Each lunchtime and evening a fairly short menu is served, with a focus on the seasonal, local and generally environmentally sound: the ratio of non-meat to meat dishes is much more even than in most places. Some of the options can form part of a two or three course deal, although at least half aren't eligible and I couldn't help thinking it might be simpler to have a set menu and maybe a separate à la carte.
Anyway, on to the food. In many ways the starters were the highlight, which was fortunate as we had to wait about half an hour for them. Although the bread accompanying it was brought far too early, a crab bisque with prawns and croutons (£5) was 'fishy in a good way', rich and light and with quite a generous number of prawns. Shredded ham hock with pickled carrots and a boiled egg (£6) was really excellent, a well balanced dish: the carrots were sweet, the ham flaked apart beautifully and the egg was perfectly cooked (and definitely tasted fresh and free range).
Three of us decided to be defiantly carnivorous and choose the slow braised beef flank with shallots, baby carrots and mash (£12). This wasn't especially sophisticated but portions were generous and appetising enough for us not to feel that we were being charged a premium for glorified home cooking: the mash was creamy and the meat tender and full of flavour. Still, while I was lucky enough to have a heap of fairly lean meat my two friends ended up having to leave a lot of fat: I know this is what 'real food' is like but the contrast was a bit unfortunate. Meanwhile smoked haddock and split pea fishcakes with lemon mayonnaise (£10) were tasty, and not too potato-heavy (as they had apparently been on a previous occasion). The garlic-y mayonnaise was very moreish, despite being an alarmingly radioactive shade of yellow.
(n.b. that the ice cream came separately)There were only two desserts to choose from: chocolate brownie and lemon posset (both £5). Nothing out of the ordinary, then, and when they arrived both were tasty without being exceptional. The posset was smooth, rich and sweet but ultimately rather bland, although the warm shortbread that came with it was excellent (perhaps biscuits should become a dessert here in their own right?). The brownie tasted of cocoa rather than chocolate but had a good fudgy, crumbly texture.
Some additional observations: the bill took almost as long to arrive as the starters and on occasion the service had an air of slight, charming disorganisation (though this is a '10% optional service charge automatically added' kind of place), while the dining room is a fine example of the 'artfully rustic'. Generally I was impressed by the standard of cooking, though in some aspects I feel it could have been a bit sharper and more inventive. Finally, I can't not mention the excellent selection of drinks, especially the alcoholic ones, which range from organic beers to obscure British-produced spirits (I'd like to return and try the Geranium gin) to very inventive seasonal cocktails. These aren't cheap, but they will give you the warm glow that comes with avoiding the mass market. Indeed, that's clearly what TSK is all about.
Turl Street Kitchen
16-17 Turl Street OX1 3DH