Friday, 25 May 2012


Mention curry in Oxford and it's not long before Aziz crops up in conversation. Something of an institution, this Cowley Road restaurant divides opinion: from raves to rubbishing, I've heard it all. Maybe the wildly varying accounts are what kept me away until now. After all, Oxford has no shortage of decent Indian restaurants.

But in preparation for my 25 May radio show on the topic of Indian restaurants, I decided to branch out from my curry houses of choice and try out Aziz. Turning up with two friends at 6.30 on a Tuesday, I was surprised to be asked whether I'd booked. I know it's a popular spot, but given that only a handful of tables were full at that point, it seemed a little unnecessary. More surprises were in store, as we were seated by an ageing waiter in a full suit, complete with dickie bow and the rather modern accessory of a bluetooth headpiece. Not exactly something you see every day. The menu was much more familiar territory: a manageable selection of starters (priced from £4.15–6.75) followed by a range of special meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian dishes, plus the usual curry classics. There's nothing radically different about the menu, but it covers all bases and caters to all palates. Some of the specials sounded interesting, such as kodu gosht (lamb with pumpkin, £9.75) and eitcha bagaun (medium-spiced prawn with aubergine curry, £9.75). Dishes are priced from £7.75 for a vegetarian main to £12.95 for some king prawn dishes: although prices don't climb too high, I would expect to see some cheaper vegetarian options.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Breakfast at Hope House, Woodstock

Apparently it's the most important meal of the day, although you wouldn't think so given the lack of reverence breakfast usually receives. A hurried slice of toast washed down with a mouthful of tea; coffee and a croissant while commuting; a bowl of cereal bolted down in front of a computer screen. As someone who can't function effectively/behave like a polite human being on an empty stomach, it will come as no surprise that food is top of my morning priorities. As present and past housemates could tell you with varying degrees of amusement or envy, I always find time to sit down and eat a proper breakfast before leaving for work. So when I heard that swish hotel Hope House in Woodstock was worth an overnight stay for its breakfast alone, I was intrigued.

Hope House

The ancestral home of the Money family (with a surname like that, it's no wonder they have an ancestral home), Hope House was transformed into an upmarket boutique B & B back in 2009. Built around the same as local landmark Blenheim Palace (and possibly designed by the same architect), with just 3 suites Hope House is an exclusive address in the heart of Woodstock. As it's a Grade II listed building, the refurbishment retained Hope House's period features, but the guest rooms boast plenty of contemporary touches. There are all the high-end trappings you'd expect of anywhere described as 'boutique': flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, roll-top baths and funky chaise longues.

Staying at Hope House is certainly a luxurious experience, but there's none of the faceless impersonality you sometimes encounter at high-end hotels. Given the exclusivity of the place and its warm welcome, there's a feeling of being guest in someone's (admittedly very swanky) home. Everything is focused on guest comfort and convenience: foodies will be keen to note that suites come equipped with a well-stocked fridge with drinks and snacks at 'pub prices', and the now rather rare tea and coffee making facilities. We're not talking about a travel kettle, a couple of sachets of Nescafé and a forlorn Tetley tea bag here though: there's a coffee press, choice of premium grounds and a selection of Teapigs infusions (including breakfast tea for the traditionalists, or course). With such a thirst-quenching spread in the bedroom, N and I could only imagine what the breakfast table was going to look like the following morning.


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