I love being surprised – taking my first mouthful and knowing within seconds that this is different, that what is at play here may look simple but is anything but, that this meal is going to be something to shout about.
So shout I will, because while chefs and landlords can wax lyrical for hours about their food and vision, actually delivering it is quite another thing.
And Tap Social’s brand new venture The White House on Abingdon Road in Oxford does just that.
Not only is it fun, forward thinking and communal but the food is absolutely sensational, despite it’s simple delivery and approach.
Thanks to head chef Frideswide O’Neill and her incredible team, the meal we enjoyed there at the weekend was right up there with the best.
That’s not to say it’s complicated. I don’t want you turning up expecting highfalutin, fancy food. Because it’s not. It’s a sharing menu of dishes that come out as and when – you can stick to a starter, main scenario if you want, but you’d be missing out on the communal enjoyment of everyone trying a bit of this and that, dish after dish.
It’s an exciting and, for the English, fairly novel way of eating, which I enjoyed immensely.
Take our innocuous ham croquette (£2 for one £5 for three) which you find on menus everywhere these days. This was as good as it gets – crunchy outside and properly mulchy with their creamy pork filling within. Delectable. My Spanish friend, announced they were some of the best she’d ever had. “That was as authentic as they come,” she told our waiter Connor Fox afterwards.
“Washed down with some wonderful wine and some of Tap Social’s own brewed beer it was a feast indeed”
The padron peppers (£5) were charred perfectly, and juicy, the accompanying smokey chipotle sauce hitting the back of your throat with its heat.
But it was the following ‘small plates’ where Frides’ team really came into its own. There were seven options on the menu and with four of us dining we had one of each.
Predominantly vegetarian and vegan, no one cared about the fewer meat options although the ox cheek, caramelised sweet potato and horseradish cream (£9) was exceptional – the meat soft and sweet, falling apart, the harsher horseradish bringing another element to the dish.
how often do you stumble upon a paradise like The White House?
My favourite? It’s hard to pick. The grilled peach, black olive crumb and frozen feta (£6) sounded intriguing and tasted better.
The baby beetroot, white bean and smokey miso dressing (£6) was almost like a hummus, but again that hit of heat, and the earthiness of the beetroot, set it apart.
“Yes we were in heaven. Yes because of the sharing concept we all got to try everything and talk about each dish which came as and when they were ready”
The burrata, romesco and preserved lemon (£8) was as simple as they come, and yet the components all spoke for themselves, the ingredients standing proud, the soft mozzarellarey cheese plump as a pudding, the lemon grated on top, sat on the warm red peppery sauce. More, more, more.
Yes we were in heaven. Because of the sharing concept we all got to try everything and talk about each dish as it arrived. Washed down with some wonderful wine and some of Tap Social’s own brewed beer it was a feast indeed.
What am I missing? The asparagus, spring pea and cured egg yolk which arrived pretty as a picture and tasted sublime, with just the right bite.
Ooh and how can I forget the crab, tandoori yoghurt and onion ring (£7), which we worried would be too fishy, but was as light and fragrant as could be, the crunch of the onion ring and a sweep of tandoori sauce completing the picture.
Then the sweet miso aubergine, mushroom glaze and baby gem which was soft, Asian and unctuous.
Around us people celebrated; reunions, families, students, locals, couples. There is no pomp and ceremony here. It’s relaxed and colourful inside and out, but the service was impeccable despite being rammed.
“There is no pomp and ceremony here. It’s relaxed and colourful inside and out, but the service was impeccable despite being rammed”
We decided to eat dessert inside as the night drew in – the hot, crunchy, sugary doughnuts Frides is so famous for, served with a deep, savoury-sweet chocolate sauce that begged for attention.
And the olive oil cake with marscapone and strawberries was light and spongey – the perfect mediterranean hit we needed during such glorious weather.
We were reluctant to leave, but then how often do you stumble upon a paradise like The White House? My new spiritual home. See you there.
To book Tap Social’s White House at 38 Abingdon Rd, Oxford OX1 4PD and find out more about their prison rehabilitation programme go to: https://www.tapsocialmovement.com/pages/the-white-house-by-tap-social