Tag Archives: pub

The Magdalen Arms

From the reviews I’ve read of the Magdalen Arms (243 Iffley Road, OX4 1SJ), the foodies of Oxford (and beyond) think it’s either the best gastropub in the city or completely overrated. I had been looking forward to both trying the food and seeing whether it was a good place to take a baby. So the Baberoo, her Gran, and I recently dropped in for a weekday lunch.

We had the place nearly to ourselves – always nice when you have a baby carriage to manoeuvre, and also really handy when your baby is the impatient type and doesn’t like waiting too long for a meal to arrive. During the short wait I tried the homemade quinceade (£3); it had a nice sharp tang to it but tasted so much of lemon that I thought they might have misheard me and brought me a homemade lemonade by mistake. They hadn’t. Our server asked if I wanted more quince syrup added. I did, and the drink turned out sweeter and faintly quincey – but still tasted like (very good) lemonade.

For my meal I ordered the wild rabbit with chorizo, fennel, chickpeas, and aioli (£14), as well as a side of chips (£4.50). Although the chorizo/fennel sauce was flavourful it didn’t help tenderize the rabbit, which was too tough. The Baberoo was having none of it. She didn’t want the chips either, even though they were pleasingly fluffy on the inside with a delightful crispy exterior.

Magdalen Arms rabbit and chips

What, you say? You tried to feed your baby a dish containing wild rabbit and chorizo? Yes, we’ve done baby-led weaning with the Baberoo so she is a very adventurous eater; she will usually eat (or at least try) just about anything. That’s why I sometimes order a dish and share it with her – yes, even rabbit – rather than bring food from home for her or order from a baby menu (although I’m happy to do that too). If she doesn’t like it, we always have a back-up snack bag, which I had to pull out on this occasion. But when she does like a dish, it goes up in my estimation at having been pretty darn good. Unfortunately, I’d say the rabbit didn’t reach that level and I’d call it an OK but not great meal. I wished that I had saved room for dessert; their long list of offerings all looked fantastic.

So, now that I’ve come down somewhere in the middle (not loving it, not hating it) about the food, what did we think of the establishment’s baby-friendliness? I rate eateries against five factors: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. For more about these, please see my About page.

Menu: There’s a lot of meat on the menu and most of it comes in big hunks, so you’ll need both hands free for those dishes. On the day we visited there was a pasta dish and a few starters (soup and tapas) that could be eaten with one hand if your other arm needed to be free to hold a baby. The cod also would have worked. The menu changes daily and it’s not posted on the website, so you’ll have to go along and take your chances on there being something you can eat one-handed if that’s a necessity for you.

Space: The entrance to the pub isn’t terribly baby-friendly; there are three stone steps and then two sets of doors, so if you have a baby carriage you might need some help getting in. Once inside, you’ll have to manoeuvre through a space that’s quite full of (quaintly mismatched) tables and chairs. If the place had been full we might have had some trouble getting to a table.

Magdalen Arms interior

Ambiance: The walls are painted such a dark and sombre colour that the overall effect is somewhat dreary; I’m guessing it comes into its own and is much more animated in the evening. The staff, though, were very friendly and helpful, and enjoyed chatting to the Baberoo. Our server was happy to get us extra napkins and direct us to the baby-changing facility. They also have high chairs available (the Ikea kind, which I find more secure than the usual restaurant model).

Magdalen Arms interior

Facilities: The baby-changing facility is a pull-down table in the ladies’ loo, which is down a flight of four stairs. There’s a mini-lift for wheelchair users that I guess you could also use with a baby carriage if you wanted to bring it into the loo with you; I just held the Baberoo and left the carriage at our table. The pull-down table is in the main area of the loo, while toilets are in separate cubicles. Some chairs were set up underneath the pull-down table, which was really handy for putting the diaper bag down and organizing our things. The whole ladies’ room was clean and tidy.

Magdalen Arms baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If you’re breastfeeding, choose a table that has comfortable-looking chairs. There are so many different kinds that there’s sure to be one that suits you; my personal choice, if I’d needed to breastfeed, would have been one of the padded armchairs of different vintages near the front of the pub. I was hoping the Baberoo would eat part of my regular-food lunch, but we resorted to the snack bag; I would say that the menu at the Magdalen Arms isn’t particularly kid-friendly (unless your child’s sophisticated palate is attuned to the tastes of, say, rabbit and pork rillettes, blue cheese souffle, or potted shrimps).

