Review: The Tree Hotel

The Tree Hotel in Iffley village launched a vegan menu fairly recently, and since it’s been on my radar, I’ve been dying to find a time to try it out. As neither me or Jamie drive, it’s been a case of waiting until I had a day free to take a walk down there. Happily, this weekend a good friend from out of town came to visit, and as we both quite enjoy walking, we decided to walk to town via Iffley Lock, and stop at The Tree Hotel for a meal on the way.

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Despite having lived in Oxford for nearly six years, this was my first time venturing into Iffley village, and it’s so cute! I wouldn’t have expected this quiet rural village to have been a couple of steps away from the busy Iffley Road. When we entered the pub, no one was there to seat us and it wasn’t super clear where to go, so we peered through a couple of doorways before someone noticed us and showed us through to the bar. We asked for a table for two, and were asked ‘are either of you vegan?’ before being given the menus, which I thought was great, because quite often they just provide the vegan menu on request rather than actively encouraging people to choose from it. The pub has a nice beer garden, and as it was so sunny and warm, we decided to get a table outside. We believed there was a wedding party staying at the hotel, as we’d seen a couple of ladies dressed up and the car park was full, but there was only one table occupied in the restaurant, and a couple of people having a drink outside. With it being lunchtime on one of the rare summery days we have here, Carolina and I were surprised at just how quiet it was, as this place clearly has a lot of potential and we felt like it should have been really busy with people getting food or just enjoying the sunshine with a drink.

IMG_5837Obviously I’d already had a decent look at the menu online before we got there, and all of the starters sounded delicious, but I was intrigued by the teriyaki tofu so went for that. I expected it to come on skewers for some reason but when it arrived it was an attractive plate of stir fried tofu and finely diced onion and herbs with a side salad. The dish was a really generous size and the marinade was spot on, I’d love to steal the recipe. I almost preferred the flavour of the onion mixture to the tofu because you got such an intense teriyaki flavour from it.

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Carolina, who isn’t vegan herself, liked the sound of a couple of things on the vegan menu too, so we decided to share two main courses, which I was really pleased about as I’m notoriously bad at deciding on one dish to eat, and it meant I got to try more of their selection. We went for the vegan shepherd’s pie served with sweet potato fries, and a curry. I believe the shepherd’s pie was supposed to be served with salad and they didn’t put any on the plate, which ordinarily I might have questioned, but between my starter and the curry, I felt like we had enough salad that it wasn’t worth worrying about too much. On the plus side, I guess it also meant there was room for more sweet potato fries on the plate. I feel like I review a sweet potato chip in every post I write, and never have anything bad to say! Anyway these were lovely and crispy, and had just the right amount of salt. The shepherd’s pie itself was really tasty. The mashed potato was so creamy, enough so that I found myself thinking ‘I really hope this is vegan’, because I’ve never managed to get it like that at home. The filling was made with a vegan mince substitute and a handful of the veggies you’d expect – peas, carrot etc. It was more tomato-y than I would expect a shepherd’s pie to be, as opposed to being a gravy based sauce, but it was so nicely seasoned and really enjoyable. Vegan pub food can be hard to come by and this really hit the spot.

IMG_5840There were two curry options on the menu, a malabar tofu curry (which I have to admit I just Googled because I’d never heard of it before, and turns out it’s usually a seafood dish) and a vegetable green Thai curry, both served with jasmine rice. We ordered the latter, but following my search, I’m wondering whether we were served the former, as the photos of a malabar curry look much more similar to what we were served. I wasn’t expecting there to be any tofu in it because it wasn’t mentioned on the menu description of the curry we chose, so I did think it was lucky we both liked tofu otherwise we’d have been pretty disappointed when it came. This was the first time Carolina had properly tried tofu as well so it was even luckier that she didn’t mind it really. So I ended up eating so much tofu over the course of this meal, far more than I usually would in one go. But having said all this, the curry was really wonderful and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. The sauce was such a beautiful flavour; it was sweet, rich, and creamy, and still came with plenty of vegetables in, including carrots, green beans, peppers, and aubergine. So whichever curry it was, I recommend it. The salad was a nice addition as well, helping you feel slightly better about the nutritional content of an otherwise clearly very indulgent meal!

