It’s not often that you’ll find me in Summertown as it’s not the easiest part of Oxford for us to get to from where we live, but having recently visited The Bicycle Shed to try out their updated menu, I feel like this needs to change! I had been there for brunch once before, but they’ve since had a new Head Chef and a complete menu overhaul, and I was very keen to try out their new offering. They focus on good quality, seasonal food, so they’re refreshing what’s on offer fairly regularly, and they seem to be very inclusive in catering to a variety of dietary requirements. The bar and restaurant seemed like the perfect spot for a romantic and relaxed evening meal.
My boyfriend Jamie and I took a stroll from the city centre up to The Bicycle Shed on a summery evening after work. We were given a warm welcome when we arrived, and seated in a comfy spot by the window. We started off with some drinks and an appetiser while we perused the menu. All the cocktails are helpfully labelled vegetarian or vegan, as are the wines, along with information about whether they’re organic, practicing biodynamic, or have minimal intervention (I have no idea what any of that means as I don’t drink wine but presumably these things are good to know)? I went for a refreshing sounding mocktail with raspberries and tonic, and Jamie went for a Bramble cocktail, both of which were very nicely presented. My drink was really zingy, though still with a hint of fruity sweetness, and was the perfect accompaniment to my meal. Jamie’s bramble had the sweet flavour of a blackberry jam, with a slight kick from the gin. We were happy with our drink choices and there are many more delicious sounding options to go back and try.
While we deliberated on what to order for our meals, we decided to share an appetiser of battered gherkins. I’d seen pictures of these on social media before we went and knew I had to try them. Even a couple of years ago the thought of eating a pickled gherkin would’ve grossed me out but somehow now I love them. They arrived absolutely piping how, and looked super enticing (I mean it’s deep-fried goodness, how could it not)? Both Jamie and I burnt our mouths with our impatience to eat. The crispy batter was nicely salted, some of them were crispier than others but across the board it wasn’t too greasy which was good. We both agreed we’d come here for a drink as an excuse just to order these. It was a decent portion size for sharing, probably could’ve served three, especially if those three people were about to eat as much food as we were!
With so many vegan junk food options on the market at the moment – don’t get me wrong though, I do love them – it was really refreshing to see a menu where the vegetables sing. For my starter, I went for a roasted aubergine dish, which had sounded delicious and it’s one of my favourite ingredients. It was heavily coated in cumin and fennel seeds which made for a powerful aromatic flavour, paired with creamy coconut yoghurt. There were burst of freshness from pomegranate jewels, and some mint lifted the dish too so it didn’t feel too heavy. It was actually quite a rich-feeling dish for a salad.
Jamie had ordered a small portion from the salad section of the menu for his starter, the soy and black pepper tofu salad. The fried tofu was so crispy on the outside, and the very salty soy gave it some of the best flavour we’ve ever tasted from tofu. The saltiness was contrasted so well by the other salad elements. Sweet yellow courgette and ripe, sweet cherry tomatoes were delicious alongside the tofu. Lashings of olive oil made everything taste buttery and again made it feel decadent for a salad. A handful of rocket just about lifted it from becoming too rich. We’d both had a wonderful start to our meals.
For the main course, I opted for the pan baked jackfruit. We were told this had become consistently one of the most popular dishes, with many people intrigued by this ingredient, unfamiliar to them. This was basically a vegetable and chickpea tagine type bowl with a rich, thick tomato sauce. All the veggies were beautifully cooked, with a variety of textures from some raw ones on top. It was such a hearty, warming stew, with the ‘meaty’ texture coming from the jackfruit that makes it so filling. The bowl is filled with a mixture of chunky and more finely chopped vegetables too which makes for a really nice eating experience. The richness of the sauce was complimented by the fresh fennel and a sprinkling of toasted seeds on top, all the flavours just working together so well. I loved this dish! I’d meant to order chips but forgot to, and needless to say I was fairly grateful that I hadn’t, because by this point in the meal I was getting very, very full.
The other vegan main course on the menu was a cauliflower steak, which had also sounded really interesting. When it came out, it was more a half a head of cauliflower than the ‘steak’ we were expecting, but that’s no bad thing at all considering the few calories that are in the vegetable compared to a meat alternative. It was nicely cooked to retain its texture, seasoned really well with lots of salt and pepper. The cauliflower itself had that slightly bitter flavour, and was topped with a wonderful nutty, minted tabbouleh. The almonds added a much-needed crunch to the dish, and it looked stunning. It was just the right size considering the amount of food we’d already eaten, too. Sadly I notice the cauliflower steak is no longer on the menu, perhaps linked to the cauliflower shortage we’ve had recently – which just shows how properly seasonal cooking is really.
We managed to find room – just about – for pudding, and we couldn’t miss out because the Bicycle Shed’s vegan desserts sounded amazing. The cheese-free lemon cheesecake consisted of an almond and date base, topped with a cashew and coconut ‘cheese’. It was so sweet and almost caramel-like with that creamy topping, which had just a hint of lemon and wasn’t overpowering. The really tangy raspberry served with it helped to offset the sweetness. I am not a big fan of ‘raw’ desserts but this was so elegant yet indulgent, I would certainly order it again.
Spoilt with not one but two options, we also had to try the chocolate ‘mousse’. This did not come out quite how I was expecting, as it was almost more like a thick brownie batter or cookie dough. It was outrageously decadent and absolutely gorgeous, any vegan visiting this restaurant must make sure to save room! It was the richest, smooth dark chocolate, paired with a crunchy almond soil and crumbled biscuit. Then topped with passion fruit which adds a tartness that balances out the plate so well.
So much effort went into the presentation on every dish, this is really a lovely place to come for a nice occasion and you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a fabulous quality, delicious meal. We received such good service and enjoyed every bite of our meal. I can’t wait to have an excuse to go back again. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for any new vegan dishes which find their way onto the menu too!
This meal was complimentary, all views expressed above are an honest account of the food and experience.