The final score for baby-friendliness for the Magdalen Arms is 6.25 out of 10. I would say this is a gastropub for the grown-ups to enjoy on their own rather than with their little darlings.

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Jacobs Inn

Like all the food-related bloggers in and around Oxford, it was only a matter of time before I reviewed Jacobs Inn (130 Godstow Road, Wolvercote, OX2 8PG), the new(ish – they opened in July) dining room and public house by the people who brought you Jacobs and Field. I had been looking forward to the day with great anticipation.

The Baberoo, her Gran and I visited the restaurant for a weekday lunch, having booked the day before, and boy was I glad we had. It was jam-packed in there; the Jacobs Inn guys do a great job at PR and they have an almost cult-like following already.  They even have a Twitter account for their chickens (@jacobschickens), which they keep in the back garden along with their pigs. Talk about locally-sourced eating!

To tide us over before our lunch arrived I ordered some pork crackling with apple relish (£3.50). The apple relish was delicious, but the crackling had been overdone to a hardness that was no longer edible – really too bad, since I had been hoping for a crispy treat.

Jacobs Inn pork crackling

It was hard to decide on my main, given all the delicious-sounding meats on the menu. The venison and bacon ragu sounded tempting, but in the end I went with the Blythburg free range pork belly (£13). It was tender and succulent, with a lovely, almost jammy, seared exterior. I offered some to the Baberoo – big mistake, because she liked it so much that she clamoured for more and ended up eating half of it!

Jacobs Inn pork belly

Despite the pork cracklings not turning out well, I enjoyed the meal and the relaxed atmosphere, and would certainly go back to Jacobs Inn. So, how did it fare on the baby-friendliness scale? My ratings system (explained fully on my About page) encompasses five criteria: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: For a restaurant that revolves mainly around meat, Jacobs Inn has a surprising number of dishes that can be eaten with one hand while you hold a baby in the other arm. Although the big cuts of meat that require both knife and fork aren’t a possibility, a pie, pasta dish, stew, and lots of starter and brunch plates are easily enjoyed one-handed.

Space: The restaurant area is in the back of the inn, easily accessible with a pushchair (although we didn’t have one on the day since we came in a car). There’s not too much room between tables, so groups of parents with babies in carriages might have a hard time, although there were a few nooks and crannies in the dining room where more than one pushchair might fit, if you can get it through a somewhat narrow space in the middle of the restaurant area. Jacobs Inn also has parking – always handy if you have a car and would prefer to make the trip out to Wolvercote without braving public transport, although the number 6 bus does go right by the inn. But be warned: the parking lot can be a pretty tight squeeze, as we learned on our way out (no thanks to the obstinate lady in a Porsche).

Jacobs Inn interior 3

Ambiance: Quintessential laid-back gastropub, complete with roaring fire. It’s a beautiful interior. Staff were very friendly and helpful with the Baberoo. We were offered a high chair immediately and shown the way to the facilities when we needed them. Staff didn’t even blink at the amount of food that the Baberoo threw on the nice cowhide rug underneath our table and told me to leave the mess for them to clean up (I did clean it myself, though – who wants to pick up half-eaten cucumber and muffin?) The Baberoo also received lots of attention from a nearby table of friendly lunching ladies, which tickled us no end.

Jacobs Inn interior 1

Facilities: The baby-changing table at Jacobs Inn is somewhat of a puzzler. It’s a wooden shelf that folds down from the wall and has one leg supporting it. It’s easy to accidentally kick the leg and dislodge it (which I did), and although I could see that the table had supports at the wall, I was still nonplussed at the idea that the leg could be so out of place. I knew the table wasn’t going to fall, but it still didn’t inspire confidence. Otherwise, the bathroom was clean and fresh-smelling and had enough room for a pushchair to fit comfortably. No shelf or area to put your changing bag, though.

Jacobs Inn baby-changing facilities

Feeding: The Baberoo ate a lunch brought from home (along with half of my pork belly); our table was on the small side so if you’re planning on seating your baby in a high chair and feeding them, see if you can get a table with enough surface area for the baby’s lunch (which always turns out to take up twice as much space as you think it will). If you’re breastfeeding, there are some tables with soft bench seating that might be more comfortable than the wooden chairs.

By my ratings scale, Jacobs Inn earns a 7.5 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s best to reserve a table, even for a weekday lunch. Go and relax by the fire and remember not to let your baby eat half your meal.

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