For most of us, Summertown has unshakeable connotations of exam stress, be it feverishly cramming in the sub fusc-packed Starbucks or walking through the marquee of doom to face another three-hour paper. But as you leave the infernal clutches of Ewert House amidst the revelry, take a glance across the road for a real post-exam treat. Florio Bar and Kitchen is a relatively new addition to the Summertown line-up, and certainly worth your patronage; the downstairs plays host to a charming, modern restaurant with contrasting fixtures that hark back to the Roaring Twenties, such as seltzer bottles and crystal chandeliers. The upstairs, however, is a carpeted den of luxury, decked out with sofas you could melt into, a panoramic bay window, and, most importantly, a fully-stocked bar with all manner of cocktail ingredients.
We opt for the downstairs, pouncing upon a duo of starters and poncing upon a pair of cocktails; the latter a maple-scented house special and the ‘Forbidden Fruit’, redolent of Prohibition-era libations, the former some of the most innovative fish dishes around. Delicate scallops, seared to tender perfection, were offset by intensely smoky chorizo, whilst a Catalan fish soup, rich and vermillion with spicy paprika, held three tender mussels beneath the broth. A new addition to the menu was intriguing, if perhaps unbalanced: chicory and rocket salad with caramelised figs, parmesan, and blood orange dressing had all the makings of summery perfection, but was often unpalatably bitter, despite the fruity sweetness.
But any bitterness was soon washed clean from our mouths by a classic tart gin Bramble and a Jasper Collins: the minty twist on its brother, Tom. The mains did yet more to impress, as a glazed confit duck leg and a roast rump of spring lamb appeared before us, both exemplary meat mains which we have nary seen done better; the duck, which lay on a bed of root vegetables, had an exquisite red wine reduction, the combination proving unrelentingly rich in its abundance, whilst the lamb, wonderfully tender, was a festival of flavours. With a stack of spring onion potato, a smidge of celeriac purée, and a garnish of poached grapes, it proved that the Florio chefs have a perfect grasp of innovative taste combination, as the sweet, tender grapes and earthy celeriac added a burst of flavour to the juicy, pink lamb.
Dessert was something of a mixed bag: the treacle sponge, soaked in a wonderfully tangy blood orange marmalade, was an island in a sea of fluffy crème anglaise; a bouncy and homely and flavoursome sponge, as all desserts should be. However, a promising-sounding strawberry and chocolate mousse pot was unexpectedly dense and had a surprising coffee edge, rich and, sadly, a little too bitter, though this could certainly be offset by one of their dessert cocktails, such as the classic Brandy Alexander.
All in all, our Florio experience was a surprising one, its seemingly nouvelle cuisine menu belying what is actually wholesome, filling, and really quite delicious fare. All the staff, even the friendly owner, are ready to welcome you with a smile and offer a stiff drink (or a girly one) to melt away your woes – and if you’ve just finished an exam, we suggest you take it to start your summer off in style.