Two courses for £20 at a Michelin-esque starred restaurant? Surely not? Just to make sure, and not one to pass up a golden opportunity, I arrived at the recently revamped 215 in Summertown in indecent time after hearing the rumour.
With head chef Paul Welburn in the kitchen, (he won Best Chef award at the Ox In A Box Food Awards so we are big fans), he also won a Michelin star almost as soon as he arrived in Oxford at its previous incarnation Oxford Kitchen.
In short, the deal seemed too good to be true. But no, every Thursday and Friday the £20 locals lunch, does indeed exist.
Sat outside in the last of the Indian summer’s heat last week, the restaurant inside was busy too, although neatly socially distanced. There are a confusion of menus to choose from, but we knew what we wanted – the Locals Lunch – two courses for £20, three for £27 or one course with a glass of wine for £30 (yes it is good wine).
It made choosing what to have rather easy as there were only two options for starter and main, with a vegetarian alternative. Weirdly you have to ask for the vegetarian menu and yet so many people eat less meat these days, as demonstrated by my carnivorous friends on both occasions.
The mains were superb. I can’t rate them highly enough. This is what it’s all about. This is why Paul got a Michelin star and I’m sure will get another one
But back to the excitement in hand, because it’s a rather special place 215. Technically it doesn’t still have its Michelin star any more because it changed its name and format during lockdown, but it’s run with the same team, kitchen, chef and ethos as before, so in my eyes it still is. And I knew we were in for a treat.
Our starter proved it. The white onion veloute with leek, King Edward reds and berkswell was a beautiful swirl of colour poured onto the plate in front of us by the lovely front of house Mike, the white and greens foaming in unison, the taste fresh and inspiring set against the bite of the potato hidden within.
The next course; a caramelised cauliflower barley-otto and grand adana was more experimental, meaning we had no idea what we were in for. What resulted was a risotto of sorts containing a myriad of tastes and especially textures, some rich and dark, others light and creamy, with a crunch like Rice Krispies.
Of course we then blew the calorie intake when ordering the triple smoked chips with smoked emulsion which were worth every heavenly bite and still only £4 a pop. Doubly so when we added an inordinately good, marinated strawberry with hat custard and raspberry dessert on at the end (see main pic), before paying our indecently low bill and running back to the car park before we got a ticket.
But then I got home and couldn’t stop thinking about our meal. It had been so good and what a bargain. It occurred to me I could go every week.
Sure enough six days later I was back. In fact, I tried to turn up on the Wednesday only to find that the locals lunch wasn’t on hand so had to wait an extra day.
My second visit was even better. We took our time with the menu as my friend, the Italian cookery school teacher Mariella Bliss, needed to check out the Nocerella olives and homemade beer bread with malted yeast butter first. “It’s a make or break for me,” she said in her wonderfully dramatic Italian accent.
never cross an Italian from Naples
I’m so glad she did because the bread was revelatory; chewy, dark and crusty, the yeast butter (think Marmitey) the perfect accompaniment. I could have sat there all day with my glass of rose and my basket of bread.
We then shared the same soup (well why not? It couldn’t be improved) and a portion of the delectable ‘coronation chicken croquette, mango and curry’ from the snack section which was only £3.50! You couldn’t buy a soft drink for that! And look at it. It was an absolute highlight of our meal.
You may have noticed that Mariella had veered away from the locals lunch (never cross an Italian from Naples) to the main menu, but with the Eat Out to Help Out October offering of £10 off £35 for two courses or £40 for three, it was all much of a muchness financially.
“Our waiter Mike was very keen for us to try the spiced pumpkin parfait. We didn’t want to, But he’s a persuasive chap”
The mains didn’t disappoint. Mariella had the lenongrass smoked halibut with kohlrabi and apple dash but no octopus (too cruel) which was beautifully moist and delicately flavoured.
I immediately zoned in on the squash and apple dumplings, carrot dashi and almonds because it sounded so different. Dumplings are things that go in stew in the winter though right? Wrong. Paul’s were actually black pasta ravioli filled with soft, rich squash and apple and accompanied by a carrot dashi of epic proportions.
The Japanese dashi was sweet and sour, silky and smooth, and something I could eat everyday for the rest of my life.
The mains were superb, absolutely superb. I can’t rate them highly enough. This is what it’s all about. This is why Paul got a Michelin star and I’m sure will get another one.
Our waiter Mike was very keen for us then to try the spiced pumpkin parfait with pineapple sorbet, plantation rum and ginger. We didn’t want to. I don’t particularly like parfait – finding it a weird middle ground between ice cream and mousse. But he’s a persuasive chap and I’ll have to return and have the chocolate, kaffir and coconut another time.
with £10 OFF the Eat Out to Help Out October’s £35 for two courses or £40 for three, it was all much of a muchness financially
Much as I hate to admit that he was right. It was a gift of a dish and made with love. None of the components jarred; the pineapple, rum, ginger and pumkkin accentuating each other with an autumnal flavour.
We had to try the hay custard, fig and lockdown gooseberry sorbet because it sparked such a debate – the hay custard being more of a panna cotta really, the concept layered up like little cake, beautifully presented.
Coffee with chocolates filled with salty caramel which dribbled down your chin, the bill, oh and a parking ticket.
That’s the only problem with Paul’s hypnotising food – we’d forgotten the time. An extra £50 made the locals lunch slightly more expensive than I’d envisaged but I didn’t regret it for a second. See you there next week?
To book go to https://www.twoonefive.co.uk
215 Banbury Road, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7HQ