumber and pepper mush didn't improve on tasting; it was under-seasoned and far too chewy. My jaw didn't get such a workout with Pedro's mum's gazpacho, that's all I'm saying.
My main course of risotto of the day (an interesting idea, especially if most of them are vegetarian, thus sidestepping the wild mushroom trap) improved matters somewhat. Seafood-based, I wasn't quite sure of the exact ingredients given the volume at which the waitress whispered its existence to us, but I detected prawns, clams and possibly mullet. Just creamy enough, the rice was perfectly cooked and the flavour of the fish was subtle rather than overpowering. I chose the smaller portion, which was just enough following a starter.
'School dinner', I said when D's plate of spaghetti bolognaise (another special, chosen in honour of his impending move to Italy) slid onto the table. 'If the steak tartare got an eight for presentation, this is a two', he agreed. A bowlful of pasta topped with what seemed to be a mere ladleful of sauce, this dish was a letdown: although the taste was OK, the pasta-to-sauce ratio was completely imbalanced.
I was right that nothing could spoil my lunch, although the gazpacho certainly tried. Underwhelmed once again by Quod, I was too overwhelmed by D's good news to care. I can't say I'll be rushing back: although the risotto was tasty and enjoyable, a sense of trading on their reputation prevailed. And when you're serving iced gazpacho, it's time to question whether that reputation can be maintained.
Quod is at 92-94 High Street, Oxford OX1 4BJ. Tel: 01865 202505.