IMG_5847For dessert, I was slightly torn between the chocolate tart with strawberries, and the apple pie and custard, which was notoriously my favourite as a child (when we’d have it for pudding after a big Sunday roast, I would somehow manage to go for seconds, thirds… basically as many helpings as I could get my hand on). However, as it was such a nice warm day I thought the fruit would be a bit more refreshing, so I went for the chocolate option. We decided that the pudding took longer to come out than the main course, I’m guessing because they heated the tart up properly in the oven. I was slightly disappointed that the ‘fresh strawberries’ mention on the menu in plural ended up being literally one small strawberry chopped into three slices, considering that was what swayed me to order the dish. The tart was fairly small – sorry the perspective of my photo doesn’t really show the size of the whole dessert – but you definitely wouldn’t have needed anything larger, as it was incredibly rich and sticky molten chocolate. This chocolate reminded me more of the milk chocolate desserts I’d had before I was vegan, and again I found myself questioning whether it was really dairy free (typical vegan paranoia I think). The pastry case was a little chewy but the flavour of the whole thing was wonderful. I managed to get quite a lot of chocolate on my face. Clearly I was enjoying the dessert enough not to worry – loved it.

When paying for my dessert, I had a quick chat with the waiter and asked him whether many people came in and ordered off the vegan menu, and he told me it was really popular, which I was very happy to hear. There really aren’t many places locally that offer something like The Tree Hotel menu, which I’m sure is why it’s successful, and I only hope that other local places start to follow suit as the market is clearly there. I’m happy enough when there’s a single palatable vegan option on a menu when eating out at a pub, but to have been served such lovely food in a nice setting like this really felt like a treat. I’ll definitely be bringing my family here when they next come to visit, and would recommend a nice walk to Iffley to enjoy the food here any time. The last time I checked, they don’t offer the vegan meals on a Sunday sadly as they have a buffet/carvery on instead of the usual menu, but I’m sure it’s always worth calling ahead to see if they have anything suitable. My three courses came to £20, which is more than I’d usually spend on one meal out, but I was more than happy to pay it because I really felt that the quality of the food was worth it. I spotted a sign that they do 2 for 1 on main courses on Monday evenings, so I think I know when I’ll next head down – and maybe I’ll bump into a few fellow Oxford vegans there? ;P

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Event: Oxford Vegan Festival

A beautifully sunny 25th of March saw Oxford’s first ever vegan festival, organised by Farplace Animal Rescue and held at the Kassam Stadium Conference Centre. I had no idea what to expect in terms of size and popularity of this event, but when we arrived to a reasonable sized queue at the building entrance, one question entered my mind – where have all you Oxford vegans been hiding?!
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I love vegan festivals because they feel like a safe haven where you don’t have to worry about triple checking an ingredients list, or feeling awkward about asking what’s in something. I came along with three non-vegan friends and I think everyone ended up really enjoying themselves, which was great! We spent longer at the festival than I expected us to, definitely getting our money’s worth of free samples and indulging in plenty of goodies. We did a lap of the stalls before deciding what to get for lunch (it took me forever, far more choice than I’m used to!)

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After deliberating over pizzas, burgers, flatbreads, fish and chips, and mac ‘n’ cheese, I finally landed on a seitan pie and mash from Young Vegans, served up with crispy onions and a rocket salad. This was my first time trying seitan and I absolutely loved this meal. It was meaty, filling comfort food at its best, and super reasonable at only £6. They’re regulars at Tottenham Green Market, and I might pay them another visit if I’m ever in the area! I also picked up a slice of battenberg (very sorry I don’t remember the name of the vendor who was selling this but I would love to be reminded so please do comment if you know!), and a mint chocolate brownie from Eat Dark Matters, as well as a curry pie from Mr Nice Pies to heat up for my boyfriend’s dinner when he got home from his day working; I’m nice like that ;). All in all it was a delicious day of over-eating and spending time in good company, which is pretty much a perfect Saturday in my book!

