When I was planning our trip to England last year, lots of people sent tips about pubs, particularly about pubs in Oxford. It seems that many of my friends spent a semester or so there and had strong opinions about the best place to get a beer (or two) and maybe a bite to eat. Since we were staying at Keble College, we got particularly strong recommendations for the Turf Tavern, a five-minute walk from the dormitories there.
One of the charms of the Turf is that it is a little tricky to find. We actually walked past the alley that leads to its entrance from Holywell Street several times. You might guess why from this photo:
(Please note the obligatory dreaming spire in the background. Oxford does not disappoint in that department.)
Tucked into a little courtyard and surrounded by a beer garden full of verbena and geraniums, the Turf presents a cheerful face, at least on a summer afternoon. Although the inside is a satisfyingly low, dark, narrow warren that brings to mind generations of students smoking and drinking and talking politics or theology and playing darts.
Outside signs boast of the pub’s appearance in British crime dramas (the kind that get serialized on American public television) and its famous visitors, including a number of prime ministers and Chuck Berry.
Travel-with-kids tip: I’m not sure how appropriate it would be to bring kids to the Turf in the evening, but it does make a great spot for lunch. In the summer, it’s best to arrive at the Turf right when they open at 11 a.m. We were actually there a little early, and as soon as we sat down he tables around us filled up almost instantly with hungry tourists; more were waiting to sit down as we left.
The food here is solid. And when Matt made his selection off the menu, it actually sounded rather elegant: “Suffolk pork sausages served with West Country cheddar mash, petits pois and red onion gravy.” For an extra £1.50, the whole thing comes served in a “giant Yorkshire pudding” – and when you’re going for the three-sausage lunch, why would you skip that?
The answer is, of course, you wouldn’t:
I was so overcome by Matt’s entrée that I don’t even rightly remember what I had – I think it was just a cheese board with various chutneys and breads. I’m actually still a little annoyed that we ordered anything other than his fancy Toad in a Hole (what the British call sausage cooked in Yorkshire pudding), which probably would have fed all four of us. In any event, there’s plenty of great pub food on the menu, from fish and chips to beef and ale pie. All portions ample and best paired with beer.
(In case you are concerned after looking at the photos in this post, I assure you that we were quite able to walk around Oxford for the rest of the afternoon with only minimal distress.)