Christmas break in Oxford

This will probably end up sounding like a pub crawl.

We booked a couple of nights in Oxford to combine a trip to see Michael’s family and to have a quick break in a different town, and try some new pubs. Michael bought the new iPhone Good Beer Guide especially (and it was pretty good). On our way to Oxford Tony entertained us to a lovely lunch (spicy turkey tortillas) and Gemma took me out to visit the sales in Bicester Village. The combination worked a treat—I bought a Le Creuset Wok as I’d been impressed by Tony’s. Michael and Hannah played “Up Words”.

Ethos Hotel Oxford

In Oxford. we stayed at Ethos Hotel, off Abingdon Road. The hotel is new and all the doors have fancy electronic locks and keypads. Shame they didn’t have fancy sound insulation—we moved from our first room after 15 mins because of the couple next door who seemed set for a night of loud television and partying. The other room was great though and very comfortable. The hotels only 10 mins walk from town and we started off our trip with a visit to Jamie’s Italian restaurant. The restaurant is rather deceiving—it looks small from the outside as it’s only possible to see a small area of the seating—once inside there is a masses of room, and masses of people. It had a great atmosphere and really good waitering staff. The food was good: Michael had an antipasti plank and I had salt and pepper squid, then for mains we had some lovely pasta. Enjoyed the organic house wine (it was ‘rustic’):

Brilliant quality wine made from organic grapes, bought by us in eco-friendly tetra pak cartons and decanted for you.

RED – ORGANIC SANGIOVESE TERRE DI CHIETI ABRUZZO 2008 CIAO 12%
Nicely balanced soft raspberry fruit.

After dinner we went to the first of our pubs—I need to refer to twitter here! Had a pint of lovely Razzle Dazzle at the Far From the Madding Crowd which is now my favourite Oxford pub. Lovely beer (I really enjoyed the Loddon Razzle Dazzle). Great atmosphere and free wi-fi. Nice sofas to relax in, and a good airy feel.

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Followed this with a visit to Oxford’s smallest pub, the White Horse. Cosy and small, and sandwiched between two Blackwells shops. I had a pint of White Horse Wayland’s Smithy and Michael tried the Rudolph the Red Nosed White Horse: both good beers. Followed up with a nice pint of Shotover Prospect brewed in Oxford.

Wayland Smithy 4.4%

smithy-s_large.jpgThe power of the blacksmith is legendary so this beer combines the best ingredients money can buy and the skills of the traditional brewer to create a hammering good beer. Red like the fire at its heart and balanced with buckets of aromatic hops it’s enough to give other brewers the hump.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Whitehorse 4.8%
rednose-s_large.jpgAs the snow piles up against the door and the wind whistles over the Santa sized Chimney of the pub, it’s time to find a beer of noble heart and passionate tradition.Chestnut red in colour the extravagance of this beer begins before you even raise it to your expectant lips, the explosion of flavour will transfix the tongue, warm citrus and candid peel flavours mix with the dryness of a drawn out fermentation. New season hops reach for the sweetness of the purest English malt.

IMG_0577.JPG White Horse in Oxford

Next day we visited the newly refurbished Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology, opened by the Queen a dew weeks ago. The building was pretty impressive, light and airy and with fantastic modern exhibitions. Enjoyed the display of Britannia in coins and the art and architecture about the £61 million renovations. This quote from the Director in particular struck true:

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because the curation of the exhibitions was great—the best I’ve seen. The displays started out to tell a story, and illustrated that with the art or exhibitions. That might be what you would expect from a good display, but here it seems to have been implemented with the story telling at heart, and it was very engaging.
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Ashmolean Museum
Headed to another nice pub for lunch—the Kings Arms. Michael has some very rich traditional faggots (with lots of liver in them) and I had a (traditional for me) Scampi and Chips. The Young’s beer was very nice: I got a pint of Winter Warmer ale and swapped it for Michael’s Young’s Special, which was lighter and went better with the scampi.

King's Head, OxfordKings Arms
Had a wander along the river, past Isis Lock (linking the Oxford Canal with the Thames) and through Jericho, then for a rest back in the hotel (via a small coffee shop).

