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Cats, Cathedrals and Ciders: The South of England: Day 12

04 Jul

Mon. May 23, 2016:
Oxford

The morning started off great, I was dunking Biscoff cookies my coffee and yelling at the TV while watching Storage Wars Texas (there was one team being really dumb). There was no point in heading out on the town as we would have to soon return to get changed for our 11:45am lunch at a two-Michelin-star restaurant, Belmond Le Manoir.

The restaurant was difficult to find, we had to get to it via windy small backroads. We were a bit late but no one seemed to care. We parked a bit far from the entrance where there were no other cars around. As we ran up to the front, the guy offered to valet the car- a bit awkward if you have already parked the car but Brent handed him the keys anyways.

The server asked us if we wanted to sit inside or outside. Outside was my immediate response. As we sat on the back lawn patio the sun started to disappear behind some clouds and it started to get cold, but at least it was not super bright out. As we were handed our menus I asked if we could be seated indoors for the meal. He seemed a bit confused, of course the meal would be served indoors. Apparently the outdoors sitting part was just to have a drink and decide on the menu. How was I supposed to know that? Turns out this is a normal thing in fancy restaurants. The sun came out and I was finally able to enjoy the patio. I was also glad that I had put on sunscreen, as it was high noon.

We decided on the 5 course tasting menu, as this was a Michelin-starred restaurant, we had to try their best. The tasting menu also had the option to swap out dishes for a small fee (which was a drop in the bucket compared the total bill).  Brent swapped out his main dish for the veal, and I swapped out my dessert for the millionaire shortbread with ice cream. It only seemed fitting. Based on the amouse bouches we ate while perusing the menu, we were in for a culinary delight. This was further confirmed when the server came by with the bread basket. At first I thought I had misheard him. Did he say there was bacon baked into one of the breads? I had not misheard him. There was bacon… baked into the bread… right into it. Every bite had either bacon or bacon-flavour in it. It was incredible and genius and why do more places not do this?!

Once again the first course was a small shot of white garlic soup that was bright green. This time it was served hot and even more delicious. The second dish was salmon with roe, which once again was amazing. I did not have a bite of Brent’s salad, no matter how fancy or good the restaurant, I will never be a salad fan. Things fell apart with the third dish. Oh they fell apart so tragically. A poached egg, that once cut into spilled yolk all over the watercress it sat atop. It was horrible and there was barely any ham. I barely got it down. The main dish, the quail, totally won it back though. We were back on track. The outstanding quail erased any memory of the poached egg-watercress disaster. The veal was good too, but not as good as the quail.

After we were finished the server came over and said something indecipherable and asked us if were ready for dessert. We said yes. Unbeknownst to us, we had said yes to the first thing he said. Before we knew it, a guy was wheeling a cart featuring a selection of cheeses on it.  Turns out we had said yes to a cheese platter. We listened to him talk about the cheese options and then had to explain that we were in fact too full for cheese. Needless to say it was super awkward. It was around this point that we started betting on when we would be done lunch. We adding to the betting, how much the bottle of still water would cost. Why do they never offer tap water??? The millionaire shortbread was amazing, way better than the default chocolate dessert. When the bill came we had to double-check that they had not charged us for the cheese. Turns out they had forgotten to charge us for me swapping out my dessert. Lunch had taken so long, almost two hours, therefore we did not have enough time to check out the hotel grounds and gardens.

We had Googled car-parks in downtown Oxford therefore we knew exactly where to go: the local skating rink. It was an easy walk to the city centre from there. For the most part we followed the signs. We passed by the Oxford Castle but there was nothing cool there to see, just some nearby restaurants and a courtyard. As we got closer to the city centre the buildings got way prettier. Brent had chosen a few random buildings on the University of Oxford campus for us to check out and as anchors on a walking route. On a whim we stopped in at the Oxford Natural History Museum. It was by donation and we only had an hour before it closed. It was a small museum and we got it done in less than an hour. It was cool to see fossils and they had on display an amazing 13-foot long jaw bone of an aquatic prehistoric animal. I had a blast laughing at the t-rex’s stumpy little arms. It gets me every time. The adjoining Pitt’s Museum was closing sooner and it seemed to be stuff similar to what we had seen in British Columbia last year, we passed on it.

