6-8 St. Michael's Street4/5 Two words which sum up the Nosebag: ‘elderflower wine’. Could you get any more wholesome without using ‘organic’ as a prefix? And wholesome is exactly what you will find if you venture up the creaky wooden staircase of the Nosebag’s 15th Century listed building and enter a world of terracotta walls, chunky check blinds, hanging pot plants and kitsch table flowers. The set up is simple; bench seating and counter service – cold food dished up and handed over on the spot, hot meals brought to your table. The ever-changing menu is as rustic as the décor might suggest, with simple dishes done to a consistently high standard. At lunchtime take advantage of the gargantuan portions of salad (£4.15 for three different kinds); choose between wheatberry and peanut, white cabbage and apple, or pesto pasta, for a start. Also available are quiches, jacket potatoes, soups and a handful of hot dishes such as lasagne. For dinner all the lunchtime options are still on offer, and a few extra ‘proper’ meals (£7 – £9) added.
We ordered our mains first, then decided to get a chicken liver pâté to start (£4.50 with a hunk of bread and salad). The waitress behind the counter raised her eyebrows as if we had asked for our chicken to be cooked rare. ‘Are you sure?’ This was a novelty; an employee advising against a purchase, though luckily my companion views eating as a competitive sport. She did, however, have a point; the servings are very large, so make sure you work up an appetite before you visit. The pâté was delicious, though like novices we misjudged the bread to spread ratio, and ended up having to slather it onto slices of tomato when the roll disappeared. The mains were hearty and filling, the best being the beef and Guinness stew with herb and horseradish cobblers, vegetables or salad (£8.75). The cobblers (a cross between a scone and a dumpling, but far superior to both) were delicious, buttery and light, with a genius ability to soak up the stew without going soggy. Our other main, a pumpkin and red pepper tagine with couscous and salad (£8.25) was tasty but lacked the comfort-food element of the stew. The Nosebag is an excellent place for vegetarian fodder which makes up around half of their overall output; it is, however, priced very similarly to the meaty options, which may make them seem expensive to some. I suppose you pay a premium for freshness here, but it’s a worthwhile premium to pay.
If you still have room, the homemade desserts and cakes should not be overlooked, and thus I am forced to make a very controversial statement: the brownies here (£1.70) are the best in Oxford. They are so good that I had to cut them up into little squares pre-consumption in order to savour every squidgy, fudgey mouthful. The Nosebag is ideal for an informal, impromptu bite to eat, a cosy haven of homely calm amidst the chaos of Oxford life. Take your mum, she’ll love it.

by Kate Hayter

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