If there’s a hospitality business that reflects Covid and how we feel about food it’s Kitchen Food Company in Summertown, Oxford. But first we need to dial back two years to 215, Oxford’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, run by Steve Quinn and exec cheffed by Paul Welburn. After three lockdowns and a home dining arm that sprung up during that time, Quinn felt guest tastes were veering to the less formal, and his fine-dining restaurant became the three AA rosette 215 Kitchen and Drinks. Fast forward another year, and Paul Welburn decided to leave to pursue other projects, giving Quinn a third chance at reinvention. He has now created a brunch/ lunch bistro and deli The Kitchen Company and, I gotta tell you, I think its the best of the lot.
I’m the first journalist to be invited in to eat here (just wait while I preen for a minute) so you’re getting the info before everyone else! It opens TODAY!! (Thurs 10 March) for business so read on for everything you need to know.
The new concept sees the bistro on the top floor opening for brunch and lunch every day (10am – 2pm Monday to Friday, extending to 3.30pm on weekends) with the deli downstairs serving all day Monday to Friday with a broad remit of on coffees and cakes, healthy take away lunches (think Ottolenghi-inspired salad, pulled meat and Poke bowls), and deli sales of 10o+ of its own home-made items, from pickles to orange marmalade gin, salts and sauces, along with some high stylish friends like Daylesford Farm.
The pickles and spirits for sale
If you like something you eat upstairs and want to replicate it at home, the deli team will shop for you and add it to your bill. There will also be meals for two that can be bought from the deli. Tapping into local office workers, shop browsers and relaxed diners, it’s some kind of genius, right?
The first thing to tell you is that there’s been a massive, gorgeous refurb here. I always loved the food at 215, but found the upstairs decor a bit dark and a bit old fashioned in some ways. The transformation, however, is spot on – now it’s a light, modern space with cool industrial drop downs, banquette corner seating, retro influences and a lovely big central window table with bench seating for bigger parties. It feels much more relaxed and modern and simple, and drop-in friendly – which is just as well as there are no bookings any more.
Look up to your right as you walk up the stairs and you’ll notice a couple of abseilers
The bistro was full with Quinn’s family and friends for a test-run of service and the menu, so it felt buzzy, but each table is given plenty of space – I hate shouldering up to a stranger when I’m eating so that’s a big tick from me. And service was professional and charming – it feels like there’s a lot of enthusiasm amongst the staff for this new venture and they were all keen to do a good job.
SCOFF & QUAFF
This is the really good news – the food is fantastic. The head chef is now Ian Morgan, who was Gary Rhodes’ head chef at Rhodes & Co in the early Naughties, so happens to knows his way around a stove, and is an old friend and former colleague of Quinn’s.
You may notice a nod to its Michelin past by the inclusion of the coronation chicken croquette on the menu, which was a signature dish in its 215 days (still phenomenal -see below),
but the menu is way more relaxed. My mum for example, had a savoury tart, leek, tallegio, spiced dukka, house salad (£15) and she insisted I try it because she was in love with it- the tallegio giving the dish a creaminess that complimented the spice. (Also well done on the portions – definitely not Michelin sized).
As well as the croquette, we shared some delicious home-made hummous below (I’d definitely buy that from the deli) …
… before landing on my choice of main – smoked 12 hour feather blade beef with pickled shitake mushrooms, sesame & ginger (£15) with a side order of triple baked chips with truffle oil. The beef was pitch perfect, moist and sweet, and again very generous on the sizing.
This was a chef special but if it’s all sounding a bit posh for a quick bite to eat with your girlfriend over lunch, there are also sharing charcuterie and cheese platters, some interesting vegetarian options such as home beetroot cured gravadlax, dill dressing, pumpernickel (£15), or if you’re in the mood for something simple, there’s even a posh ham and cheese toastie with a green salad (£12).
OUT & ABOUT
Summertown is one of Oxford’s upper-crust neighbourhoods and you’ll happily mooch here for an hour or two. Head off the main road which has its fair share of thundering buses, and zip onto South Parade for Vanilla fashion boutique, award-winning Wild Honey health store, the North Wall arts centre and Sarah Wiseman art gallery.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
The globe chandelier has remained during each reincarnation
Good for: Relaxed lunchers, takeaway grabbers, office workers, deli nibblers. Prefer to visit in the morning? Brunches also hit the mark – bircher muesli bowls, dry cured bacon sandwiches, home made muesli, sour dough toast are all on the menu along with the obligatory smashed avocado. There’s a paid for car park directly across the road which is handy. Plus bus links into the city are great – it will take you just 10 minutes to get into Oxford centre if you fancy a mooch afterwards.
Not for: Those who enjoy more former dining may prefer to go elsewhere. The no-reservation system may put off those who won’t want to take the chance. The bifold doors open out onto the busy Banbury Road with outdoor seating but there’s no private garden or courtyard for the summer.
The damage: More expensive than a café, less expensive than a posh restaurant. I’d say the prices are reasonable given the high quality. Small plates around £7.50, mains £12-15.
Kitchen Food Company, 215 Banbury Road, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7HQ. Tel: 01865 511 149.