Category Archives: Headington

Brookes Restaurant

Oxford Mommy turned 40 today. Yup, FORTY. I thought I’d be dreading it but actually I was quite gleeful. I had a great decade in my 30s and I’m looking forward to another one as I enter my 40s. To celebrate, the Baberoo, her Daddy, Gran, Grandpa and I all went out to Brookes Restaurant (Oxford Brookes University, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane, OX3 0BP). I’ve been wanting to try this place for ages, especially since Oxford Daddy is a lecturer at Brookes and I’ve passed the restaurant countless times on the way to visit him at his office.

The Brookes Restaurant is part of the university’s School of Hospitality Management, so the students work alongside professionals in the restaurant as part of their training. The menu changes monthly to reflect the seasons and the dishes showcase British ingredients from artisan producers. Because it’s part of the hospitality course, Brookes Restaurant is only open on weekdays from 12 to 2 pm. It’s also one of the only restaurants in the area – it’s in Headington but not near any of the other eateries or main shopping area. But if you enjoy fine dining it is definitely worth going.

For my starter, I chose the Oxfordshire asparagus trifle, which was a mousse topped with a brilliant green jelly, fresh asparagus pieces, pea shoots, and a Spenwood cheese straw. It was refreshing and springy, a perfect beginning to the meal.

Brookes restaurant asparagus trifle

My main was the Gloucestershire rump of lamb, which was meltingly tender and juicy. It was served with roast onion puree, spinach and wild garlic, turnips glazed in red wine, and a mystery croquette that was tasty but didn’t appear on the menu, and I forgot to ask what it was! The whole dish was delicious and also nicely presented.

Brookes restaurant lamb

With giddy disregard for our waistlines, we ordered dessert too – since a 3-course lunch is an unbelievably cheap £15.95 (it’s £13.95 for two courses if you are being more restrained). I chose the brioche bread and butter pudding with apricot ice cream, which was unlike any other bread and butter pudding I’ve had. It was much less stodgy, but it was extremely sweet because it contained so many apricots. It was a nice finish to the meal, but if I’d had it on its own I think it would have been too sweet for me. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of it before I started eating!

The Baberoo had her own lunch brought from home, since we had checked out the menu before and we didn’t think that any of the options would appeal to her toddler palate, but she did eat quite a good amount of the pre-meal bread and some of the vegetables we passed her from our plates, without too much landing on the floor. I think we did try her patience by having a leisurely lunch of three courses, but she did pretty well while we were there and then immediately conked out in the stroller on the way home. Be warned that it does take a while between courses, so do try to engineer your lunch to coincide with naptime or plan ahead with snacks to stave off a baby-boredom crisis.

We enjoyed the food and I had a lovely birthday celebration. Now, how does Brookes Restaurant rate for baby-friendliness? My criteria, as explained on my About page, are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: The Brookes Restaurant menu changes monthly and is clearly posted on their website, so you can have a look at the options in advance and see if there is anything that you are able to eat one-handed in case your baby needs to be held. Sometimes there may not be anything that’s suitable for one-handed eating. On the May menu there was one starter and one main that I would say could be eaten if you were holding a baby in the other arm, but for the most part the dishes will require both knife and fork.

Space: There is a huge amount of space between tables – more than I’ve ever seen at any other restaurant. This is fantastic for getting through the restaurant with a stroller. There is plenty of space to park a buggy anywhere around most tables and there’s also lots of space elsewhere; we parked ours under the specials board. The Baberoo enjoyed toddling around the restaurant exploring some of the vacant tables and looking out the plate-glass windows.

Brookes restaurant interior

Ambiance: There is certainly a fine-dining vibe in the restaurant, but it’s definitely not a snooty one. Staff were pleasant and helpful and spent a long time chatting to our party about how the restaurant works and some of the cooking techniques that were used for our meals. They were friendly with the Baberoo, who was really enjoying flashing her toothy grin at everyone who passed by our table.

Brookes restaurant interior 2

Facilities: Brookes Restaurant doesn’t have a baby-changing facility yet. They are in the process of ordering a baby-changing table, which will be installed in the disabled toilet. They did offer us a private space for baby-changing, but as it was within earshot of the restaurant diners and the Baberoo sometimes loudly protests any changing session, I thought it wiser to wait until we were home.

Feeding: The restaurant was quite happy to have us bring our own food for the Baberoo. We were also asked if we would like anything for her (in the way of side vegetables, etc), but we decided that we would just give her some of ours. Her high chair was already set up before we arrived; it was a nice wooden one with a higher back than usual, which gave extra support. If you’re breastfeeding, there are some comfy-looking bucket chairs at the entrance. The chairs at the dining tables are also padded and comfortable, and there are also some bench seats if you prefer.

