In the spot which used to be Marco’s, part of the Mercure hotel chain, appeared Keepers Kitchen & Bar a couple of months ago, with a new concept centring around the championing of urban bees. With the honey theme running throughout their menu, the restaurant might not sound like it’s going to be the most vegan-friendly. A closer look at their menu though and it looked like they’d put some serious thought into catering for a variety of dietary requirements – much more so that the meat-heavy menu of the previous restaurant there. We met with Hotel Manager, Nella, to go through the vegan options and talk about how Keepers Kitchen has been getting on since it opened.
Nella explained how with the new menu they were really keen to provide something for everyone, and to make it as accessible as possible with clear labelling. I think they’ve achieved this, and as a vegan I found no problem navigating their menu and figuring out what was what. I like that the vegan options are integrated into the menu and their little vegan symbol isn’t so intrusive as to discourage people from choosing those dishes if they weren’t actually vegan but just liked the sound of them.
Among the extensive nibbles menu there are only a couple of vegan options, which might be a little surprising when this is probably one of the easiest areas to cater for (pita and hummus, anyone)? No complaints at all from what I tried though – the steamed edamame portion was plentiful, and they were all covered in a generous grind of smoked maldon sea salt. I’m not really sure how you could go that wrong with this dish, apart from perhaps the price point, and I’m happy to say that I thought it was pretty reasonable on that front.
On the salads section of the menu, we have a Fattoush. It arrived as a lovely big vibrant bowl of mixed leaves, with raw veggies, as well as deliciously sweet oily roasted tomatoes. There was a satisfying crunch coming from a sprinkling of crunchy pita squares on top. The chef was generous with the lemon sumac dressing and oil spread liberally over the top – if you’re aiming for a low calorie meal, you might want to ask them for that on the side. I really enjoyed the fresh flavours in this salad, it’s the sort of thing I want to eat all the time in summer and it had me longing for the warmer days to come around already. My favourite complaint with salads at restaurants is that they’re limp and unsubstantial, and I didn’t feel like that was the case here. This would fill me up nicely as a lunch, and the quality was absolutely there. Comparing to some of the other dishes though, at £12 I did find myself wondering where the chicken/boiled egg/cheese replacement was – a bit of avocado wouldn’t go amiss.
There are a couple of more substantial vegan mains, and it’s always nice to see a choice as opposed to one option that you can take or leave. They use the Moving Mountains patty in their ‘Vurger’, which Nella shared with me that they’d been offering samples to unsuspecting meat-eaters who all couldn’t believe it was vegan when they were told the fact after they’d tried it. It’s served simply in a vegan-brioche style bun, with a couple of onion rings and fries on the side. The sauces and accompaniments in the burger had me remembering the days when we used to go to Burger King ‘for a treat’ when I was younger, it is definitely very realistic – though not gourmet. I’d love to see them get creative with the toppings for this burger as their menu develops, as there are quite a few similar offerings in Oxford city centre now. The skinny fries portion was the perfect size for me, and they were satisfyingly crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle, and excellently seasoned. The onion rings were a nice touch too. The vurger is cheaper than their meaty options and I know the plant-based patties aren’t necessarily the cheapest things to get from the supplier, so I thought it was offered for a fair price. Super filling and hitting that junk food craving too.
The other vegan main available is a red lentil and chickpea dhal. This was a very nicely presented dish, and the curry flavour was spot on. It had a decent amount of spice in there, was aromatic, and tasted great. There were various pulses used in the dhal, and although it was in a fairly small bowl, along with the free-flowing rice and chapati, it felt like a very substantial meal. The addition of the mango chutney on the side was also a lovely touch; it’s little extras like this that lift the meal up to a slightly better quality than your average pub grub.
The excitement about the menu for me was the dessert. Listed among all their other puddings, and certainly something plenty of non-vegans would no doubt order, is their chocolate and orange torte. We were served a generous wedge of it for pudding, laid over a bed of sticky passionfruit coulis. The sauce was refreshing against the utter richness of the deep chocolatey flavour of the torte. I was really pleased to see it had a crushed biscuit base rather than fruit and nuts which is used in many places. The creamy top layer was utterly indulgent, smooth and creamy, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Top marks for the well-thought-out vegan dessert.
Overall we had a very enjoyable meal. A big thing to note is the atmosphere in the restaurant, they have made this such a welcoming space, whether you need to do a bit of work over lunch with your laptop in their lounge area at the front, or you want to enjoy a more intimate dinner with great service, this is probably a place you could come in most situations. I’m also assured that they do fabulous cocktails, and it did seem like it’d be a nice relaxed place to come for drinks. It is a hotel restaurant in Oxford city centre, and as a consequence there is a mark-up on what they serve, however I think the prices are on a par with any of the nicer places along High Street. I’d suggest if you’re a student that this is one of the places you could come when your parents are visiting town!
Having said that, here’s a little discount to help with the cost of your bill! The team at Keepers Kitchen & Bar have kindly offered readers of this blog 20% off all food throughout June 2019 (excluding Saturdays). Just mention ‘Vegan Eats Oxford’ before you get your bill. Let me know if you use the discount code and what you think of the food!
Disclaimer: Our meal was complimentary, but this is an honest account of the experience.