Review: No.1 Ship Street
Blame whoever you wish, but the dominance of University buildings and eye-watering rent prices of Oxford’s beautiful city centre don’t tend to allow for the opening of many new restaurants – particularly ambitious ones.
Rejoice then, for the mere existence of No.1 Ship Street, whose enviable position in the heart of OX1 must bring with it a certain pressure to succeed.
The restaurant is split in half across the ground and first floors, each with its own style and menu; the ground floor serves up modern British food brasserie-style, whereas the floor above focuses on seafood, with a menu heavy on oysters, lobster and champagne. Both floors are furnished in purple with polished brass tables and an intimate, luxurious atmosphere.
Upstairs, the hot fish platter (£50 for two) steals the show. Meaty crab claws jostle for space with king scallops, lightly battered squid, king prawns in the shell, a changing variety of white fish fillet, and enough steamed mussels to satisfy the hungriest Norman, all served in the richest Marinière sauce this side of Port-en-Bessin. There are two species of oyster, and whilst not cheap (around £17 for a half-dozen), are exemplary. Whole or half lobsters (£38.50/£22.50) are also available if sharing this kind of seafood extravaganza just isn’t your style, which is understandable.
Downstairs, the menu is a little more considered and diverse, but by no means any less impressive. The French theme pops back up in the form of classics like lobster bisque (£4.50) and duck and pork sausage cassoulet for two (£34), and some of them go above and beyond: sirloin tartare (£12) is balanced and subtle, with a hard-boiled quail’s egg and rich yet vinegary stout rarebit to add some depth. Lamb kidneys (£7) are devilled with cumin and coriander and served with a chewy garlic toast and a heavy, confident Marsala jus.
Onto the mains and the inspiration becomes a little more wide-ranging. Rose veal shin (£16), just as butter-soft and tender as it should be, is laid across a borlotti bean and fennel stew and topped with a pungent, gloriously crispy parmesan croquette. Oxfordshire pheasant (£17) comes two ways, accompanied by sweet toasted pumpkin, sage leaves and pine nuts for textural contrast. One thing to note is that portions are generous – no pipettes or barely-there smears of sauce here; this is hot, high-quality food plated up and served with palpable pride. Dessert – if you can make it – has a pleasant diversity, from the sharp and creamy punch of a flaming fruit brulée (£7) to the almost unimaginably indulgent cookie dough skillet for two (£11).
Less than six months since opening, No. 1 Ship Street displays a rare assurance and sense of purpose for such a young restaurant. Staff are charming and work like clockwork; the two-menu structure shows big ambition, and when it comes to execution, the proof is in the pudding. A truly independent, aspirational and faultlessly delicious restaurant in the city centre? Believe it – No.1 Ship Street is excellent.
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