It was nice to see some familiar faces that I’ve come across at other festivals, but especially great to find out about local vegan businesses that I’d not yet discovered and to have a chat with the people working hard to try and make the thing they care about a success. I felt a bit sorry for the vendors who were in the downstairs foyer because business definitely seemed to be slower for them, most of the stalls and the seating area were upstairs which meant that once people had gone up there they didn’t really go back down until they were on their way out. However, we did our bit by purchasing an amazing banana soda bread loaf from Global Fusion Vegan Creole Bakery which went down a treat for breakfast this morning.

Farplace organise vegan festivals all around the country and I’d thoroughly recommend checking one out if you can, it’s such a fun day out and a great advocate for veganism, showcasing all the best things about being vegan in a really positive, inclusive way. Here’s to Oxford Vegan Festival 2018!

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Review: Feast Without The Beast at The Fir Tree

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When I saw a page shared on a vegan Facebook group about a new Sunday lunch menu at the Fir Tree on Iffley Road, I was more than a bit excited – quickly sharing the link with my only vegan friend in Oxford, we arranged to eat there on the weekend. Feast Without The Beast only launched last weekend so there isn’t much online to tell you what you can expect from the food yet, but the menu looked promising, and this is the only place in Oxford with a fully vegan offering, so it was definitely high on my list of places to check out.

When I arrived, I felt a bit awkward about having called in advance to book a table because we were literally the only ones there. That can be a bit off-putting, but I’m sure it’s just because this is a brand new concept and not many people have heard about it yet – so vegan friends of Oxford, please head to the Fir Tree sometime soon and show them that the market is here!

Untitled designYou can really tell that a lot of thought and care has gone into putting together this menu, I could have easily ordered any of the dishes. The chef brought the food out to our table himself and seemed really keen that we enjoy our meal. Valentina ordered the moussaka, so I decided to go for the nut roast in the interest of testing out different things. This was, shock, the first nut roast I’ve ever eaten, so I don’t really have anything to compare it to, but I was happy that it wasn’t too dry thanks to the butternut squash, and its sweetness combined with the mixed nuts and seeds was really delicious. I might be more inclined to order a nut roast at other places now! The roast potatoes were perfectly crispy (why can’t I get mine to go like that..), and there was a decent variety of vegetables and trimmings along with it, including the thick gravy pulling everything together. I tried a bite of Valentina’s moussaka, which she said it reminded her of home, and that really summed up how I felt about my meal too, in the best way, because I think that’s exactly what you want from a Sunday dinner.

Untitled design (1)Although we were both feeling pretty full from our mains, we couldn’t say no to the opportunity to try a coveted vegan dessert that wasn’t a sorbet. Valentina had been dreaming about that tiramisu since I sent her the menu, and I’m never one to turn down a pudding, so I decided to order the snix, a millionaire’s shortbread style cake, which was served with fruit salad. It was sweet, coco-nutty, and very rich (literally dread to think how many calories I consumed over these two courses with all of those nuts), it felt like such an indulgent treat. Valentina said the tiramisu was deliciously creamy and although it wasn’t really like a traditional tiramisu, it was very tasty just the same.

Untitled design (2)Valentina mentioned that as she got to the pub a little early she thought she’d grab a coffee, but when she tried to order at the bar, they didn’t have any soy milk or even really seem to know what it was, which seemed a bit strange when they were serving an all-vegan menu. The yorkshire pudding also was a bit hard on top, but actually this was the first vegan one I’ve had cooked for me and it was still a pretty decent attempt (and far superior to anything I’ve come up with at home). So aside from these tiny things, it was a really lovely meal, and I only hope that more people go and show their support for the new menu.

If you’re a student missing mum’s roast dinner, or the thought of slaving away in the kitchen for two hours on a Sunday afternoon isn’t really your thing, I’d definitely recommend the Feast Without The Beast for a comforting and filling home-cooked meal. I’m sure I could bring my non-vegan boyfriend here and he’d love it too, and it’s the sort of place I might take my family if they were in Oxford for a visit. If you want to show sceptics that being vegan doesn’t just mean eating salad, this is the place to come.

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