The Chester Arms' steak platter

It was a serious question which we all sat down to discuss. Where to go for our last supper, considering we wouldn’t be eating out again for a whole month, a huge deal in our household, and everyone’s I’m sure.

But in the end there was only one option The Chester Arms in East Oxford, home of the famed and revered steak platter, whose reputation surpasses itself. And a lovely, community based, welcoming, cosy pub that serves some smashing food.

The bar at The Chester Arms

Which is why The Chester Arms won Best Pub category in the Ox In A Box Food Awards earlier this year, because what Hamza and Beccy have brought to Chester Street is something really special – a really attractive local pub which appeals to students, residents and foodies alike, because what it does, it does spectacularly well.

God it was good to be back, albeit under rather different circumstances

It’s friendly and unpretentious, as is the menu, and yet they never put a foot wrong, in or out of the kitchen. Which is why we had to book to get a table, and why we could only dine early or late such was its popularity.

We opted for late (7.45pm) which meant we were starving by the time we arrived, queueing outside until we’d completed all the right checks and were led through past the sparkly bar, to our table. God it was good to be back, albeit under rather different circumstances.

As always the steak platter was worth the wait; pink, juicy, the red of the meat contrasting with the deep yellow of the béarnaise sauce, the pertly cooked chips, the piquant salad and the cabbage and bacon piled at the end

Last time was a pre Christmas party which went on late into the night, but times have changed, and we’ve adapted accordingly. But apart from the knowledge that we’d be turfed out a bit earlier than normal, it was certainly business as usual and The Chester was packed to the rafters, in a socially distanced way of course.

Starters are almost peripheral here, because everyone is basically girding their loins and waiting for the main event – THE STEAK PLATTER.

That said, the padron peppers are a must, arriving piping hot, salty and flash fried perfectly. Even the kids liked them, with us all fighting over the last one. The bread with dips – a lip-burning harissa, a black olive puree and a green tahini was another si pie but effective way to quell the appetite, the bread here home-made (of course) and scattered with fennel seeds.

The lamb kofta with pitta and a green tahini (£7) was shared, as well as a huge bowl of piping hot cauliflower and cheddar soup (£6) from the specials board which went down a treat.

And then an expectant hush descended as we waited for Hamza’s infamous STEAK PLATTER (see the main pic).

As always it was worth the wait; pink, juicy, the red of the meat contrasting with the deep yellow of the béarnaise sauce, the pertly cooked chips, the piquant salad and the cabbage and bacon piled at the other end.

Take the stir fried cabbage and bacon, it was smoky and moreish, and the kids piled it high onto their plates. What I mean is that the platter is more than just a sum of its parts. Each individual component is exquisite alone, but when piled high, it’s exceptional.

Three of us shared the steak (£44 for 2/3). My mother ordered the beer battered fish and chips with mushy peas (£14), its generous covering of ale-heavy bubbly coating lathering the beautifully cooked fish beneath.

The tartare sauce was exceptional thick with capers, gherkins and dill – I could and did eat it with a spoon.

The cheese and vegetable pie with mash and broccoli (£14)

The cheese and vegetable pie with mash and broccoli (£14) was thick with pastry and almost bucolic in its nostalgic simplicity. All I needed was a whippet and cap, and job done.

while this review might come a bit late to visit before the new lockdown, it’s definitely one to book for December

It is a marathon eating that quantity of food because they are nothing if not generous at The Chester Arms. And after an initial feeding frenzy we slowed down, reluctant to leave even a smidgen of that delicious steak, a smear of sauce, or a lone chip.

The salted caramel brownie with vanilla ice cream

Thus only the children managed dessert, a solitary salted caramel brownie with vanilla ice cream providing some well deserved sweetness to finish off such an opulent meal.

Henry VIII would have loved it at The Chester, it’s that kind of food, unashamedly good pub grub and a feast fit for a king. So while this review might come a bit late to visit before the new lockdown kicks into place, it’s definitely one to book for December.

The Chester Arms is at 19 Chester St, Cowley, Oxford OX4 1SN. Ring 01865 790438 or message them on social media.

KATHERINE MACALISTER

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