The Anchor is one of remarkably few public houses in affluent and populous North Oxford. With the recent closure of the Woodstock Arms, it and the Dew Drop, a mile away in the middle of Summertown’s shopping centre, are the sole survivors between the ring road and North Parade. Such a paucity of pubs would seem to reflect on the quaffing habits of the denizens of the red brick Victorian and Edwardian piles that predominate in this area of the city. But are they all teetotallers or do they sit at home imbibing? Perhaps the price they have paid for housing leaves nothing over for a pint in the local.
So The Anchor sits, almost competitiveless, on the corner of Hayfield, Polstead and Kingston Roads, a few steps from the Oxford Canal (which some miles to the north skirts Kirtlington). At the other end of Polstead (no.2), close to its junction with Woodstock Road, is the house where T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) spent much of his ‘miserable’ childhood. A blue plaque now marks the spot.
The Anchor occupies a large redbrick building, somewhat newer than the houses that surround it. It offers a few, not easily accessible, parking places. If these have gone the only option is street parking and that means taking a chance with the uniformed enforcers who police Oxford’s strict parking regime.
The proximity of the canal, not visible from the pub, must account for The Anchor’s name, otherwise it is a strange appellation for an establishment that occupies a suburban setting many miles from any sea. And surely canal boats are moored to a fixing on the towpath, not anchored to the canal bed so the mystery is not altogether solved.
2 Hayfield Road
Oxford OX2 6TT
The Anchor is a tenanted pub tied to the Devizes, Wiltshire, brewer, Wadworth. Only Wadworth beers, several of them are seasonal, are available as hand-pulled draft. On the October evening of your reviewer’s visit the offerings were: 6X, Henry’s Original IPA, Malt & Hops, and Bishop’s Tipple. Drinkers congregate in the Oak Bar where sporting events can be viewed on a (not very) big screen. On Monday evenings literary types make for the conservatory, where the Anchor Book Club convenes. The Restaurant Bar, self-evidently, is for diners.
The Anchor’s menu, which changes quarterly, is quite extensive, with eight choices of starter and seven of main, plus a few specials. Nibbles aside, starter prices range from £6.00/$9.50 (cauliflower and Roquefort cheese soup) to £8.50/$13.50 (charcuterie, cheese and pickled onions). Main course prices range from £11.50/$18.50 (Cumberland sausage, colcannon and whole grain mustard) to £16.65/$26.50 (rump or bavette steak with sauce Diane, rocket and chips). ‘Little people’s’ meals of sausages, chicken fillet or fish goujons with vegetables, chips or mash and a glass of juice are priced at £5/$8.
Your reviewer, part of a large party of diners, began proceedings with devilled lamb kidneys on creamed spinach and toast (also available, in greater quantity, as a main course). They arrived with a rich sauce and were simply splendid. The devil it seems has the best food as well as all the best tunes. A main course of steak and mushroom pudding with mashed potatoes and greens was good, though not up to the standard of the kidneys. The gravy was insufficient so that the dish was too dry and the greens (kale) too tough, but then this diner has always thought kale best reserved for cattle rather than human consumption. Beer seemed the best accompaniment for these dishes so they were washed down with IPA rather than wine. No dessert for your reviewer and, as it turned out (it was ordered but never materialised), no coffee for anyone.
The non-appearance of the coffee symptomized the patchiness of the service. The cheery welcome and close attention that were evident on our arrival tailed off in the course of the evening. By the time we were ready to go it was hard to find any staff even to take our money. There were other disappointments too. The scallops with a cauliflower puree, ordered as a starter special by one member of our party consisted of two scallops priced at £12/$19, for the pair. A mere duo seemed rather short measure, notwithstanding the excellence of the puree. The waiter himself seemed embarrassed by the poor value, making it clear on several occasions that hand gathering accounted for the high price.
Moules, shared with an enthusiastic little person, and smoked haddock fishcakes with ginger lime and coriander mayonnaise and a leaf salad, both received the thumbs up. But lamb with potatoes and a Greek salad was considered merely ‘ok’ while a crème brulée dessert failed to garner even this much praise. Others found the chips/French fries which accompanied several dishes undercooked (ie hard).
Some members of our dining party would return to The Anchor for a quick pint and a snack only. Least satisfied was an overseas resident who ahead of our visit and while still abroad, e-mailed the head chef (whose @theanchor address is displayed on the website) to inquire about the possibility of ordering a birthday cake. After five days his tetchy response was to complain about being pestered on his personal e-mail and, unhelpfully, propose a telephone conversation to discuss requirements.
This reviewer, while finding The Anchor something of a ‘curate’s egg’ is more positive than some of his party. It has its flaws, not least a certain gastro-pub smugness and patchy customer relations, but the food can hit some heights albeit not consistently enough.