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OxStu restaurant review: Cowley’s Arbequina

Elinor Oppenheim and Nathan Geyer

Ellie was looking particularly captivating the night we went to Arbequina. In fact, Nathan was so lost in her eyes that we missed the restaurant, which may have in part been contributed to by the spurious signage, which speaks folly of an optician’s establishment. We were hoping they could sort out Nathan’s wandering eyes between courses, but tragically this was not part of the deal. In fact, the low lighting and chic atmosphere aroused yet more intense feelings of adoration; an unexpected occurrence, considering Ellie’s lesbian identity and Nathan’s girlfriend. Essentially – if you’re looking for something more suave than Nando’s for Valentine’s 2018, this is the place to go.

The Spanish delicacies dotted on the page of the menu at Arbequina might be a little more obscure than your average Nando’s fare, but on the plus side, you might be able to impress a Tinder date by using Google Translate under the table. The waiter whispered us sweet nothings about the mystique of mojama – a mediterranean delicacy of salt-cured tuna. Accordingly seduced, we awaited its arrival with bated breath, along with a plethora of other things that caught our (wandering) eyes. The mojama arrived draped over sea bass and a bed of lentils like a fleshy, pink handkerchief. Unfortunately the taste was not much more appealing than the aesthetic, and all it provided was a huge hit of fishy saltiness. We hope this product will soon be shelved amongst the Kleenex due to its absolutely stellar performance in extracting all bodily moisture from the vicinity. The chefs seemed to have an implacable zeal for salt which continued throughout most of the dishes we sampled, which left us gasping for more of that expensive (but delicious) Portuguese wine.

The waiter whispered us sweet nothings about the mystique of mojama

We blindly ordered slow roasted belly pork with mojo verde, which the Waitrose website has now informed us is a ‘garlicky coriander sauce […] from Tenerife’. Please don’t worry this is coming soon to a Waitrose Essentials range near you #mojoverdeforthemasses. The pork belly that arrived consisted of delectable strata of gelatinous, soft piggy flesh, topped with perfectly bronzed crisp bubbles of crackling (much akin to Ellie’s skin every time the weather hits 12 degrees). We were treated to yet more excellent quality of meat in the Cocido Monañés, a traditional mountain stew with heaps of morcilla (a Spanish blood sausage) and chorizo, topped with golden garlicky croutons to soak up the meaty juices.

We later found ourselves in familiar territory with the Salt Cod Croquetas and Patatas Bravas. These were all as they should be –delectable golden morsels of crispy deep fried goodness that we polished off pretty quickly.

The Slow cooked ox cheek & cauliflower puree’ felt somewhat incongruous with the rest of the menu, offering flavours and textures that seemed to hark back to 1960s Britain. This dish took traditional Britishness to the extreme in its use of exceptionally retro ingredients (red cabbage, cauliflower) cooked into a very 1960s mulch of soft, stringy meat + 2 veg, reminiscent of some sort of boil in the bag ‘Sunday Roast’ concoction you might be force-fed whilst visiting your doddery great-aunt in the local old people’s home.

All things said and done, we might be being a bit mean, as this was a brilliant meal – with a little less salt this might have been one of the best meals we’ve had in Oxford. Although it’s not exactly cheap, for the quality, the food is reasonably priced, averaging at around £12 a head (and we were pretty greedy). The service was very friendly and attentive without being over-eager and fawning, and thanks to our informative waiter, we now know how much mojama costs per gram (good one for the pub quiz that).

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