I am, I think, the first person in the history of Cherwell to be rejected by my Blind Date partner before we had even opened the menus and ordered the first drinks. I spent a happy evening constructing witty remarks and erudite opinions on the great topics of the day, so that I was sure to impress my new paramour. Unfortunately we already knew each other, from a drunken late night conversation in an overpriced London club a year ago. On the very reasonable grounds that Sohna is young, charming and beautiful, whereas I am old, fat and grumpy, a new date for her will be arranged, but not me. I haven’t been so distraught since the Cherwell Boathouse last took venison off the menu.
Perhaps by way of compensation, my editor agreed to have dinner with me instead. As a food critic, you’re employed to know about eating, so if you pick a bad restaurant or worse, suggest a dish that turns out to be disgusting… So I was on my best behaviour. And I booked Pierre Victoire. As the Oxford Union might say: where else? It’s the obvious choice, which is perhaps why I haven’t got around to reviewing it yet – I just assumed you were all fully cognisant of its greatness. But they deserve their 650 words anyway, for Pierre Victoire is one of the not-so-hidden gems of Oxford dining; reliably excellent, good value food in a small, cosy, friendly environment.
We went on a Tuesday evening, which is generally a bad time to eat out, because most places are half empty and all the decent cooks are on their day off. But PV was hosting a big group on a birthday dinner, which livened things up until the post theatre crowd began drifting in.
I started with a chicory, pear, and Roquefort salad. I don’t normally do salads – a soggy pile of wilting green stuff is not really my idea of sustenance – but there were three empty packets of McCoy’s on my desk, I hadn’t done any exercise for a month, and I convinced myself that if I chose some rabbit food, as my brother calls it, as a starter I might just about fit into my dinner jacket again. (It didn’t work). I was immediately punished for my virtue, the lonely lumps of (really quite good) Roquefort being vastly outnumbered by a great heap of pear and chicory, which was nice enough but really quite dull.
For those of you who are sad food buffs, the chicory had also been exposed to slightly too much light before ending up my plate, for it was a touch greener and more bitter than the ideal. But it was better than any other salad you can get in central Oxford on a cold Tuesday evening. My date’s goat’s cheese soufflé was much better: light, fluffy parcels of cheese and egg white alive with the rich smell of the farmyard (in a good way, in a good way). My smoked haddock was exemplary and came with a beautiful, quivering poached egg which, when I gently touched it with the edge of my fork, exploded into a rich, unctuous river of yolk flowing lava-like across the serried backs of the unsuspecting fish. Beautiful, just beautiful. Tasted pretty good too. Alternatively, the cassoulet was strong and filling in the best French housewives’ tradition. We had puddings too, but I was too scared of my date’s reaction if I tore myself away from her scintillating conversation to take notes on the food, so I can’t for the life of me remember what they were. I’m sure they were good though.
All of this came to twenty pounds per person for three courses -superb value. At lunchtime they do three courses for ten pounds, which, coming from London, I find utterly unbelievable. I’ve paid more for a cocktail. Rating: 4/5 In short: Reliable