For baby-friendliness, Brookes Restaurant gets a 6.75 out of 10. That score will improve once they get a baby-changing table installed, and it certainly is no reflection upon the food, which was excellent. If you are interested in fine dining at a reasonable price this is one of Oxford’s top places to go.

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Jacobs Chop House

There is no greater pleasure than to meander around my neighbourhood on a beautiful spring day, pointing out the blossoms and buds to the Baberoo – who giggles and claps with joy to see such beauty – and then to continue into Headington for a leisurely breakfast. Today we tried out Jacobs Chop House (3 Manor Buildings, Osler Road, OX3 7RA), our newest neighbourhood establishment. The Chop House is the third venture for the partners behind Jacobs & Field and Jacobs Inn, and it’s a welcome addition to Headington, taking over the premises of the now-closed Cafe Noir (which lives on at Coco Noir just down the street).

I’ve given favourable reviews to both Jacobs & Field and Jacobs Inn, and I was hoping that I would enjoy my experience at Jacobs Chop House just as much. And I sure did. I ordered the steak, eggs, and spinach (‘Breakfast of Champions’, £8.50) and was treated to one of the best steaks I’ve had in ages, brought up to me from the basement kitchen by the chef himself. You might not expect a breakfast-dish steak to be as tasty and succulent as a dinner steak, but boy, was it ever. I enjoyed every bite, except for the one tiny corner I permitted the Baberoo to have. She was more into the eggs anyway: she commandeered them and I hardly got any. The spinach was served raw and was bursting with freshness.

Jacobs Chop House steak and eggs

In my book it is just fine to order cake no matter what time of day, and there was a pretty tempting-looking lemon poppyseed cake on the counter. It was nice and moist and the icing was excellent.

Jacobs Chop House cake

Jacobs Chop House, as the name suggests, revolves mainly around meat, and their menu offers lots of chops: lamb chop, veal loin chop, bacon chop, steak, etc. But there are also some other interesting dishes on the menu: slow-roasted beef short rib, grilled cod cheeks, and ‘London particular soup’, which I may well have to investigate very soon. I think it’s settled: I now have a go-to restaurant in my neighbourhood.

So, how did Jacobs Chop House rate for baby-friendliness? My ratings system takes into account menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (more about these on my About page).

Menu: As mentioned above, the menu is mostly meat, with lots of chops that definitely require the use of both hands. So if you need to hold your baby in one arm, there are only a few large plates that you can comfortably eat using one hand. There are a few options available in the ‘smaller plates’ section of the menu. But still, if you’re going to go to a Chop House, you might as well go for the chops – which means making sure that your baby is either sleeping or happy enough to sit in a high chair so you can use both hands for eating.

Space: It’s a small space but it seems bigger than it is because of its high ceilings and clever use of mirrors. Still, there’s probably only room for a maximum of three pushchairs in the whole restaurant, otherwise there wouldn’t be room for anyone to move around. We used the lone table on the left side, near the counter with stools, and there was plenty of room for our quite large Uppababy Vista, but that was also because the place wasn’t full. I imagine that at lunchtimes, and especially dinnertimes, it can be a very tight squeeze. There’s more seating downstairs but unless your pushchair folds up easily it’s probably not an option.

Jacobs Chop House interior

Ambiance: This feels like a place where you could hang out for hours, nibbling at various plates, sipping a coffee, and just reading a book or talking with friends. It has an easy, relaxed feel about it. The staff were very friendly and our server asked the Baberoo’s name and was interacting with her the whole time. They were helpful in getting a high chair set up and opening the door for us to get in and out (although it’s a pretty easy door and there are no steps, which is great).

Facilities: Kudos to Jacobs Chop House for providing a baby-changing facility in what are some pretty tiny bathrooms – I had originally feared that there might not be a changing facility, but there is. It’s in one of the unisex loos downstairs (the one on the right), so you’ll have to leave your pushchair upstairs and walk down with the baby. The changing table is in a very small entry space outside the actual toilet cubicle. Remember to lock the outer door, otherwise you might get whacked by someone else trying to get into the bathroom. The changing table itself is a wooden shelf with one leg supporting it, very much like the one at Jacobs Inn but sturdier-feeling. There isn’t anywhere to put your bag and the changing table is quite small, and there also isn’t any access to the sink, which is inside the toilet cubicle behind a fairly heavy door. But they have made the effort and done a pretty good job with the space they have.