Isis Lock
Had dinner at a place recommended by a colleague, Chang Mai Kitchen, in a lovely old 1630’s building. Great locations and setting. The food was good we went for a nice spicy meal. Met with Tony at his recommended pub—the Eagle and Child Inn which was a bit disappointing—a bit cold and tables were a real state, and they were playing music (uncharacteristically). I had a pint of Amber Ale, which was fine. We pegged it from there past the closed Lamb and Flag (disappointing) and on to the Far from the Madding Crowd, for another beer! Had to wave goodbye to Tony at the stage, but we carried on the Royal Blenheim which was pretty quiet by the time we got there. Michael had fancied a gin martini, but he sensibly opted for a Burton Bridge Porter and I had a lovely Everards Beacon (and gently steered by the landlord, sitting on the wrong side of the bar).
Great trip to Oxford—bit of a pub crawl really, and very enjoyable for it. Visited Elisabeth for a cup of tea on the way home.

Christmas resolutions

I did some of my Christmas shopping in the fantastic Japan Centre in London. I was tempted by a couple of lovely ranges of Daruma, so I bought a few as presents. There were some left over, and so I’ve used mine to make an early resolution and it’s staring at me now with one eye until I do it. I hope this doesn’t turn into an Edgar Allan Poe plot.

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Christmas (and the festive period)

Today I’ve had some time to get sorted out and to reflect on this Christmas. Christmas week started with Cambridge covered in snow; and the snow turned to ice; I took the bus to work every day rather than risk my neck cycling.

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The RSC had another great Christmas lunch at Kings College, and we filled the great hall which was impressive—and that was with sixty people missing because of the weather. The wine was a bit slow to get flowing, which was most likely down to low numbers of waiting staff (the venue manager was out front serving the food to get us all fed). Eventually the wine started flowing well, and Jan, Niamh and I carried what we could get our hands on into the bar, where lunch slowly spread into the afternoon (hic!).

RSC Christmas Lunch at Kings College

I had a little ‘sleep’ when I got in, and Michael wisely went round to visit our neighbour, Rosemary, on his own. I woke up in time to get there about an hour late, and it was good to meet lots more of our neighbours. We met a different selection at Justin and Helen’s a week or so later.

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A lovely Christmas table decoration arrived from Tony and Gemma, and this, plus the planned visit of Christine, Jessica and Lewis on the 20th finally gave me the kick I needed to get the Christmas decorations down from the loft. I managed to get get the tree up before they arrived, and the timing was perfect as Lewis and Jessica were able to decorate the tree for me when they arrived. We had lunch in the Free Press soon after it opened and it as freezing cold.

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We followed this with a wander around the shops after lunch and got some books for Jessica and Lewis and tried to get me a Fat Face hat (sold out). Popped into Kings College again and noticed this time what a great job they have done with stone cleaning of the chapel—it looks like it was only newly built.

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Also bought myself an early Christmas present: a mega wild bird feeder. So far I’ve only had a few nibbles on my nuts, and a little peck at my lard—it will take about a month to be discovered. I’m not very patient.
Michael was working till 5pm on Christmas Eve, and we had a couple of baked potatoes with roquefort as an easy but slightly decadent meal, to get us into the Christmas spirit. I think the couple of pints at the Free Press in the evening helped more!
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On Christmas Day we got the dya off to a good start with bacon butties and a bottle of Trésor rouge sparking red wine that we bought with Barry and Adam last year in the Loire. The wine is a really dark red and was better than I remembered and helped set the mood for the ripping open of presents. We didn’t leave Bentley out—he got a cat nip toy that for 30 brief seconds bought out the kitten in him—he hasn’t looked at it since, He enjoyed the cardboard boxes too.
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David’s presents came in an interesting wrapping—wrapped with a huge amount of surgical tape. I was almost tempted to keep it in case of a home emergency, there was more than enough to stock a good first aid kit. Also liked the gift box that Nuala and Joel sent their gift in.
We managed a little stroll around Parker’s Piece before we set to making the dinner—wing rib of Cam Cattle that we slow roasted following a Heston Blumenthal low temperature recipe (the beef was gorgeous!). We had some good wine that I bought from the RSC Christmas auction from Harp—a bottle of 2000, Chateaux Rauzan Gassies Margaux (review). It was a lovely wine and a good accompaniment for the beef. The day flew by.

