The Black Boy, Headington: August 2016
A confused gastropub serving enjoyable food.
The Black Boy is somewhat hidden in and amongst the beautiful surroundings of Old Headington. Off the London Road, far from the ghastly -yet, oddly legendary – Headington Shark, you will stumble upon the suburb laced with history and picturesque streets. The perfect location for a top-notch, heart-warming gastro pub, right? Wrong.
Whilst the exterior suggests a family-friendly pub, the interior tries to take you to the city. With its monochrome design and decadent silver-famed mirror to match, the only accessory missing was a glass-beaded chandelier. To rub salt into the wound, it was fading – fast. A lick of paint wouldn’t quite cover it. Then out the back was the award-winning beer garden, with no linkage to the inside – it was all too different. The simplicity of the gastro pub we expect to find was missing and, as a result, makes it the place for a work dinner and not a family gathering. Was it trying to convert to a swanky ‘gastro-bar’? If so, Old Headington is certainly not the place.
Upon being seated I couldn’t help notice the off-white tablecloth was in need of a good iron. Like an over-used napkin, it was almost crawling itself to the dry cleaners.
The menu was upmarket pub-style with plenty of favourites, all with a foodie twist – finally, the first sign that is was, indeed, a gastro pub. A footnote on the menu explained the ingredients were sourced locally, as much as possible – perfect.
The crayfish and broad bean risotto caught my eye first, and after it was shoved in front of me the perfectly matched colours of the dish helped fade the poor service. Although topped with a little too much parmesan the crayfish stood out a vibrant shade of red, accompanied with broad beans coloured with an aura of just-been-picked. The flavours of the sea and earth combined with the creamy texture of the well-seasoned al dente risotto was sublime – a very joyous treat for the palate.
The time between meals was perfect, I just wish the food was served up with as much care as the as the food had flavour. The wait staff, all in boring-black, required further training on how to deliver a plate to the table – this, of course, falls to the manager. Not being able to explain the dish they were serving is simply unacceptable in a food establishment.
The roast beef was enjoyable; something you would expect to find on the table of a great-aunt. The pre-served gravy was a tad too watery for my liking (something not to be found on great-aunt’s table) – I find being able to pour your own gravy more rewarding, as targeting that Yorkshire pudding never fails to excite.
The atmosphere was rather quiet, with just the chatter of the wait staff for company. There were only two other parties eating – I do hope this was a one off and not a sign of bad things to come. The Black Boy misses the ‘very good’ category due to a dull atmosphere and poor service. This holds back its reasonable food.
The final, and finest, course was the sticky toffee pudding I ordered. A true classic. Whilst overloading the taste buds with flavour, the sweetness of the dates and toffee was not at all sickly and finished the experience off with enormous satisfaction.
What The Black Boy lacks in presentation it makes up for in its flavoursome food. It needs to decide whether it is a restaurant, gastro pub or bar – only then can it fully reach its potential, invest into the aesthetics and hopefully succeed.