Jacobs Chop House baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If you’re a breastfeeding mother, the bench seats will be pretty comfy, although the tables are quite close together so you may not get much privacy. The wooden chairs are fairly small but you could probably manage with them too. If your baby is up for some food, they need to be good with eating meat; it’s not up every baby’s alley so you may want to have some snacks handy. The high chairs are actually a padded booster seat strapped to a regular chair. It was the first time the Baberoo had used one of these but it worked just fine. (Remember to put the baby’s bib on before doing up all the straps, though!)

The final score for baby-friendliness for Jacobs Chop House is 7.0 out of 10. They do very well with the small space they have available, and the ambiance and friendly service makes it a place you’ll want to return to again and again.

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Baby College

Last week the Baberoo and I attended a session of Baby College, a baby and parent development course that includes physical, multi-sensory, and cognitive games and activities to enjoy together. Baby College runs classes in eight different areas of Oxford and the surrounding area. Note that this review is only for the session at St Anthony of Padua Church Hall in Headington/Marston (115 Headley Way, OX3 7SS); it doesn’t comment on any of the other venues or sessions.

The name Baby College is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but the course certainly boasts a varied curriculum. Each session includes movement, singing, exploration, and baby sign language, plus an emailed handout for parents to read which includes details of a different aspect of a baby’s development each week. It’s generally advisable to sign up for the full 12-week course (£72) because places are limited, but you can book a single session for £6.50 if there are spaces available.

We signed up for a trial of the 9-18 month age group since the Baberoo is 10 months old (there’s also an infant session for 0-9 months and a junior session for 18 months-3 years). It was a real change for her to be in a group of babies older than her rather than the same age or younger. I think she might have felt a little daunted by the fact that everyone else was a proficient crawler, while she had only just learned how to crawl a few days before the class. However, she braved most of the activities, and particularly enjoyed the touch-and-feel cards, the parent-baby dancing, and the coloured balls.The Baberoo plays at Baby College

The session we attended focussed on textures, and I have found myself looking at and commenting on more textures at home with the Baberoo as a result – so clearly, it has had an impact! Unfortunately – and this is in no way the fault of the course content – the timing of the course had an unwelcome impact on the Baberoo’s naptimes (why, oh why, must all baby activities be scheduled during morning naptime??), which means that despite enjoying ourselves we’re going to be cutting down on attending most activities until the nap schedule has righted itself.

How did Baby College rate for baby-friendliness? My ratings system for activities is on an 8-point scale, looking at space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. For more about these, see my About page.

Space: The church hall at St Anthony’s is one huge room that is divided into two for the Baby College sessions. The outer area is a waiting room, with a few chairs and a table and plenty of room for parking your baby carriage. The classroom area is large enough to comfortably fit at least fifteen parents and their babies as well as the assortment of toys, objects, and props that are used in the classes. The high ceilings and large windows ensure a bright, well-lit area. But there’s not much in the way of interesting details in the building; it’s a very new-looking church hall and it’s somehow devoid of personality.

Baby College waiting area

Ambiance: Donna, our instructor (and one of the co-founders of Baby College Oxford), was very welcoming and led the session with aplomb, considering the chaos that can ensue when a dozen toddlers are presented with fun toys and objects to explore. The parents were friendly and welcomed us as newcomers. All the babies and parents were clearly aficionados of the course and had been attending for the whole term (we joined in on week 7 of 12). In general there was a lovely ambiance from the class attendees – especially the babies, who were really enjoying themselves.

Facilities: Surprisingly, there are no baby-changing facilities in the church hall, just regular bathrooms – which is really a shame, and bad planning on the part of the building designers.  Parents can change their babies on the floor in the classroom or in the waiting area, and there’s also a table in the waiting area that can be used, but there isn’t a sink or garbage pail nearby so it’s not very useful if you have a major change to do.

Feeding: If you’re breastfeeding you can sit on one of the chairs in the waiting area. We didn’t do a breastfeed on the day and I didn’t see anyone else using the room for that purpose, but I would have felt fine doing so, although perhaps it wouldn’t have been the most comfortable of seating.

By my ratings system, the Baby College session at St Anthony’s in Headington/Marston scores a 5.5 out of 8 for baby-friendliness. It’s the venue’s lack of facilities, rather than the class content itself, that results in this score. The session itself was a pleasure, and when the Baberoo is back on track with her nap times I may venture back with her again.

