For those of you that have been to the centre of Oxford within the last few months, you may have noticed that Cornmarket Street has become (how can I word this politely 🤔)… a bit empty and boring.
As someone that was born and raised in Oxford, I was really excited to see the new Westgate Shopping Centre open and bring something new and fresh to the city because, in my opinion, we needed something just like it.
However, I wasn’t aware of the impact that it would have on the rest of the city and businesses that weren’t planning to be located inside the Westgate.
Since The Westgate has opened we have seen many retailers leave their existing units on Cornmarket Street, the High Street etc. and relocate to the Westgate.
This combined with high rents and lower footfall due to people being drawn to the Westgate has snowballed and led to some businesses having to close around the city centre and not relocate anywhere in Oxford which is so sad to see.
But, there is some good news. As I work very nearby I noticed that the old Austin Reed on Cornmarket Street was actually being turned into something else. I looked in the window and saw what looked like a couple of large beer tanks in the back and was amazed to see that it appeared like a new pub was going to arrive!
This was a big surprise with everything taken into consideration and quite a ballsy move in my opinion.
What’s more, is that this spot has a bit of history to it. This 350-year-old building has been restored to what once was a former pub. I’m in awe of the execution of this idea as I think it’s such a quirky and great little place for it. The building was registered as a pub in 1656 and operated as such until 1924 when it turned into Austin Reed and now it’s back to being an independent pub, with other bar interests in Oxford.
Have a scroll below to see the pictures I took of the pub. You can see pictures of the outside and the restaurant, upstairs. Downstairs is more of a pub/bar layout.
Overall I found the interior to be very nicely decorated keeping some of the old character of the building with some modern additions. Classy with a cosy feel. A really good place for a date night.
Food and Drink
So after a first glimpse at the menu, what was quite nice is that the selection is not overwhelmingly vast which makes choosing easier. I find that in some pubs you have too much variety so a nice simple menu with some usual sounding dishes with a bit of a twist was welcomed.
To start we ordered some Pork Cracking and Bread with fairly low expectations. I mean how good can these be, right? They’re pretty basic starters.
We were very wrong, I’ve never tasted such nice pork cracking (I didn’t know standards varied much, to be honest) but the best way to describe it would be that it tasted fresh and it was covered in Nori, which is Japanese for ‘edible seaweed’, giving it a real twist.
As for the homemade bread and butter, I think the best description we had is that it tasted like a fresh muffin, but not overly dense. It was super soft too as you would at least expect, and definitely over-delivered on the standards we expected.
It would be rude to visit a pub without trying some of their beer, which complemented the meal well. Beer is being brewed on site which is awesome.
For our mains we opted for Taleggio Mac ‘N’ Cheese and the Mini Steak with Triple Cooked Chunky Chips.
Now that we were really getting stuck into our meals it became obvious that The Plough at 38 has particularly high standards of presentation of their dishes. This makes the experience even more pleasant knowing that the chef has taken the utmost care in crafting your meal.
I was also told that quite often if the dish isn’t perfectly presented and can’t be rectified the chef will refuse to send it out and start again. No food wastage occurs though, as the staff get to eat up any of those dishes (which I’m sure they aren’t complaining about!).
The Mac N Cheese was excellent. Just the right amount of cheesiness and I wouldn’t of thought that Walnuts go with it, butt they really do add a nice texture and there was a light hint of celery dressing which created another twist.
The Mini Steak was also very good. The quality of meat was superb. Juicy, tender and full of flavour. I was told that not only is the meat sourced through local butchers but they age the meat for between 38-42 days (42 days being a very rare find unless you visit top steak houses) so for a fairly small pub I thought this was great.
Hands down, the best chips we have ever tasted. they were so crispy on the outside and very fluffy on the inside. Apparently, the chef has been through all sorts of different types of potatoes to create the perfect tasting chips here which, we can vouch for.
Although we were stuffed we wanted to try some desserts based on the quality of the food thus far.
We tried their Velencia Orange Tart with Fennel Ice Cream and crystallised Fennel seeds, Dark Chocolate Cremeux with Coffee bean, meringue, pink peppercorn and pecan nuts and their Vanilla Panna Cotta.
I’m not usually a fan of orange flavoured desserts, however, the Orange Tart blew me away. Panna Cotta is normally one of my go-to desserts so I had to try this. I was intrigued by the chocolate Cremeux with a coffee twist so had to try this too. If I were to rank the desserts them in order by favourite it would be
- Velencia Orange Tart with Fennel Ice Cream and crystallised Fennel seeds.
- Dark Chocolate Cremeux with a coffee twist.
- Vanilla Panna Cotta.
I urge you to check out my Instagram Story highlights and see the crunch on top of that Orange tart into the soft gooey underneath; the texture was amazing!
Conclusions and Final Thoughts
My first question when reviewing a restuarant is typically, would I return here? The answer without hesitation is a big yes.
I’ve been told that the menu will be changing again soon so that’s really nice to hear they mix it up fairly frequently as the restaurant has only been open for approximately two to three weeks!
From what I understood the head chef has worked in the same space as the famous Heston Blumenthal and is a big fan of working with seasonal, local produce which is a big win as far as I’m concerned.
After leaving the Plough I thought to myself, the food here has been better than some highly regarded countryside pubs I’ve been to before, but instead of being in the middle of no-where it’s located in the centre of Oxford and is very easy to find.
Could this be a quality countryside style pub in the city centre? I think they are and I hope they are here for years to come.