The Rickety Press' owners have renovated what used to be the Radcliffe Arms, but the old layout more or less remains, with a bar area that feels like your average - so a bit gentrified - Jericho pub, with stripped-wood furniture, piles of old books and several kinds of bar nibbles in jars by the till. Most of the restaurant tables are in the attached conservatory, which is quite a nice space but lacks a certain cosiness. Incidentally, the distinction between the two areas wasn't quite clear to first-timers like us (maybe most people are repeat customers). On arrival we announced ourselves to the barman who was very polite but kept asking us to wait a second until we just went through to the restaurant. This seemed to have different staff who, this being Jericho, had a rather bluff and well spoken air - and were pretty efficient for all that.
We were tempted by the crab cannelloni and the wild garlic risotto on the starters menu but in the end went for a meat board to share (£14). This came loaded with light and moreish chicken liver mousse, cured pork, a chunky and dill-infused ham hock terrine and salami. Together this made a tasty selection, and the warm home-made bread on the side was also crusty and fresh, although we would have liked a couple more slices.
I then had roast hake fillet (£14.50); the Photographer had a burger (£13). The hake sat atop a generous heap of peas, bacon and creamed leeks which offset the meaty, flaky texture of the fish nicely, while triple-cooked chips (£3.50) were properly fluffy inside and crunchy on the outside. I did think that a bowl of fries was overcooked, but the Photographer disagreed, and he seemed pleased with his burger. So we enjoyed both dishes - but on the other hand, neither was better, or more distinctive, than what you'd find in any number of other gastropubs. The rest of the main courses looked similar: there was a steak and a rib of beef to share, fishcakes, pork belly, a vegetarian option (vegetable pithivier) and that was all. Short menus are fine, but this didn't seem an especially original selection of food, or one that would make me want to go to the Rickety Press and not somewhere else.
There's a reason why I'm labouring this point. The dessert menu didn't look much more adventurous: it included chocolate mousse, rhubarb crumble, and the slightly less standard walnut, almond and honey tart. Nevertheless, we were surprised. The chocolate mousse (£6) was not the expected prim potful but a sizeable scoop of gleaming, dark mousse in the middle of the plate, surrounded by large chunks of home-made honeycomb and poached pear. It was as rich as it looked and the overall effect was like eating a very sophisticated Crunchie bar. Meanwhile, I ordered molasses roasted pineapple (£5) and was surprised when a glass containing layers of various creamy substances arrived (I had to check I'd been given the correct order). Like the mousse this was extremely rich, but it was delicious: slices of sweet cooked pineapple mingled with unctuous brown sugar cream, and there was yoghurt too, which went a little way - no more - to counteracting the richness. I couldn't manage the two 'yoghurt peanut brittle biscuits' on the side but they made a nice snack the next day. We also enjoyed single scoops of homemade marmalade and salted caramel (£2 each), both of which tasted as good as we'd hoped.
These desserts were something different, showing a creative touch and a willingness to treat ingredients with boldness and skill that hadn't really been in evidence earlier (it's also impressive how little they cost). I'm not sure there are many places in Oxford that reach this standard. So our meal ended on a definite high note, and I'd definitely recommend the Rickety Press. But I couldn't help thinking that it could be even better if whoever is responsible for desserts were let loose on the rest of the menu.
The Rickety Press
67 Cranham Street OX2 6DE