Tweets this Week (2009-12-27)

  • Michael cracked open a Bouvey Ladubay Tresor, dark red sparkling wine—memories of Loire with Barry & Adam! http://flic.kr/p/7pFNEF #
  • Listening to Vox Clara, Ecce and Intonat plainchant to get in the Christmas mood! I think a whisky mac will be more effective. 🙂 #
  • @dml29 everyone was very well behaved—even after all the wine consumed! in reply to dml29 #
  • Early start to the office this morning: some very firm deadlines for the end of the year. #
  • RT @petapixel: Strange – Guy makes chainmail armor entirely from beer can tabs: http://j.mp/6lpG1j #
  • @joelbell78 I see what you mean—I was mainly wondering how many cans I'd need to drink to make a chainmail codpiece? in reply to joelbell78 #
  • I tried for much of the afternoon not to open the Stollen—just gave in, yum! #
  • Trying a bottle of Isole e Olena Cepparello (2005)—lots of potential for 5 years time, but not ready yet. #
  • Thanks for the presents everyone: we had a great time opening them (with some champagne!) http://flic.kr/p/7qeNHz #
  • @chaileyf what did you do with your giblets 🙂 ? in reply to chaileyf #
  • Made a committment with my daruma. I've given myself twelve months to deliver—looking forward to it. http://flic.kr/p/7qiD3t #
  • Booked into Ethos hotel in Oxford for a short break—spent a lovely afternoon with Tony and Gemma. #
  • Dinner at Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant in Oxford, and now enyoying a pint of great Razzle Dazzle ale in "Far from the Madding Crowd" #
  • at Far From The Madding Crowd (4 stars): Great beer and a good atmosphere. It's not as emtpy as the photo looks! http://schmap.me/5muafj #
  • Razzle Dazzle —http://bit.ly/4uCVao #

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Tweets this Week (2009-12-20)

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Tweets this Week (2009-12-13)

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Three Men in a Boat

Met Pardah to seethreemeninaboat.gif Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (adapted by Nick Warburton) at the ADC Theatre. Billed as from the “Combined Actors of Cambridge”, it was a jolly good bit of light hearted fun, old chap. The three main actors were very good, and supported by about a dozen other actors who played in various sketches to illustrate the travelogue. The physical nature of some of the blunders translated well onto stage, and even the dog, Montmorency, made an appearance—the cute stuffed dog was animated and given voice by all the actors and by the end he was a convincing part of the cast. The humour is lovely and innocent, heightened by the schoolboyish characters in their public school blazers. Must read the book again.

From the ADC web site:

Three Men in a Boat is an idyllic record of a gentle Victorian pastime, full of the discoveries of its delights and pitfalls. Even on the best of organised boat trips things go wrong wrong, and for J, Harris and George (to say nothing of the dog), their holiday on the River Thames is no exception.

In this fresh new adaptation, we join the trio in their escapades and witness the many stories they tell each other as they while away the journey. Here is a perfect picture of those lazy summer days ‘messing about in boats’ to appeal to all who know and love the story and a delight for those who come to it for the first time.

Blakeney with Pardha

Picked Pardha up this morning and drove out to the coast in the pouring rain, for a typical winter seaside experience. The rain stopped just as we arrived in Blakeney (20 mins later that predicted because of my poor navigation). We had a stroll down the spit, which was pretty muddy and it was warm and mild with the coastal wind on our backs. I was thinking as we strode forward that the return journey would be a bit more of a battle. So we turned around even before we could see the sea 🙁 But then that’s the Blakeney experience! The weather was great in for the walk—the sun burst through and it even felt warm at times.

Blakeney

Blakeney, Pardha

Pardha bought us lunch in the Manor Hotel, which is a lovely place. I had crab salad (with chips!) and Pardha managed to find a baked potato with beans and cheese amongst all the meaty options. Spiced berries J2O was interesting….

Had a walk through to the Flint Gallery in the village, and was very taken with a photograph of a stand of winter trees that had been cropped and edited to make it look more like an etching. Good value at £250, but a bit early to buy myself a Christmas present.

Blakeney

Tweets this Week (2009-12-06)

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