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Restaurant Review: Gäf’s indulgence impresses

Elinor Oppenheim and Nathan Geyer

We never found out what ‘Gäf’ means, and although it sounds like something out of an IKEA catalogue, this restaurant has real individuality. The interior is sleek and minimalistic without feeling soulless, and the wooden furnishings feel homely and inviting, almost as welcoming as Ellie’s gaff, pushy Jewish family and all. In fact, Gäf had a previous life as a terraced house, and can be found nestled amongst the student houses on Magdalen road but it is worth the trek, trust us. Bear in mind that the restaurant only has a small number of covers, so make sure to book in advance.

As it was a special occasion, we treated ourselves to their cocktail special, a spiced quince Bellini, which sounds like an avant-garde concoction from gran’s allotment. The beers available also departed from the typically lacklustre restaurant offerings of Peroni et al, and we particularly enjoyed the Maule Lucky IPA. This is a long way from knocking back 4 VKs at Park End – don’t bring a crewdate here.

The food menu was equally quirky, resulting in us having to send the host away several times whilst we quarrelled over the relative merits of ‘scorched’ and ‘blackened’ food, dithering over our choices. The menu is peppered with foodie buzzwords (anyone for ‘mushroom porridge’?), and was perhaps too trendy for its own good. For instance, although toasted oats sounded like an intriguing accompaniment to scorched mackerel, on the plate they felt like a perturbingly dry afterthought. Nonetheless, the sharp accompaniment of pickled rhubarb cut through the oily fish perfectly, and the daring match of fish and fruit paid off. Splendid.

A more pared down starter of Longhorn beef was confident in its simplicity, accompanied only by celeriac, horseradish and pickled radish. The marbled beef had barely touched the pan, seared only on one side, leaving it silky and tender. The meat matched harmoniously with its accompaniment of celeriac & horseradish slaw, although opinion was divided about whether the horseradish could have been stronger. Whilst Nathan takes masochistic pleasure in the nasal burning sensation that only horseradish and wasabi can provide, admittedly it’s not to all tastes, so we will forgive the chefs’ light touch in this case.

If you’re looking for somewhere in Oxford that is refined, stylish and verging on radical, Gäf is the place to go.

The vegetarian starters were slightly less impressive; although we were enticed by claims of truffle emulsion and pumpkin oil accompanying roast squash pansotti (a ravioli-esque pasta), the overwhelming flavour was its stock base, and it lacked the truffley kick we were dreaming of. Similarly, the mushroom porridge was pleasant, but nothing to write home about. Though we believe in liberating oats from the shackles of breakfast, it didn’t quite work here – but we still have faith… #freetheoats.

On the other hand, the mains were leaps ahead of the dishes offered by the well-trodden restaurants dotted around the centre of town. The roast rump of Cotswold lamb was perfectly cooked, with the flesh rosy and glisteningly moist. The accompaniments of the other mains had us in raptures, especially the grilled mussels that accompanied the pan roasted sea bream, salsify and shellfish emulsion. These mussels were by far the best either of us have ever had; plump, juicy and with the subtle flavour of the sea. These were a long way from the gloopy and cloying moules marinières of our past days; a nightmarishly mucilaginous concoction, which they effortlessly outshone.

The Old Spot pork loin, with chorizo, goat’s cheese & carrot puree, was accompanied by a gingerbread crumble, a sugary alien which we feared might violate the porky paradise we were hoping for. In fact, we welcomed the strange guest with open arms, and it provided the warm extra-terrestrial spiciness that we craved. Having said that, we don’t recommend putting chorizo on a gingernut biscuit with a cup of tea. That would just be weird. Leave it to the experts.

For dessert we were served up with a dish that looked like what Jackson Pollock might have produced if left in a room with a banana, a tub of peanut butter, and a startlingly good meringue recipe. This sticky-gooey-crispy assemblage was a triumph of multi-textural dexterity, with jagged shards of chocolate, meteoric clusters of sunflower seeds, and a delicate sheet of caramel covering the soft banana. This congregation framed the divine centrepiece of blissfully salty-but-sweet peanut mousse, surrounded by splatters of meringue.

If you’re looking for somewhere in Oxford that is refined, stylish and verging on radical, Gäf is the place to go. Although you might want to wait for your parents to foot the bill (£25 per head, including drinks), this could be the perfect place to treat yourself after an essay crisis, and the friendly service will be sure to rid you of your fifth week blues. It might also be worth checking out their much acclaimed brunch menu- if you’re lucky you might even get some oats…

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