Review: Pint Shop
"On the plus side, the bar snacks are exceptional"
MEAT.BREAD.BEER, reads the imposing, creatively punctuated and slightly aggressive windows, menus, and press releases of Pint Shop, the new, self-styled ‘beer house’ on the old site of the Chelsea Building Society on George Street. However, neither this shouty mantra nor Pint Shop’s simplistic name accurately do justice to what is served up in the bar room and basement dining area.
First off, only about half of the beers are served in pints – fitting with the American craft beer style, many are served in halves or two-third measures. This isn’t a criticism in the slightest, as the selections on offer are often powerful enough (in both flavour and percentage) to make a whole pint seem excessive.
The mixed measure policy also allows you to test out a good number of the unusual beers without leaving in an ambulance. Take the Californian Grainiac by Stone Brewing: this is an absolutely fierce and wildly creative IPA, which uses nine different types of grain malt and four varieties of American hops, weighing in at an eye-watering 8.5%. If that sounds a little too brave then Pint Shop’s own Supersonic, brewed in collaboration with Nene Valley Brewery, is a “gin and tonic” beer brewed with lemon, juniper and cardamom. It doesn’t taste much like a G&T but is crisp and delicious all the same.
Secondly, Pint Shop’s slogan undersells its food offering by a long way. “MEAT.BREAD. BEER” makes me think that the kitchen will be churning out greasy chicken wings, overloaded burgers, ribs drowned in barbecue sauce and other pleasant but ultimately uninspiring staples of “dude food”. What I wasn’t expecting, for example, was a glorious venison haunch served pink with the deep, gamey flavour of a deer that has been generously aged and lovingly prepared. Mashed squash, deceptively advertised as a ‘hash’ (Pint Shop are clearly out to get you), has the Christmassy edge of citrus zest and allspice, and the two are finished with a glossy jus that leaves you running your finger across the plate. Beerbrined chicken is salty, moreish and served in portions that could satisfy a family. This is high quality, grown-up food made by chefs who know what they’re doing.
Some of the smaller dishes fare less well – the shrimp pasty just isn’t big enough to fit in any filling and so only hints at the idea of seafood, and the lamb and bean croquettes are nondescript and need a huge dollop of the accompanying mint sauce (advertised as “green sauce” – why?) to cheer them up. On the plus side, the bar snacks are exceptional – biltong, fresh scotch eggs, cured pork and more cured pork provide the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon spent working your way around the 21-strong beer menu.
Pricing is good – starters are no more than £8 and most mains are around the £13 mark, and a 3-course lunchtime menu at £13 is very reasonable indeed. Pint Shop also has a gin menu which I’d hazard a guess at being one of the most extensive in Oxford city (feel free to write in if I’m wrong) – 24 London Drys and 40 distilled brands alongside 15 flavoured, sloe and other miscellaneous gins.
In the ever-changing lineup of bars, restaurants and those in-between that populate George Street, it’s reassuring to know that fun, well-executed independents like Pint Shop can make their mark and provide inventive and great quality food and drink. I’m looking forward to going back.
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