The Royal Oak, 42-44 Woodstock Road
I am reading a book at the moment. This is not something that happens everyday, so I thought it worth noting in these pages. It is called ‘Obliquity’ and it is written by an economist called John Kay. Kay argues that the best way to achieve a particular end is not to aim at it directly, but instead to mostly ignore it, or else do the opposite. If you want to be happy, seek out pain. If you want to increase profits, try ignoring them. If you want to be rich, stop thinking about money.
This got me thinking (also not necessarily a regular event). One of the problems afflicting many restaurants at the moment is that they focus far too much on the food. They turn themselves into temples of gastronomy. The only problem is, on a quiet night, temples of gastronomy often end up feeling closer to morgues.
The Royal Oak on the Woodstock Road, beloved of students at LMH, St Anne’s and Somerville and almost unknown to everyone else, is not a temple of gastronomy. They claim to have launched a completely new menu, but to me it looks pretty much the same as the old menu. No matter. The food is well-cooked, the beer is good, the building in which it is housed – an old 17th century coaching inn – is wonderful: rambling, atmospheric and full of nooks and crannies. There are board games for the winter and two little gardens for the summer. And because by the time the food arrives you’re invariably half drunk, when you actually lift fork to mouth everything invariably tastes brilliant. Someone at the Royal Oak has clearly read Kay’s book: if you want to design a nice place to eat, stop thinking about the food.