“If you’d told me ten years ago I would be cooking vegetarian food I would have laughed, actually make that two years ago. But I couldn’t be happier at The Punter. I absolutely love what I do. It has really changed the way I look at food.”
So speaks head chef Anthony Skeats from Thame, who took over the kitchens at The Punter in Osney Mead, Oxford in August and really raised its game, unsurprising really considering his pedigree – Anthony worked at The Sir Charles Napier in Chinnor from 2010-2016, latterly as head chef where he retained a Michelin star for two years.
“I’ve found it really exciting cooking at the punter. it makes you look at food from a completely different angle. It’s been a really fun journey”
And we can vouch for that because having dined there on Friday night, it was a really exemplary meal. The menu is complex, appealing and ambitious, everything is made from scratch and it’s equally exciting for carnivores and herbivores alike.
So no, we didn’t miss the meat. Plus, it’s incredibly good value into the bargain – our wine was £20 a bottle and no mains cost more than £14, and the service was friendly and immaculate – thank you Nicola Green (we asked her name)!
We kicked off with some irresistible nibbles – a pungent, crispy, moreish (vegan) shallot bhaji with lime pickle (£4), a salt baked celeriac Scotch egg with ‘HP’ sauce (£4) – perfectly cooked egg, a brilliant replica and crispy on the outside, plumped on a deep rich sauce – and the (vegan) fried cauliflower with chimichurri £4) which was so addictive we had to refrain from ordering more.
Starters ranged from a generous truffled Welsh rarebit with herb salad on sourdough (£7.50) to the miso glazed aubergine, crispy and spiced tofu with a date and tamarind puree – beautifully marinated and balanced (£6), and the feta (can be vegan), green bean, shallot and mustard salad with roasted hazelnut and plum (£7.50) which was lovely but needed a bit more punch.
it’s incredibly good value into the bargain. Our wine was £20 a bottle and no mains cost more than £14
The Thai green vegetable broth with a bean spout salad, Nam Jim dressing and roasted peanuts (£14) which we had for our mains was worth the trip alone.
Served without the bulk of extra rice, its colour was a vision to behold, its exquisite authentic Asian flavours made me vow to return as soon as physically possible.
Sourcing all his fruit and veg from the wonderful Pickle & Lime in Botley who are really adventurous with their produce, as transpired in our meal.
The grilled paneer (or tofu) with spinach and chickpeas, satay sauce, chilli and coriander also had a wonderfully exotic kick.
How we managed the dessert I’ll never know, but the chocolate mousse tart with mango and passionfruit (£7)was declared by my vegan friend to be ‘the best dessert she’d ever had’, the zing of the fruit providing the perfect contrast, it wowed us all.
“if you take that piece of protein off the plate it gives you carte blanche and makes you so much more creative with your flavours and spicing, your inspiration and flavours”
The buttermilk panna cotta with strawberry, basil and caramelised white chocolate (£7) took away what little breath I had left. Just the right bounce, the crunch of the chocolate and the piquant freshness of the fruit were spot on.
“the excitement hasn’t worn off yet. I wake up with a smile on my face every morning.”
So where did Anthony find this inventive veggie/vegan streak? “Most chefs base their meals around the meat or fish they are cooking, but if you take that piece of protein off the plate it gives you carte blanche and makes you so much more creative with your flavours and spicing, your inspiration and flavours.
The chocolate mousse tart with mango and passionfruit was declared by my vegan friend ‘the best dessert she’d ever had’
“I’ve found it really exciting,” Anthony says. “It makes you look at food from a completely different angle and I’m really proud of where I am now. It’s been a really fun journey.”
Being made redundant during lockdown and having to take a job as a supermarket delivery driver, has only heightened his enjoyment, but when he was first offered the job at The Punter, Anthony was still sceptical.
“Oh massively. When Tom Rainey (owner of The Punter and The Porterhouse in Oxford) rang me to discuss the job it didn’t massively appeal, but then I realised it could only be better than what I was doing. So I went to meet him and we really hit it off. And from that moment on I was really excited, which hasn’t worn off yet. I wake up with a smile on my face every morning.”
“The job was well out of my comfort zone, and something I’d never have looked at pre-pandemic, but thank God I did because I really love it”
“The job was well out of my comfort zone, and something I’d never have looked at pre-pandemic, but thank God I did because I really love it. It’s really fired up my imagination and uses all my expertise.”
The Punter is at 7 South Street, Oxford. OX2 0BE Got to https://www.thepunteroxford.co.uk for more information or to book.