I’d convinced myself that I’d already reviewed the vegan food at Greene King over the years of writing this blog, but it turns out I haven’t! And what better opportunity to do so than a meal at none other than Oxford institution, the Turf Tavern. Tucked away down a little alleyway by Hertford Bridge, aka the Bridge of Sighs, this is one of the most famous of all pubs in Oxford. Perhaps somewhat unbelievably, as a resident of more than eight years in Oxford, December 2020 is the first time I’ve visited. With the Turf Tavern being pretty much an essential part of the ‘Oxford experience’, it feels a bit of a shame that it’s owned by brewery chain Greene King, but none the less the pub and its little courtyard garden are full of character and it’s a lovely spot for a drink situated in the most ‘Oxford’ of settings.
That’s probably where the mainly positive ends. On the Greene King menu when I visited were two vegan options, a burger and a pie. There was also a more interesting sounding vegan main course on the festive menu, but although we dined in on the second week of December, we were told it was unavailable. The vegan cheese burger, built with a Meatless Farm patty, would’ve been my meal of choice, had I not already committed to a burger takeaway the following evening, so I opted for the pie. Clearly neither of the options were particularly inspiring but I was hoping they were at least fairly edible.
The pie itself was actually pretty tasty, with a creamy sauce, strong mushroom flavour and crisp pastry. Clearly it was never going to be gourmet, but it was warming and hearty for a wintery day. The chunky chips needed way more salt, and this type of chip is my least favourite way to eat potato – the kind that stick at the back of your throat if you don’t down pints of water alongside them. Despite not particularly liking them, I still felt hard done by that there were so few on the plate, which was smaller than a regular dinner plate to make the meal look larger than it actually was. The token tablespoon of peas on the side were flavourless and I’m not sure there were enough to count as even one of your five a day. The enjoyment of the pie, which was definitely the best part, ended abruptly when about three quarters of the way through I found a black hair on the plate underneath the pie. In normal times, let alone during the Covid era, no one wants to be reminded of the unhygienic practices potentially going on in the kitchen. I didn’t bother to complain as I’d unfortunately eaten so much already, but safe to say I pushed the plate aside after that point.
There were no vegan desserts on the menu, which puts Greene King behind other chains such as Wetherspoons and even Beefeater, and it’s always disappointing sitting watching others tuck into their brownie or apple pie, knowing they’re so easy to veganise! Although, on this visit, even most of the non-vegan desserts on the menu were unavailable. Perhaps understandably the Turf Tavern’s stock levels are kept low during the pandemic, to reduce waste. I suppose it shows how far veganism has come that in 2020 I find myself surprised when a pub can’t muster up a pre-made vegan pudding!
I noticed that other Greene Kings around the UK have slightly different menus, with a sweet potato curry and even vegan pizza on offer at the Duke of Monmouth on Abingdon Road. So know that if you’re dragged to a Greene King by family or friends, or you go to one for a drink and get a bit peckish, you won’t have to go hungry. Still, I’ll probably give the food a miss next time I’m at the Turf Tavern, and enjoy it for what it’s worth – a nice spot for a drink while soaking in the historic atmosphere of Oxford.