Moya: 97 St Clements Street, Oxford OX4 1AR (01865 200 111). Meal for two, including drinks and service: £40-£70
We arrived by chance—a cold wind and inadequate layering drove us into the invitingly lit Moya late in the evening, without a reservation. When the waitress informed us that the cuisine was Slovakian, we weren’t sure whether to be excited or anxious. Hearty, cabbagey and pig-centric was my pre-formed prejudice about Eastern European cuisine. But at Moya such stodgefests are only part of the story.
The décor, for one, is hardly traditional:whitewashed and with arty photographs of Oxford serried in rows along the walls, the space feels modern and sophisticated. Moya is rustic Slovakia with a metropolitan edge, showcased in the impressively large cocktail menu. Get there before the end of happy hour (8pm) and you can begin your meal with a Maker’s Mark Old Fashioned for £4.55. The food surpasses expectations: heavy flavours are treated with a light touch, the clever use of fruit and pickles giving a tangy edge to what would otherwise be unpalatably rich meat dishes. Our meal had the comforting quality of a Sunday roast, starchy and soporific, but with undercurrents of savoury sharpness.
After the obligatory cocktail to start, try the “devil’s toast”—sour bread toast topped with smoked sausage, vegetables and a shockingly delicious patty of grilled goat cheese. Follow up with a fiery Hungarian goulash, or the innocuous-sounding “pork-shank”, so enormous that it looks like a joint of meat from a cartoon. If you’re still going by desert and crave more things “stodgy but delicious”, have the apricot dumpling with poppyseed and butter sauce; if not, the liqueur coffee is excellent. Moya is not the flashiest international restaurant in Oxford. The wipe-down chairs give the otherwise modern décor a slightly dated air, and, however craftily prepared, Slovakian home-cooking is never going to be as hipster as sushi or tapas. Yet seated at Moya’s tabes are locals who come back again and again because they know they’ll leave fuller and happier.