As we approached the Bodleian Library we were in the heart of Oxford campus. The buildings were absolutely gorgeous and the road was cobblestones. There were no more tours of the library available for the day, the ticket office was closed. We only got to see the courtyard and the exterior.

We still had time before dinner so we stopped in at Thirsty Meeples, a board game café. It had been our plan the day before but I had not been feeling well. We had about an hour, just enough time for a quick game and a drink. We played Hive while snacking on a bowl of Haribo gummies. This time I tried the berry-flavoured Old Mout cider. We each won a round of Hive but then it was time to go. It’s too bad, as the café was awesome and I wish we could have played more games. Even more-so when we got to The Bear Inn and it turned out they had no record of our reservation. We could have stayed long at Thirsty Meeples! Curses! Ah well, it was too late for that now. The cider selection at the pub was surprisingly lacking, I had a half pint of Stowford Press. The only thing on the menu that really caught my fancy was the sausage and mash. Brent had a burger because it was a deal of the day, it came with a free pint. We were sitting in a side room off the bar with a low ceiling. The walls were decorated with glasses frames filled with pieces of peoples’ ties labelled with their occupation and the year they had visited. At the two other tables were: two old English guys, and a middle-aged American couple. It seemed like a set-up for a joke. But they were having the most boring conversation of all time, I swear at one point one of them talked about his pension. I was dying of boredom. Thankfully they left soon after, Brent had missed most of it while ordering at the bar. Now that we had peace and quiet, we could hear the idiot in the main room talking. Was I ever going to get some respite?

Our dishes arrived and it turns out I should have paid way more attention to the menu when ordering. The greens were mushy peas. The sausage turned out to be sausages with an s on the end. There were three full-size sausages atop a bed of mashed potatoes, peas on the side and the entire thing was smothered in gravy. I had to stare at it all for a second in disbelief, trying to take it all in. I was supposed to eat this entire mountain of food? All on my own? This was a single serving? For a single person? I tried the peas, they did not really taste like anything other than gravy. I had no room for peas. I had to tackle the sausages and mashed potatoes first. The potatoes were amazing, so fluffy and full of butter and gravy. I managed to rally and eat two and a half of the three sausages. Towards the end I was so full, yet I kept eating, the plate was only half empty! In the end I made a good dent in it.

On the walk back to the car we did not pass any corner stores where I could get a Cornetto ice cream cone. By the time we were by the car I was starting to feel peckish for dessert. We went back to the gas station and Waitrose express across from the hotel. This time we grabbed Hob Nob cookies because apparently that is a British thing to eat. Who can say no to cookies? We also grabbed a Yorkie chcooclate bar, and a Wispa bar. Brent also grabbed Monster Munch, which looked like lame Cheetos. At Waitrose we grabbed some drinks and the good brand Jelly Babies. I had seen the 2014 English Vintage Cider yesterday so I grabbed that and another cider to go with my Cherry Coke. We also grabbed some Krispy Kreme donuts. There was a deal if you bought 3. The caramelized Biscoff was ok, the Reese’s peanut butter one was mediocre and the chocolate topped one with custard (aka Boston Cream) was the clear winner.

Even though the “vintage” cider was Waitrose brand it was still delicious. It was the right mix of sour-beer and juice. As it turns out there are multiple types of Hob Nob cookies. The ones we grabbed were not the chocolate-covered ones that everyone is apparently crazy for. Brent was not having it, and so I had yet another package of cookies all to myself- can’t complain about that! They were kind of like oatmeal cookies and they were simply perfect for dunking in tea while watching The Leftovers.

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