Now here is a lesson in tasteful redesign. How I’ve managed to avoid its fetching charm for the three years 1855 has been open is one of the great mysteries of life, but here we are. I genuinely still thought the site housed Krispy Kreme Doughnuts – three words I type very rapidly to avoid a queasy psychosomatic blood sugar crash, huddled in a corner in the midst of a flashback comparable to that of a broken Vietnam vet.
Anyway, I digress. The opening of a bistro/wine bar/’small plates’ eatery in Oxford is hardly a new phenomenon, but there a few points about 1855 which genuinely stand the place out from the rest of the dull, uninspired crowd of similar establishments, who will remain nameless.
The first port of call in getting 1855’s vibe across is the interior design – and the outside isn’t exactly ugly either. Housed, as it is, in Oxford’s astoundingly beautiful Castle Quarter, the simplistic backlit branding, tasteful white canopies and minimal archway make for a ridiculously inviting outdoor space. Inside, however, the levels are ramped up even further, with a huge vaulted ceiling leaving space for metres of exposed brickwork and stunning glass installations. The mezzanine area above the main bar is the best spot to grab if you’re looking for some space and relaxation, although if the weather’s good I’d stick to the outdoor terrace.
The food itself is centred around Spanish charcuterie, sharing platters and an international selection of cheese. This is not a place for a 3-course meal, but neither is it aiming for the bastardised tapas-style method of ordering 17 different items and arguing over who gets the last gambas al ajillo. I’m not usually a big fan of this new wave of dinner “concepts”, but this one seems to work rather well. Ordering from the menu is easy: just go straight for the “1855 Selection”. For under £30, there’s more than enough food to satisfy you and your dining companion whilst you work your way through the drinks menu (more on that later). The Selection gives you a choice of four out of six charcuteries, from the classic salty punch of jamón ibérico to the sweet, aniseedy aroma of fennel seed-spiked Italian finocchiona.
Then, choose three of seven cheeses, with an impressive range of origin – powerful and rich Comté rubs shoulders with a gorgeous Reblochon, Reading’s own sheep’s milk Wigmore and, of course, a stunning and gloriously nutty manchego. Add warm and fresh bread, butter, olive oil and balsamic and I can think of few more pleasant ways to while away an afternoon.
And as for the drink, you may ask? An exemplary, ridiculously extensive selection of international wines awaits, reinforced by stunning craft beers from Siren, Cotswold and Camden breweries. The real star of the show here though, is the service. Steve Plast is one of the most charming and professional front-of-house managers I’ve ever had the good fortune to encounter, and his team of waiters and bartenders glide amongst the tables with snappy conversation and effortless grace. Flawless.
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