I’ve been for lunch to The Coach & Horses twice recently. It’s a place that probably doesn’t register on the Oxford foodies’ radar, but both times most tables have been full so they’re clearly doing something right.
The pub is furnished and decorated in the traditional style, with patterned carpets, horse brasses and prints. On a weekday lunchtime the clientèle is, shall we say, not young. The atmosphere though is warm and welcoming with friendly and efficient staff. There’s a small bar and several rooms each set with a few tables, so despite the number of customers you don’t feel crowded. For times of better weather there’s an outside terrace.
The food on offer is also traditional, in the sense of being straightforward and with no concessions to fashion. No sharing platters here; nothing in a jus or enrobed in a light chilli foam; no exotic vegetables. Just plain, well-cooked food served in generous portions.
On the à la carte menu starters include pâté, smoked salmon, parma ham, and goat’s cheese salad. Several dishes are available in starter or main course portions. There is a short grill menu (steaks and lamb cutlets), fish (including fish of the day), and a meaty menu of main courses. Vegetables and chips are included. There are four vegetarian/pasta choices. As well as the à la carte menu the restaurant offers a specials board which on my recent visit included fish and chips, Cumberland sausage and mash, and confit de canard. They offer a Sunday lunch menu alongside the à la carte, and a seasonal Christmas Vegetarian Party menu.
Knowing the portion sizes the four of us declined starters, happy to make do with the fresh white and multi-grain bread and butter which came automatically. You’ll get the idea by now – bread with butter rather than oil and balsamic vinegar. A bottle of Rioja between three of us doubled as apéritif and accompaniment to the meal.
J and E both chose slow-braised lamb shank which came as generous but not oversized joints, perfectly cooked, served in a port and redcurrant sauce on a bed of mashed potatoes. J declared it to be one of the best she’d had. B opted for the confit de canard from the specials board – a leg of tender duck which came easily off the bone – while I chose half a Gressingham duck in orange sauce. Again, it was cooked just right (the skin could have been crisper but I don’t eat the skin anyway). Vegetables were served in individual side dishes, the same selection for each of us: carrots, broccoli and new potatoes. A large bowl of chips put in the middle of the table was a challenge we could only half complete!
The desserts are towards the rich end of the spectrum. J and E both declined: I considered the crème brulée but opted instead for the cheese (unusually at no extra charge – another break with current fashion), while B challenged his waistline with a chocolate mousse. Despite it being HUGE he managed to polish it off with what I took to be complete satisfaction. There were three cheeses on my plate of cheese and biscuits – cheddar, brie and a blue cheese (possibly Oxford blue – I didn’t ask). We finished with coffee all round. The bill for four main courses, two desserts, four coffees, a bottle of Rioja and a bottle of mineral water came to £74-something before service.
The food at the Coach & Horses may seem to be in a time warp but other restaurants might well ask themselves if there might be something in their unpretentious approach and excellent value for money. For a pub/restaurant several miles from the City regularly to be busy at mid-week lunchtimes shows there is a market for what they offer. I don’t know if this success is carried over into the evenings, or how their customer profile might differ later in the day. I hope they do just as well.