Modernisation seems to be an unrelenting force in the businesses of today, with each restaurant and café rolling out the brushed steel and edgy, experimental ingredients in the hope of captivating an ever more demanding public. Gino’s, however, is comfortably settled in an untouched pocket of Gloucester Green, and could conceivably have been the sort of thing to be found there when it was still the verdant playground of Gloucester (now Worcester) College. The sleepy nonchalance of Campania, with its glittering coastline and emphasis on seafood, has been transplanted to this quiet Oxford eatery – with pleasing results.
The specials board reflected the emergence of spring, and so we plumped for a dish of asparagus – tender young stems, yet still al dente – paired with the tang of balsamic, good quality olive oil, and salty morsels of pancetta. Simplicity, quality, and unpretentious minimalism – found too in the delightfully crunchy, fresh whitebait – made this a delight, though the Chianti that accompanied the course was less than inspiring.
As Gino’s is famed for its pasta dishes, and the Gourmand is always partial to a splash of the sea, the special of homemade crab ravioli in a lusciously creamy tomato sauce was more than enough to get me excited; gladly, they did not fail to deliver, and a charmingly presented flower of ravioli, the crabmeat inside balanced by rich Parmesan, was certainly something we’d both return for. Their land-based offerings fared no worse, though the ‘tagliatelle della casa’, featuring ragù, mushrooms and a drizzle of cream, was no less than a small mountain: unrefined, perhaps, but then again, Gino’s plumps for homely authenticity over showy artifice, and the meaty, rich flavours of the pasta could excuse worse inelegances.
In keeping with the familial atmosphere, we felt that our choice of dessert was obvious: torta della nonna, a traditional lemon tart scattered with pine nuts and a dusting of icing sugar, looked promising; unfortunately, a somewhat doughy base and perhaps overly sweet lemon curd where a little zing would have been called for let the dessert down. However, the selection of homemade ice-creams and sorbets – from which we chose a duo of lemon and green apple – were packed with enough bite to refresh our palates after a cream-laden meal; a hit of lemon and a shot of espresso later, the evening’s indulgences were rounded off, leaving us satisfied, if a little carb-laden.
Gino’s won’t be spearheading any food revolutions or winning any Michelin stars, but for the Oxford student on a budget looking to avoid the plague of soulless chain Italians and just indulge in a simple pizza or pasta dish, this cute spaghetti house offers both a reasonable à la carte menu and a lunch menu for under a tenner.