You can’t get much more North Oxford than Gee’s. The exterior is almost sickeningly tasteful – its jaunty glass pyramid and fussy railings play the fun-loving seaside pavilion to the austerely inland Victorian mansions either side in a high-budget architectural period drama. Its interior appears to be constructed from a messy caricature of an eccentric Oxford don: an outsize greenhouse dotted with fl ora haphazardly crammed into miscellaneous pots, chipped Mediterranean tiles strewn in an amateurish fashion across the fl oor – it’s a room that listens to Gardeners’ Question Time on Sunday afternoon and goes on wine tours to La Rioja in the vac. Worse, it wants to be looked at this way, its twinkly lights the glint of an eye that says, “Go on – deconstruct me. Hate me, hate how clever I am; but wait till you taste the Moscatel.”
There’s clearly a smart manager orchestrating this performance, and it’s soon apparent that this isn’t just art for art’s sake. The waiting staff have clearly been drilled in How to Sell, pushing starters and specials so forcefully that ordering food becomes something of a haggling match, reminding my date of her trip to Marrakesh.
But if you can get past the self-referential pretension and the haggling, and if you’re prepared for the just-this-once price (expect to come out £30-40 lighter), it really is very lovely. After a powerful but still delicately botanical Negroni, I stop analysing – to the relief of my date – and the chilli almonds we order to start are gorgeous: sweet, sticky yet light, roasted to an earthy crunch backed up by a slowly radiating, fireside glow of heat. If anything, they make us hungrier, and by the time our mains arrived I’d been seduced (the room chuckles softly at this.) My guinea fowl – crisp and herbal on the outside, tender on the inside, with a confi dent hint of pink – is the best I’ve tasted, offset perfectly by delicate and floral baby artichokes and a surprisingly subtle aioli. The sweet potato and oregano risotto is beautifully creamy but with a depth of texture and flavour; sweet potato can be overpoweringly sweet, but this is savoury, complex and addictive.
Mercifully, there was more than enough food, and dessert (semi-forcibly thrust upon us) is somewhat redundant. Here, the authentic Anglo-Mediterranean façade slips a little – this chocolate tart is like any other chocolate tart, and the pistachio ice cream doesn’t have the depth of flavour I expect. But by this point, the greenhouse effect has fully taken hold, my critical faculties are receding and I’m sold (admittedly quite aggressively, by the waitress) on Gee’s. The room twinkles, knowingly.