Lunch at a pub was never going to be an easy exercise in January frugality. But, with The Trout and The Perch both ticked off my list, that left a trip to the lesser-known Fishes to complete the trinity (to my knowledge) of ‘poisson-named gastropubs just a ripple from the city centre’.
Just three miles out, The Fishes boasts beautiful scenery, original brickwork and open fires. We’d hoped that they might offer a set menu for lunch: this is not the case. However, when you’re the public’s choice in the 2012 Oxfordshire Restaurant, you’re clearly pleasing the majority of your customers.
To make up for this lapse in New Year’s Resolution willpower, we decided to share a starter and only drink soda and lime. Plus, midday was not the time to be diving into the pricey, but exciting, gin cocktail menu.
First up was a winter salad of frisée (that’s curly green salad to you and me), black pudding, streaky bacon and poached egg. It transpired to be a very well-disguised cooked breakfast, but with the added bonus of one of your five a day. The egg cannot be said to have been perfectly cooked, but croutons made a curious appearance, and even more surprising was the somewhat lurid citrus dressing, which nicely cut through the fat of the meat. Yum yum pig’s bum? Not quite.
Next was smoked haddock and king prawn pie for my mum, and for me pork belly with roast celeriac, apple and a star anise jus. The pie was warming, full of fish (although I did query whether ‘king’ was really an accurate description of what looked like rather malnourished prawns), and seemingly bottomless, with a crispy crust and plenty of parsley and cheese. In the competition that eating out definitely isn’t, I, most certainly won. The pork belly not only came with a stick of crackling as well as a perfectly crackled top, but was also big enough to stem a flood. The apple was baked almost to the point of no return and imminent annihilation, but no further. Tart but sweet, it complemented the pork beautifully.
After these courses we were getting a bit bogged down – maybe the Christmas bloat was still winning, or maybe the portions were very generous. Whatever the explanation, we did not find it difficult to refuse the fairly unexciting dessert board. The Fishes, in my opinion, is worth a visit just as much as The Trout, which seems to attract rather a lot of hype for what it actually offers. I will still never understand, however, why, like so many other restaurants, there failed to be a triple chocolate-mega cocoa-super torte for chocoholics such as my mum. Maybe, then, she wouldn’t have been able to resist.