Patio fever is one of those rare diseases, a cure for which we hope they'll never find. Its infection rate is so high that every summer it has us scurrying en masse from our stifling cubicles or stuffy homes to snag a prime al fresco seat and a nice tall cold one. We could care less that we have to put up with commando squirrels, marauding wasps and/or bird poop in our salads.
But, really, is it too much to ask that restaurateurs, especially pub owners, stop treating their sacred outdoor oases
like giant yard sales for tired and worn plastic patio furniture. Throwing up a tattered umbrella, planting a few pitiful pansies, and sticking matchbooks under tables to prevent wobbling simply doesn't cut it.
At least the owners of The Oxley understand that, with a patio so pristine and comfy you can practically eat off the ground. Alas, the only drawback to eating outside here is that you don't get to fully experience their exquisitely decorated interior, where one might expect luncheon after the foxhunt. And who thought it was possible: finally, a pub with the balls to just say no and forgo the flat screens. On behalf on those indifferent to sports everywhere: a great big kudos for that.
The Oxley might be the priciest pub in tony Yorkville, but deservedly so. Co-owners Jamieson Kerr and Brit chef Andrew Carter (Queen and Beaver Pub) have created a carte so far removed from the nabe's mainstays like Hemingway's and Remy's, just a laneway away, it should attract more sophisticated palates than yer average camera-totin' tourist.
A separate bar and pub menu fascinates with a unique melange of authentically British ingredients, making The Oxley a true neighbourhood original. No surprise to see an unctuous, luxurious Welsh rabbit here ($6) (aka cheese on toast) accompanied with handmade, bagged lightly salted crisps ($6) with our own sprinkle of malt vinegar. And anglerfish maybe one of the scariest, ugliest looking fish in the great big sea, but our beer-battered morsels, served with a sweet cucumber pickle and homemade mayo, though pricey for the portion, sits sweet and pretty on the tongue.
There is, however, one non sequitur from this kitchen that puzzles: a crispy spiced quail ($12) has a batter as thick as KFC only much less tasty and plenty chewy. The lovely added aroma from fresh sprigs of rosemary wafting through the breeze does little to distract us from this major miss and thankfully, the only disappointment as one dish after another continues to showcase culinary fits of genius.
How would you react if someone put a piece of pig foot on your plate? Well that's what a jowl and Bury black pudding with Indian pickle ($11) sure looks like. Comprised of pig cheek, blood and barley, this stunningly spiced sausage-like delicacy will have you thinking less of curdled blood the texture of top soil and more about how incredibly sophisticated this dish truly is; ditto for a highly unusual pheasant and goose liver polomy ($11) with perfectly dressed green beans in a super vinaigrette. We're told it's like bologna, and while it is the colour and shape of the luncheon meat, that word does this dish little justice for something as refined as a top-tier terrine. If this bologna has a first name, it's preceded by S-I-R.
Chef Carter has an uncanny ability to highlight many ingredients without any one overpowering another. Like in the case of The Oxley fish pie ($22) filled with huge tender chunks of white fish, salmon and lobster and topped with lightly browned mashed potatoes. What astounds is how chef kept the fish so tender without overcooking. But it's a rabbit and potato raised pie ($17) that numbs us with awe. The crust alone looks like it popped out of a Rembrandt still life, with layers of beautifully spiced bunny and perfectly tender spud slices.
Sticking with the pie theme, a rhubarb and apple pie ($8) and lemon meringue ($8) again underline this kitchen's mettle. What makes the former so enjoyable, aside from another brilliant pastry and the homemade vanilla ice cream, is the addition of fresh ginger. As for the latter, a classic meringue is given decidedly more fun topped with a toasted marshmallow-like topping and a berry coulis.
Pub food has rarely if ever been so appealing. Clearly hitting on all cylinders, The Oxley offers many things: great ambiance, attentive service and superlative food that says no to nachos. Wow, who'd have thunk!