On the banks of the river Cherwell – before it reaches the Isis – sits the Cherwell Boathouse. The restaurant began in a real Victorian working boathouse next to the punt station. It still remains, amazingly, a family-run business that is open all year round with special menus for each season. Reasonably priced considering the high quality of the food (especially in comparison to places closer to the centre of town), this hidden gem is an option to consider if you’ve got family coming to visit and want to impress, or if you’re looking for a special place to have your Oxmas dinner. They have their own (albeit quite small) parking area which is more than can be said for most places in Oxford, and inside the restaurant itself, fairy lights and bare brick walls create a contemporary rustic aesthetic, which works well with the soft jazz they play in the background to create a laid-back yet classy feel.
this hidden gem is an option to consider if you’ve got family coming to visit and want to impress, or if you’re looking for a special place to have your Oxmas dinner.
The boathouse is best visited in sunshine – the best feature of the restaurant is certainly the view of the river and the outside seating is undoubtedly lovely in summer, which is why they get so many bookings for weddings and other formal events. The punting station that the windows of the restaurant look out onto looks perfect for a summer activity, and costs sixteen pounds per hour for a boat which fits six.
The menu is accommodating to all diners, with vegan and vegetarian options available for all three courses. The dishes are all based on fresh, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients where possible which should comfort the environmentally-conscious. Each meal begins with some bread and butter, which is noticeably better quality than what’s on offer in most colleges’ formal hall, and the portions are more generously sized than those from college but aren’t at all unmanageable. Also, with its favourable acoustics, the room feels quiet enough to think, but you still have a feeling of privacy at your table.
the room feels quiet enough to think, but you still have a feeling of privacy at your table.
I visited the boathouse with a guest, and for starter we had the Crispy pork terrine and Butter poached potted prawns which were both imaginatively presented and yet comfortingly familiar. The wine that was recommended to us complemented our navigation through the interesting combination of flavours. For main course I had the Slow braised Ox cheek, and my guest the Seared loin of red deer venison, which were similarly originally presented. The dessert looked even better, the Bitter chocolate mousse having real flowers in decoration, and combining chocolate with passionfruit in an unconventional way. My guest had the crème brulee, which simple but delicious.
One particular item on the menu that stood out was ‘Slack ma girdle’, which is a washed-rind cheese named after an apple cider. The light-hearted spirit of the name sums up our overall impression of the boathouse as a place that serves high-quality food in a comfortable and elegant setting, but doesn’t take itself too seriously.