Part three of my vegan Christmas dinner series was a meal at Bill’s with a group of girl friends, and I’d probably say this was the best of the meals I had. Bill’s, like Zizzi, has an online booking system where each guest can select their menu choices and pay their deposits, a welcome evolution from only a couple of years ago where you’d have to chase everyone for cash and carry wads of it in your bag to deliver to the restaurant in advance in person. The menu was the most promising and tasty-sounding I’d looked at so far, with the vegan dishes seeming nothing like the afterthoughts I’d seen on other menus.
To start, I chose mushroom soup. I love mushrooms and this was the first time I’ve had a mushroom soup since going vegan, as they all seem to have milk or cream in, so I really enjoyed it. It was a nice sized bowl for what was going to be a big meal. I was a bit confused when I had a bite of something that felt nor tasted like mushroom, and soon realised that there were also chestnuts in the soup. I do like chestnuts so this was fine for me, but I think that could have been marked better on the menu as it was unexpected and I half thought something had fallen into my bowl by accident. The soup was served with a couple of pieces of flatbread on the side, and while I thought these could have been heated up a bit, overall this dish was pretty good.
The main was a fig, pumpkin, and chestnut roast. It was almost like a veggie burger patty, being crispy on the outside but very soft in the middle. It was extremely sweet from the figs, as you might expect. I enjoyed the flavour, especially with the handful of mushrooms it was topped with. There were also some fennel shavings on top which I ate separately as we were trying to work out what it was – unfortunately I can’t tell you what it added to the whole dish! I think it may have been an attempt to make it look good more than anything else. The roasted parsnips and carrots were cut quite large and unfortunately they just weren’t cooked enough. My biggest pieces of carrot, while browned on the outside, were basically raw when I bit into them. My potatoes were just about cooked but they weren’t as crispy as I’d hope my roast potatoes to be. The nut roast was pretty moist so it wasn’t too bad but I thought the whole thing could’ve done with a splash of gravy (I get the sense that that’s not very fashionable, but it’s tasty and it’s what you want with a roast dinner)! I think the concept of the dish was good and a lot of my issues probably came down to the cooking on the night. It felt like a nice home cooked meal.
The star of the show for me was the pudding. Coconut rice brulee was the first sign of a properly thought out vegan pudding that I’d seen on a Christmas menu. It was a pot of rich, creamy rice pudding with a caramelised top. The crunch from the sugar added a nice texture. The pudding was flavoured with a hint of orange and it tasted christmassy and indulgent, exactly what you want and don’t usually get when everyone else is tucking into their Christmas pudding. I could’ve eaten more, but that’s me being greedy.
My advice if you’re eating at the Oxford Bill’s during winter would be to request a table away from the door if possible, or keep some extra layers on you. It was constantly opening and closing and the draft reached us at the back of the restaurant. There wasn’t sufficient heating to keep us from shivering a little. Other than that, the service was good and we overall had a really lovely evening. The food wasn’t mind-blowing, but that was the case for everyone not just me, and I don’t think you can ask for much more from a chain restaurant for £23. Well done to Bill’s for achieving what so many other restaurants seem to find unattainable, a delicious three course vegan meal that matches up to what everyone else round the table is eating too.