Now that the weather is warming up, there isn’t a more perfect opportunity for PAUL, the French bakery and patisserie, located on the corner of the High Street and St Aldate’s, to bring out picnic hampers. The various edible goodies come enclosed in a PAUL cool bag, which is yours to keep (the decision of who would end up keeping this bag was decided by a tension-inducing game of rock-paper-scissors). We took ours to the stuffy OxStu office and nibbled (Sarah)/greedily devoured (Zoë) while putting together this week’s Features section/staring longingly out of the window and imagining sitting on the lush grass of Port Meadow or Worcester College. We advise that a picnic as fancy as this one deserves to be enjoyed somewhere a bit more scenic than a cramped room in the Student Union.
The picnic, which serves two people, is made up of your choice of two out of a selection of sandwiches, salads and quiches (we went for the goat’s cheese salad and the tomato and mozzarella sandwich), along with two delectable goodies from the patisserie (a large macaroon and a generous slice of fruit tart), two packets of Tyrrells Crisps (fancy) and a bottle of water and a Coke. There is also a wipe-clean (handy when you’re as messy as us) picnic mat, which, with all the food spread out on it, makes a great Insta shot.
The first thing we managed to do was pick up the sandwich from the wrong end of its packaging, resulting in mozzarella, lettuce and tomato slithering down the sides of our cool bag. Once this was tidied up, we tucked into the spread. The sandwich, once we had reassembled it, was delicious. Encased in a crunchy, fresh baguette, studded with green olives, the classic combo of mozzarella and tomato was enhanced by the obvious freshness of the ingredients and subtle hint of pesto. After years of packed lunches in which the sandwich consisted of two sad pieces of white bread with a rather bland filling, the word ‘sandwich’ does not quite seem adequate to describe this.
Tucking into the tart was like swinging in a buttery, crumby pastry hammock, cushioned by the sweet fruity interior
The salad comprised of goat cheese, greens, marinated peppers and sundried tomatoes, and came with a crusty hunk of baguette. If it weren’t for the salad dressing, it might have been quite plain, but the dressing brought all of the ingredients together (and Zoë, who has a distrust of goat’s cheese, found the mild flavour pleasantly refreshing).
The slice of tart was a joy to behold. Although we struggled to distinguish some of the ingredients (definitely apple – but also apricot? Almonds?), it was delightfully creamy and sweet. As big fans of the GBBO (The Great British Bake Off, for those that choose to watch less cultured television), we can assure you that there was no soggy bottom – although the crisp pastry was slightly burnt, which marginally impaired the enjoyment. If one overlooks this, tucking into the tart was like swinging in a buttery, crumby pastry hammock, cushioned by the sweet fruity interior.
Our verdicts on the macaroon vary slightly. While Sarah, who has had the luxury of sampling the macaroons in France, was appreciative, but not blown away, on the other hand, Zoë, whose only experience of macaroons has been the one in which she attempted to bake some herself (it didn’t go well), could not get enough of the squidgy interior and crackly exterior combined with gooey raspberry jam in the middle.
All and in, this wasn’t the worst way to spend our Sunday morning working at OxStu.
Verdict: For £20 between two, with a cooler bag and picnic mat included, you get a “main”, dessert, crisps and a drink – a great picnic bag to pick up for your next romantic date (or, for those of us less lucky in love, a chat with a good pal) in Port Meadow.