Long live the brasserie! Let us praise the purveyor of cut-price opulence, producer of delectable provision, conqueror of the vacant stomach. Branding itself as a “modern British brasserie,” newcomer No. 1 Ship Street no doubt hopes to blend French luxury with British staples, and bring some added finesse to Oxford.
From the exterior, No. 1 Ship Street has a quietly impressive feel. Partners Ross Drummond and Owen Little appear to have an eye for décor: the renovated ground floor is dark but classy – welcoming and warm, with an air of casual elegance.
Apparently, they also fancy themselves as innovators. Upstairs there’s a 28-cover seating area equipped with an oyster and champagne bar. Oh, and don’t forget the separate cocktail bar. Very fancy. Alexia, my guide for the evening, acquaints me with the downstairs, but insists on taking me upstairs anyway. I’m glad she did.
Two flights of stairs later, and I’m in a different world. Every detail, from the oysters exhibited on ice, to the trendy chic of the bar stools has an almost seductive je ne sais quoi. Full marks for the surroundings then. But what about the food itself?
The menu is intriguingly quirky. Unlike most self-described “British” brasseries, it offers de facto fusion – chutney and toast with terrine, as well as steak tartare with rarebit. The pickings are particularly paltry for anyone herbivorous, however: only one starter (I hope you like mushrooms) and a choice of three mains are available on the à la carte menu. Luckily, the wild mushrooms are divine, the sauce creamy yet flavourful and the yolk gooey enough to appease my fussy friend Zoe. My tartare is equally impressive, perfectly balanced between the rough meaty taste of sirloin and the piquant capers.
By this stage, we’re impressed. The starters are fantastic, the service efficient. The arrival of our mains only cheers us up further. Zoe is smitten with her harissa roast vegetables, whilst Rosie’s Torbay sole is also exquisite – the fish flavoursome and delicate, the caper butter sharp and delicious. My veal melts in the mouth. Dessert is similarly superb. Stomach stretched to capacity, I can only nibble on the cheese board but the others treat themselves to peanut butter parfait and cheesecake. I’m assured both were exemplary.
I can’t help but ponder the future of No. 1 Ship Street. It might not be a big brand, but its innovative dining experience makes it unique. Yes, the lack of vegetarian dishes is problematic (the restaurant says it has since altered its menu to better accommodate vegetarians and vegans), but No. 1 Ship Street is a great restaurant, and, having been open for around two months, it can only get better.
House Terrine, £6
Sirloin Tartare, £12
Wild Mushrooms, £8
Torbay Sole, £17
Veal Shin, £16
Harissa Roast Vegetables, £6
Baked Cheesecake, £6
Peanut Butter Parfait, £12
Artisan Cheese Board, £12
Pornstar Martini, £8.50
Gin and Tonic x2, £8.50
Bottle of Etna Rosso, £37
Total – £157.50