With priority for tickets given to Riverford customers, would-be diners had to part with £25 to secure a seat at the supper club. Held on a Wednesday evening in June, the event consisted of nibbles from Riverford's new range washed down with a glass of prosecco, followed by a three-course meal. I had expected to find our fellow diners mingling and chatting on arrival, but instead everyone was seated. To be honest, apart from sharing a table for 4 with 2 other diners (the layout of Oxfork doesn't really lend itself to group dining), little about the evening was reminiscent of a supper club in the more usual sense. Perhaps 'pop-up restaurant' would be a more appropriate tag, given that the venue isn't the chef's home, but as Oxfork is a permanent fixture, that doesn't seem quite the right label either.
Semantics aside, it looked like we were in for a good evening: who doesn't like being greeted by a glass of fizz? Every seat was full; there was a lively hum running through the restaurant. N and I took our seats and sampled a selection of the pre-dinner nibbles on offer from Riverford's 'picnic' range: olives, a couple of dips accompanied with crudités, plus two pies – a homity pie and another unspecified assortment of pastry-encased veg. The homity pie in particular was tasty, with a slightly spicy flavour. As we picked at our entrées, a member of the Oxfork team and Oxford's Riverford representative Jake talked us through the way the evening would unfold: three courses, with organic beers and wines available to purchase by the glass or bottle, followed by coffee and hopefully questions with the chef.
|Broad bean and cheese bruschetta|
First up was a broad bean and sheep's cheese bruschetta: an explosion of vibrant green served on a quirky vintage plate. The portion size certainly wasn't lacking (N thought it was perhaps even a bit too big; I thought it was value for money) and neither was the flavour. A chunky purée of broad beans and hunks of cheese sat atop slices of olive oil-soaked artisan bread, making for slightly messy eating – not that I cared, it tasted too good. The flavour was enhanced with plenty or garlic and a subtle taste of mint.
|The main event: a starch-free zone|
After a starter like that, the main had a lot to live up to. Described as 'beetroot with aromatic spices, spring greens with coconut and chilli and cucumber relish', it turned out to be... just that. Two beetroot served with some tastily seasoned veg and a cucumber dip. It was all perfectly flavoursome and wholesome, but it wasn't the most filling dish. It was also completely lacking in carbohydrate or protein, so it wasn't the most balanced of dishes. Concocting a nutritionally sound vegetarian dish is more challenging than catering to meat-eaters, but it surely isn't tough to incorporate a starch into a meal. N and I both felt it would have worked better as a starter, and I was quite underwhelmed by the limited imagination it showed. Simplicity can be a good thing, but I just wasn't convinced by this dish unfortunately.
One upside to the no-carb main was the stomach space it left for dessert. Thankfully, the cherry clafoutis came in huge slabs. Rather than the dense, flan-like texture I'd sampled in France, Oxfork's take on clafoutis had a lighter finish, with airy sponge studded with fresh cherries. The fruit was incredibly sweet and much tastier than any supermarket offering. Full marks to Riverford for the cherries, and full marks to Oxfork for the baking skills.
After dinner, we were served coffee but there was no tea to be had: I'd expect to be offered an infusion at least. We lingered over our decaf but the chat with the chef didn't materialise. A shame as I wouldn't have minded the clafoutis recipe, if such sacred knowledge could be shared.
All in all, it was a nice evening with some tasty vegetarian food on offer. Both the fruit and veg in the dishes we tried had a much more pronounced flavour than anything I'd buy from the supermarket, making me think that organic could be the way forward. I have to say I think the main course was a bit lacking, but on the whole, the food was delicious and the evening was a good introduction to both Riverford's offerings and to Oxfork's cooking. I'm still on the hunt for an Oxford supper club, though...
Riverford organises seasonal evenings at Oxfork. Keep en eye on Oxfork's Facebook page for details of the next one. Tickets cost £25.
My next radio show on 13 July will focus on al fresco dining. Very erm, seasonal. Tune in to BBC Radio Oxford from 1pm on Friday 13 July.