Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Oxford Blues

Following on from the first of my countdown to working Mondays blog posts, which saw me eating pork pies in drizzly Birmingham, my antepenultimate Monday off meant dragging the Ewing up the M40 to bask in the Oxford sunshine.

Whilst it may have a reputation for bucolic British beauty Oxford also has its share of ugly urban sprawl, and none more so than the Eastern side of the city. Previously this was the site of the outer ramparts of the castle, now it's home to humdrum expanses of grey concrete. It's not all doom and gloom in this part of town however. For here, incongruously tucked under the Bridge nightclub on Hyth Bridge Street, you'll find lauded szechuan restaurant, Sojo.

As well as szechuan dishes there is also a roll call of standard Cantonese and Shanghainese staples  - think sweet and sour chicken, spicy yellow bean chicken and, err, 'mouth watery' chicken - alongside a good looking lunchtime dim sum selection, but what's the point of going somewhere with 'SSS = Mind Blowing Spicy' dishes on the menu and not trying one. In this case the triple rated Szechaun pork for me and the beef and aubergine for the Ewing.

After such a menacing warning - the waiter even bought us glasses of iced water, unbidden, with our meals - the food wasn't too spicy - and no, I don't say that in the surreptitiously squinting, sweat breaking out on the brow manner of a lager-filled masochist trying to impress his mates on a Friday night. 

What is was, however, was delicious, the shreds of pork and crunchy strips of veg possessing just the right amount of tongue tingling from the fresh chillies and lip numbing from the szechuan pepper to provoke a pleasing glow. The Ewing's dish, with it's slippery curls of soy drenched aubergine and chunks of sweet beef, may have been even better (this is unheard of! - TE).

After cranking the heat up it was time to cool down again, and where better than one of my favourite ice cream parlours, G&D. As we were on the wrong side of town it was the perfect chance to try out the mini-chain's original branch, George and Davis, having previously frequented George and Danver on St Algates and the seasonal ice cream cart that appears on the street in the summer.

I had what I originally thought was the Oxford Blue (blueberry)but  was actually probably the Black and Blue (blackberry and blueberry). Soft fruit semantics aside, it was completely awesome. Whilst not normally a fruity ice cream fan, this balanced the sweet dairy and sharp berries perfectly. The Ewing got her buzz on with a cone of Kenyan AA, a coffee flavored ice that was demolished too quickly to capture (Too slow, Roscoe - TE).

It's pretty impossible to come to Oxford without imbibing a pint in one of their historied hostelries, and this time we headed off to the Turf Tavern, hidden down a narrow winding alley between Holywell Street and New College Lane.

The Turf Tavern is crammed (there isn't much room in here) with history. Not only has it had a role call of famous guests, including Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, CS Lewis and Margaret Thatcher. but it was also the the site of former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke's Guinness World Record, where he sculled a yard glass of ale in 11 seconds. Legend also has it that the the Turf is where former U.S. president Bill Clinton, while attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, infamously 'did not inhale' on a herbal cigarette. There's even a plaque attesting to it, so it must be true. 

It's also, most excitingly for me, it was one of Inspector Morse's favourite locals. Hoping to inherit some of his curmogeonly intelligence by the osmosis of my surroundings (I'm pretty sure I'm already halfway there - I concur -TE) I tried the Turf Tavern's Landlord's Choice, 'an education in intoxication' and a fair enough pint to sup on a Monday afternoon.

The Ewing went with the topical Richard the III ale, Blue Boar, from Everards. 'An amber ale brewed with medieval taste of honey and mead with delicate spice and citric notes'. Scientists have recently revealed that King Richard III regularly drank around three litres of beer and wine a day, and liked to snack on the occasional swan. Which is probably how he ended up in a Leicester car park.

The skies may have been darkening ominously but of course there still had to be a library in there somewhere and nowhere seemed more fitting than a walk around the Radcliffe Camera, the neo-classical home of the Radcliffe Science Library and now part of the bibliophile's dream, the Bodleian.

'And that sweet city with her dreaming spires. She needs not June for beauty's heightening'
Matthew Arnold

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