It’s easy to leave some of the best places in Oxford to the tourists, but on a scorching day, al fresco riverside dining was certainly on the cards.
And the city is spoilt for choice; from the Cherwell Boathouse to The Medley, The Victoria and The Isis Farmhouse there’s lots to choose from.
But The Folly won the day, its pontoon offering hard to beat. And with a great indoor space to offset any rain, it’s a win-win.
Dan Richardson is the head chef doing some stellar work in the kitchen, the sophisticated and eclectic menu complementing both the setting and the weather.
Venturing down the steps is like something out of Brideshead Revisited, the associated boat company Oxford River Cruises taking passengers on a dining expedition as we sat down to admire the view.
Not wanting to eat mains in this heat we opted for lots of starters instead, kicking off with the fabulous bread – arriving in two forms – white wine or red onion – with a duo of butters, olive oil and balsamic. A really impressive start.
Then the roasted red pepper gazpacho with sauce vierge and croutons (£9.50) which arrived consumee clear with that smear of olive oil on the surface (see pic above), the depth of flavour imbued, the croutons providing just the right crunch.
The satay parfait was another surprise (£10.50), if rather sparse, served with charred broccoli, lime gel and chilli flatbread. What an ingenious dish, the peanut taste smooth and chilled, the tart lime gel cutting through the flavours, although I needed more flatbread to scoop up all the parfait.
As for the salt cod mousse with pickled cucumber, curried cauliflower and a batter wafer (£12.50), it was a wonderful mix of flavour, texture and spicing, but again required more wafers to do it justice.
The confit pork & Calvados date terrine with a bacon crisp, pickles, bacon and truffle emulsion (£12.50) was another highlight, so rich and rustic yet elevated by the earthy emulsion and smoky bacon. Heaven.
Desserts were a must, the orange crème brulee with elderflower cream and a caramelised rice crispy (£10.95) had my name on it and lived up to all expectations, while the red velvet fondant with caramelised yoghurt sorbet and an orange tuile (£11.95) nearly stole the show.
We were enjoying ourselves so much that only when the glorious looking high teas were being served did we manage to drag ourselves away, so if you fancy losing the crowds and enjoying a visually enticing and memorable meal, head down to The Folly for a real treat.
That weekend, having hired punts from Magdalen Bridge, we glided up the river just before lunch, working up a good appetite with lots of time to plan where to eat. Somewhere riverside, near and unfussy was the criteria and Fuller’s pub The Head of The River ticked all the boxes.
It was busy of course being such a prime location, the menu more pricey than we’d hoped, but the sun was out and we were starving.
The Chalcroft farm beef burger with Gouda, lettuce, tomato, red onions, secret sauce and triple cooked chips (£17.50) was a big hit. Massive and juicy, the sauce was a favourite and the chips the perfect accruement.
The boys couldn’t get enough of the plentiful roasts, opting for the dry-aged sirloin of Owton’s beef roasted pink (£20.95) and the roast loin of south coast pork with crackling (£19.50) and were happy as Larry with the generous portions.
The confit cherry tomato linguine with piquillo peppers, basil, pine nuts and goat’s cheese butter (£14.50) was perfectly nice, and it was fun to sit soaking up the rays surrounded by families, young people, students and tourists enjoying themselves.
So yes, Folly Bridge has got it all, restaurants, cafes and pubs, so next time the sun is shining and you’re wondering where to eat you’ll know!
The Folly Restaurant, Folly Bridge Oxford is at https://www.no1-folly-bridge.co.uk
The Head Of The River, Folly Bridge is at https://www.headoftheriveroxford.co.uk/