When first contemplating my visit to the UK, I wasn’t too excited about the food prospects. Nothing really sprang to mind when considering British cuisine, other than fish and chips and meat pies. Now I realize I was being close-minded, and that reducing British food to those two items would be like summarizing Canadian food as maple syrup and poutine (which I’m sure happens often enough). Like any country with large and diverse immigrant populations, the UK offers a variety of different cuisines to be indulged in.
While in Oxford, we had dinner one night at The Old Tom. The Old Tom was particularly interesting to me because while it serves Thai food, it still somewhat functions as the classic British pub (which to me just comes down to whether or not they serve Pimm’s). We were seated in an outdoor area behind the actual restaurant, where we could enjoy the summer air, although this was somewhat marred by the cigarette smoke issuing from nearby tables.
We started off with an order of the Vegetable Tempura (£3.95), which consisted of an interesting assortment of vegetables: carrots, onions, and red and green peppers. I’m not sure why they called this “tempura” on the menu, because the batter was clearly something different altogether. Although the items came out warm, it felt like they had used old oil, or that the items had been fried too long. The homemade chili sauce was both sweet and spicy. As far as appetizers go, this wasn’t terrible, but I probably wouldn’t order it again. I suppose fried items are just a pub staple.
Shawarma indulged in a classic in the Pad Thai with Chicken (£7.95), complete with all the usual suspects: rice noodles, egg, bean sprouts, and ground peanuts. She was pleasantly surprised by this dish, as we honestly hadn’t expected anything great. Although the dish as a whole was slightly oily, it had that requisite tang from the tamarind. The noodles were slightly on the soft side, but the chicken was flavourless, although this was slightly ameliorated by the sauce. Pickles, who also had the pad thai, remarked that it was better than the version at Wagamama, although I guess that really isn’t saying much…
I opted for the Green Curry with Prawns (£8.95), with coconut milk, bamboo shoots, fresh chilies, sweet basil leaves, and peas, served with some steamed rice. The curry was on the sweet side, but still had a nice spicy kick. Like Shawarma, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this, as I hadn’t been expecting much from this small Oxford pub. In hindsight, I would have expected the curry itself to be a tad thicker, but it was nothing too troubling, and I was satisfied that they’d included five or six sizeable prawns. The rice was simple steamed rice and nothing too special, although it was clumped up a bit in places.
Overall, the food at the Old Tom wasn’t anything I would call exceptional, but it was more than acceptable, especially considering where we were. It’s necessary to have realistic expectations, right? I wouldn’t expect Oxford’s Asian restaurants to be on par with Vancouver’s. That being said, though, the Old Tom was a nice way to experience the quintessential British pub while having something other than conventional pub fare.
The Old Tom
101 Saint Aldate’s
Oxford, UK OX1 1BT
Summer is the season of (among other things) superhero movies. SB is a huge fan of superhero movies, so we started off the summer with Iron Man 3, with our next selection being Man of Steel. We were planning to watch it at our cheap neighbourhood movie theatre, with a quick, cheap lunch beforehand. And what could be cheaper than $4.95 lunch specials?
X-Site Grill and Bistro, on the eastern end of Hastings Street, epitomizes cheap food for me. $5.95 dinner specials, and $4.95 lunch specials (with the purchase of a beverage). I generally like nothing more than cold water to accompany my meals, but I was curious about what kind of food they could be serving for less-than-McDonald’s-prices, so I indulged in an iced tea to be able to order one of their lunch specials.
Because we were both quite hungry, we decided to order a Calamari ($6.95) to share. As far as calamari goes, this was decent, but not exceptional. The tzatziki sauce was oddly thick, and lacked any real tang–it simply tasted like sour cream. I love sour cream as much as the next person, but I wasn’t satisfied. The squid itself was tender, but overseasoned and seemed saltier and saltier the more we ate it. The dish was served warm, and the batter wasn’t quite crispy, but it was fine for what it was.
SB decided on the New York Peppercorn Steak ($9.95), a 60z New York strip served with Dijon peppercorn sauce, rice pilaf, roasted potatoes, green salad, and garlic bread. The steak was a bit small, as expected, and came out closer to medium rather than the medium rare we’d requested. As such, it was a bit too chewy–but what can you really expect? At least the peppercorn sauce added a nice kick. As for the sides, the salad was crisp and fresh, while the garlic bread was warm and toasted. Considering how expensive even a fast food meal is nowadays, this is a good deal for just $10.
As for me, I had the lunch special Chicken Souvlaki ($4.95), which was served with rice pilaf, roast potatoes, Caesar salad, pita bread, and tzatziki sauce. The chicken was both juicy and tender, and nicely seasoned. There wasn’t really anything to complain about here, except for the croutons in my salad. I’m a huge crouton aficionado (if such a thing exists), and I like my croutons to be salty, cheesy, and garlicky, with a nice crunch. I often force/coerce my friends to get extra croutons at those build-your-own-salad-bars so that I can satisfy my crouton craving. Anyways, I find most croutons to fulfill my requirements, but these croutons tasted oddly burnt. Each one I had tasted burnt, with no other recognizable taste. You probably don’t care about croutons as much as I do (I don’t think anybody does), so let’s move onto the other sides. Other than the croutons, nothing was particularly amiss, with the lettuce being crisp and the rice being well-cooked, and the tzatziki sauce was the same as the one served with our calamari. The pita bread was warm and slightly crispy, and not doused in oil as it is at some Greek restaurants. Overall, this was just a lot of food, especially considering the price, and enjoyable, despite the crouton mishap.
There really isn’t that much more to say about our meal here. The service was a bit lacklustre–despite the nearly empty restaurant, it took us a long time to flag someone down for the bill. Still, the food was cheap and did the job. This area of Burnaby isn’t exactly known for its fine dining scene, so if you’re looking for a quick and inexpensive bite to eat, X-Site will probably do the job.
X-Site Grill and Bistro
4625 Hastings Street