Monday, July 09, 2007

Reasons To Be Cheerful Part II

Over two months since making the move from Cardiff, I've finally now spent my first weekend here in Abingdon. Which means that the new series of the Reasons To Be Cheerful feature - for which I'll be seeking out, stumbling upon and writing about all that's good in and around Oxford - can commence, and with a double bill too...

#1 - The QI Building

Perhaps it's a sign of age, but there's very little I enjoy more these days than uncorking a bottle or two of red wine and plonking myself down in front of 'QI'. Often very funny, the panel-show-of-sorts hosted by Stephen Fry is never merely quite interesting - even if precious few of the fascinating facts revealed on the show actually lodge themselves in my memory for use at a later date.

So, when it came to choosing a first port of call in Oxford on Friday night (traditionally 'QI' night), we were always going to gravitate towards the QI Building. Situated on Turl Street, just off Broad Street and appropriately enough within a stone's throw of that repository of centuries of knowledge and scholarship the Bodleian Library, the programme's HQ comprises a private members' club with restaurant, a cafe-bar, a vodka bar and a bookshop which, they proudly state, is "not organised according to any well-known bibliographic principles, but according to a broad theme that encourages browsing and serendipity".

Ravenous after a day's work, we both tucked into QI Burgers liberally topped with bacon and Swiss cheese, and accompanied by salad, gherkins, chunky chips and homemade aioli. £10 might seem steep, but I can assure you it was worth it - and in any case it's good to know you're helping to pay the wages of the elves. Not even a large photo from the show of Jeremy Clarkson apparently simulating sex between two cuddly toys could put me off my food. (This is just one of many - unsurprisingly, there are plenty pictures of Alan Davies showcasing a range of amusing facial expressions.)

What's more, between 5.30pm and 8pm Mondays to Fridays it's happy hour. £2.50 for a delicious mojito (loads of mint, not too much sugar) or caipirinha, and £2 for a bottle of Erdinger? Let's just say it got the night off to a very good start. Perhaps next time Fry'll be there, and we can buy him a glass of sherry as a token of our appreciation.

Now then, the Balderdash & Piffle Building must be round here somewhere...

#2 - Pieminister

If you made it as far as Sunday in the even-more-exhaustive-and-exhausting-than-usual SWSL Glastonbury 2007 Diary, then you'll know that one of my highlights of the day was following up a friend's recommendation and sampling the wares at the Pieminister stall near the Jazz World Stage.

So imagine my delight when, in the course of researching the company, I discovered that, though Bristol-based, they have an outlet in Oxford...

The instant we stepped off the bus on Saturday lunchtime we were eagerly hunting out the shop, located in the Covered Market just off Cornmarket Street - not hard to find, and just one of numerous fantastic shops / stalls selling everything from fresh fish, fruit and veg, speciality milkshakes and gourmet sausages to T-shirts, shoes and bags.

It's not the largest place, so there was a short wait for somewhere to sit, but before long we were tucking into our pies, served up with mash, gravy and (in Jenni's case) minty mushy peas, grated cheese and crispy fried shallots. Every pie is handmade and filled with locally-sourced free range meat and fresh veg, and the range is mouthwatering.

After some deliberation I plumped for the Mr Porky I regretted not having at Glasto (West Country pork, smoked bacon, shallots, apples, leeks, Somerset cider and sage) while Jenni opted for one of the more unusual combinations, the Matador as raved about by Swiss Toni (steak, chorizo, olives, tomato, sherry and butter beans). And the pastry is almost as good as the fillings...

Satiated, we wandered off round the shops trying to work off a malingering hangover induced by the previous night's cocktails and pints of Old Rosie in the Turf Tavern - not easy when the whole city centre is overrun by infuriating infestations of Spanish and Italian schoolchildren intent on causing mischief or at very least getting in the bloody way.

But we were back there later in the day, though, so I could pick up three chilled pies to bring home - a Minty Lamb, a Chicken of Aragon and a Thai Chook. (The former's short stay in the fridge lasted until this evening...) While we were there, we took advantage of the afternoon offer: buy a piece of cake and get a free coffee. Jenni's chocolate and hazelnut brownie, stodgy and rich, was perfect - and no pastry in sight...

4 comments:

Lord Bargain said...

Blimey. You landed on your feet with those two venues, eh?

(incidentally, I am very taken by the idea of TV based theme cafe's. Expect "Life On Mars" outlets soon...)

Betty said...

So, basically Oxford is a good place to live if you want to become hugely fat ...

Ben said...

Betty: Well, everyone's got to have an ambition in life...

Ben said...

Lord Bargain: One such hypothetical establishment that I'd never, ever patronise would be the 'You Are What You Eat' themed cafe. "Dr" Gillian McKeith's evil face gurning out at you from the menu, poo consistency / colour charts on the walls...