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