When you are a drug smuggler, looking inconspicuous is a blessing; when you are a restaurant, it is not. Why is it that I have lived in East Oxford since the start of the year, and have only just acknowledged the existence of Door 74? The answer is probably a combination of its darkly painted exterior, modest size, and the fact that I didn’t expect to find a restaurant serving food of this kind, this good, at this price on Cowley Road. However, now Door 74 is firmly on my radar, I’m not letting it escape.
The restaurant itself is a relatively small space, so I was concerned about the degree of privacy we would have. Nothing induces self-consciousness more than entering a restaurant in which the noise level peaks at ‘loud whisper’, and the sound of repositioning your wine glass causes other diners to glance over. Luckily, despite our visit being a mid-week dinner, each chunky wooden table was full (mainly of hip young couples and pairs of women), so the atmosphere felt intimate as opposed to oppressive. The lighting is just right: spotlights, fairy lights and candles, and the table cacti, mosaic-topped bar, dark wooden carved ornaments and chalked-out board menu ensure that the interior looks trendy but feels relaxed. My companion, as if formulating a Door 74 tagline, cringingly remarked, ‘This is the kind of place you can come on a date and be sexy!’ And I’m afraid, embarrassing as it is to admit, he is absolutely right.
The menu, comprising half a dozen starters (around £4 – £6) and seven mains (£8 – £14), ticks all the main buzz-word boxes; ‘organic’, ‘free range’, and ‘local’ all make strategic appearances, and dishes come and go according to what is in season. The red onion tart tatin with mixed leaves (£5.95) set us off to a good start; the pastry was thin, crisp and herb-flecked. The whole king prawns with chilli, garlic, and parsley (£6.25) were also excellent, and the griddled crostini was a welcome touch. My main, a parmesan and herb-crusted chicken breast served with aioli, salad and garlic roast new potatoes (10.95) was the obvious winner, with the aioli (homemade garlic mayonnaise with the slightest hint of saffron) tying the dish together well. Unfortunately, the beef burger with onion marmalade and chunky salad (£7.95), although perfectly cooked, was served in an overly-charred bun, which we thought was a bit of an oversight. Portions were surprisingly generous, but left just enough room for the dark chocolate semifreddo with vanilla ice-cream (£3.95). Our superhuman waiter Jack was attentive, friendly, and accommodating, despite being the only front of house staff member, and I am convinced his presence added to the laid-back ambience.
Door 74 also does weekend brunches from 11-3, plus weekday lunch specials (£5.95 inc. a drink) which they unfortunately don’t advertise. Therefore I am taking it upon myself to spread the word: your radar would be all the more stylish if Door 74 was on it.