Sunday, 10 June 2012

Gee's

A lounge suit, a scholar's gown or even black tie is a common sight on the streets of Oxford. Even on a Tuesday evening. With the staff and students of the city's ancient university accounting for a significant percentage of Oxford's population, you soon get used to its quirks – smart dress mid-week being one of them. After all, this traditional institution has plenty of balls, formal dinners and graduation ceremonies in its calendar. The latter are particularly proud occasions, when beaming families dressed in their finest flock to the Sheldonian Theatre in support of a be-gowned graduand. Ceremony over, it's time to celebrate. But where in Oxford is worthy of such an occasion?

A Victorian conservatory nestled discreetly among university buildings and chic shopfronts on Banbury Road, that's where. Part of the Mogford group of restaurants, Gee's is many Oxford residents' go-to address when it comes to occasion dining. There are regulars too, of course, but I'd wager that a high proportion of diners only visit erm, occasionally. It's a favourite for families celebrating their offspring's intelligence post-graduation, and a popular option for Sunday lunch when well-heeled parents swing by Oxford for a term-time visit. But what does Gee's have to offer those without an event to toast?



Quite a bit, actually. Visiting for a work function on a Thursday evening, more than half the tables in the light-filled dining room were occupied. There was one particularly annoying table of aloof adults with screaming children tearing around the place (more than a little inappropriate given the setting), but apart from that all the other diners looked fairly... well, normal and uncelebratory, actually. Most people associate Gee's with a hefty price-tag, but I found the cost only a little higher than the Mogford group's city centre flagship, Quod. Mains range from £12 to £23, while starters are mostly around the £7 mark. It's clearly not somewhere you'd dine if you were on a tight budget, but nor is it prohibitively expensive. There's also a set menu on offer for lunch or an early dinner, for the reasonable outlay of £16.95 for 2 courses or £20.95 for 3.

The daily menu is small and seasonal, with enough options for meat-eaters but slim pickings for vegetarians. On my visit, I was glad to be a pescetarian rather than a total veggie, as the main of beetroots with cress and curd (£12) didn't exactly sound appealing. All dishes are described minimally, but the staff are helpful when it comes to questions. A little more detail would be helpful though, as would a specials board: I had to enquire about the fish of the day, which turned out to be plaice served with jersey royal potatoes and green beans. The wine list is similarly limited but well-chosen, with plenty of countries and styles covered: the house white (a French Bastille) was fruity and crisp - a definite cut above most house wines. All wines are available by the glass too, which is a nice touch.

Artichokes with broad beans and mint

After placing our orders we were served with warm bread to munch on as we awaited our starters. They arrived quickly enough, and were all well-presented but served in relatively petite portions. The risotto with peas, clams and mint (£7.50) was enjoyed by both A and C, although A's serving featured around 7 clams while C's fell short with only 2. What it lacked in shellfish it made up for in taste, however: C described the texture as 'melt in the mouth'; just al dente enough. The asparagus with parmesan  (£6.95) was simple but effective, with the cheese complementing the grilled asparagus rather than overpowering it. My artichokes with broad beans and mint (£7) were equally simple and tasty, if a little oily. M's poorly-described 'prosciutto, chickpea fritter' (£9.75) turned out to be 2 small chickpea croquettes smothered in slices of ham. Served with a tomato chutney, it was tasty but not exactly what he was expecting.

Grilled plaice

Appetites stimulated but not satisfied, we were ready for our mains. My plaice also fell into the 'simple and well-cooked' category, although I felt it could have been more flavoursome. The tomato and caper salsa added a little more taste, but not quite enough. The portion was generous though, and the fish tasted like a good quality cut. C's seared scallops with tomatoes, capers and thyme (£18.75) were a well-prepared treat: the scallops were excellent quality and perfectly cooked, with just a subtle taste of capers. C proclaimed them the best scallops she'd ever had, so Gee's are clearly doing something right. M and S both opted for the rump of lamb with new season garlic and aubergine (£18.75), but it was much more popular with M. On the pink side, M found the lamb delicious, tender and tasty, with the smoky taste of the aubergines providing an ideal counterpoint to the sweetness of the lamb. S found the aubergine a bit too tart, though.

Strawberry & almond tart

After all this, we still had room for dessert - well, it would be rude not to when you're armed with a company credit card, wouldn't it? The chocolate nemesis (£7.50) turned out to be a disappointingly modest piece of chocolate cake served with ice cream. Tricky to tackle it wasn't, but fortunately it tasted good. 3 of us chose the strawberry and almond tart (£6.50), which was more like a clafoutis in texture. It was served in a generous portion, light in texture and topped with plenty of fresh berries. The panna cotta with rhubarb (£6) was equally good, with a delicate contrast of sweet and tart flavours.

Panna cotta. Not egg & chips.

Three courses each at Gee's didn't bust the (work) budget, but it definitely falls into treat territory for most people. With well-prepared food that mostly hit the mark, a sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere (once the screaming brats had departed), you can see why it's so popular for graduation dinners and other celebrations. I can't say that I'd go there for a casual meal, but the set menu seems well worth checking out for a spot of luxury with a modest price tag. Vegetarians may struggle though, so check the menu before visiting if you don't eat meat or fish.

Verdict: 8

Gee's is at 61 Banbury Road, OX2 6PE. Tel: 01865 553540. Booking advised.


Update: As you may have noticed, Girl Eats Oxford reviews are now fortnightly. Now that my one-year mission is over, I'll be publishing at least 2 reviews per month. All recommendations are appreciated, but it may take longer for me to act on them all! I'll still be appearing on BBC Radio Oxford one Friday each month. The next show, on 22 June, focuses on places to dine al fresco in Oxfordshire.


2 comments:

  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.The post is written in very a good manner and it entails many useful information for me. I am happy to find your distinguished way of writing the post. Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement the concept. Accounting services oxford Thank you for the post.

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  2. I love this place- I recently came across it with my boyfriend and I love its setting- the big conservatory is lovely to sit in! we had the big Gee's burgers which was so yummy!! lovely blog post xxxx

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