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Jacobs & Field

This was a lazy Sunday. We decided we’d rather go out for lunch than make it ourselves, and we were both in the mood for a doorstopper of a sandwich. So we headed off, baby in tow, to our local deli, Jacobs & Field (15 Old High Street, Headington, OX3 9HP).

Since I was with my husband and we were passing the Baberoo back and forth, I had the luxury of using both hands to eat. I ordered the salt beef sandwich (£5.50) and a homemade lemonade (£2.75). My husband ordered the Merguez sausage sandwich (£5.50) and an Americano.

Salt beef sandwich

My sandwich proved very difficult to eat even with both hands free – the bread, while delicious, was falling apart with every bite and I ended up using my fork in the end. The salt beef and sauerkraut were both tasty and so was my husband’s Merguez sausage. I thought my lemonade was a bit too sugary, but it was refreshing nonetheless.

Merguez sandwich

The brownie I ordered for dessert (£2.50), however, was a standout. Somehow they manage to cut the pieces in the pan so that you are guaranteed at least one ‘side’ piece; this is my favourite part of a brownie so I was very happy. I can also highly recommend their baklava, which I’ve had on several other occasions. It is the best baklava I’ve had anywhere in the UK, ever, including all the London-based Middle Eastern shops and restaurants.

Brownie

So how did Jacobs & Field stack up against my five criteria for baby-friendliness?  (See my About page for more information about how I rate the menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding for every place I review.)

Menu: Deli food, it seems, usually requires both hands. I pored over the list of sandwiches to see whether there was anything that sounded like it could be eaten one-handed, but Jacobs & Field are pretty generous with their fillings and I doubt that any of their offerings is dainty enough to be consumed while holding a child in one arm. Likewise with the breakfast menu, which always requires a knife and fork. There are some great pies and pasties, and if you’re particularly dextrous you could try eating those one-handed. But your best bet is the quiche or the salad bar, I’d say.

Space: The place is jam-packed both inside and outside, with as many tables as they can fit into the space, along with adornments, decor, and food stacked from floor to ceiling. This is great for customers unencumbered with baby carriages, but it’s quite difficult to fit one into the café.  Even the outside tables are packed pretty close together and a pram would always be blocking someone’s exit. The exceptions to that are the two tables to the right of the entrance; those seem to be the best places to sit outside.  Inside, there’s not much room in the front of the café for a pram, so you must traverse a narrow space by the counter to get through to the back seating, where it’s a little wider and there’s more space for a carriage. That narrow space is exactly where customers have to stand to order and pay for their food. Wait staff also need to go back and forth through the space. I had to wait a while to get through, but once I made it to the back we snagged the table with the comfy couch and parked the Baberoo between it and the (beautiful old-fashioned) water cooler. Because of the lack of space, I’d suggest going at non-peak times so you can wheel your carriage through to the back, or, alternatively, go on a day that’s not brilliantly sunny so that you have a hope of getting an outside seat.

Salad bar and bookshelf

Ambiance:
A vintagey, home-grown vibe, with bunting strung all over and vintage china and homewares for sale alongside boxes and jars of deli delights, some produced by Jacobs & Field. It’s a very pretty place with a relaxed atmosphere. The music is very much in the background; I hardly noticed it at all except for when the Baberoo was bouncing up and down to ‘Rollin’ on the River’. It’s a bit warm inside, so be prepared to shed a layer or two. The staff are usually very friendly, although when it’s extremely busy they have less time to be attentive.

Corner table

Facilities: This must be one of the cutest café bathrooms ever; it has displays of vintage china and homeware and framed artworks. The Baberoo really enjoyed staring up at the bunting-bedecked ceiling while we were in there, and the wooden counter was supplied with a baby-changing pad. Everything was clean and fresh-smelling and well-lit.  There’s ample space to fit a baby carriage in with you, although to get it in you might have to ask someone at the table closest to the toilet to move their seat, which can block the door.  I did feel slightly guilty that all the other patrons would have to wait for us – and diaper-changing sometimes takes a while – since it’s the only customer toilet and it’s constantly in use.

Bathroom

Feeding: The comfy couch where we were sitting also has plenty of pillows, so the Baberoo was mainly happy during her feed; other tables have smallish chairs so might be more difficult for comfort while feeding. No customers or staff seemed to care that we were breastfeeding. I got a smile of encouragement from one patron, which was nice.

My final score for Jacobs & Field is a 7.75 out of 10.  If you’re solo with the baby, go at a time when they’re not very busy, order one of their brownies, and you’ll be in for a treat.

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