Oxford Social's black and yellow signage can be a little hard to miss (the friend who took me there mentioned it a while back but I could never quite spot it). However, if you're like me and frequent Oxford St on public transport, the landmark to look out for is the Happy Herb Shop a couple of doors down from it.
Once inside, you're greeted warmly, seated (we made a booking in case it was one of their busy days), and served water garnished with a slice of lemon. I reached for the drinks list and couldn't resist ordering a cocktail (see below). I tend to nurse my one glass of alcohol for the duration of the entire meal, so I take care to choose citrus cocktails. This one was not only acidic, but contained floral notes (too bad I can't remember what they put into it!).
Oxford Social's menu is made up of specials, entrees/ "grazing" and main meals. My friend and I opted for a number of grazing plates to eat tapas style. Based on my friend's prior experiences, we started off with 4 dishes but later added 2 (which was regrettably 1 plate too many - I was uncomfortably full by the end!).
The grazing dishes are served together, so it felt like a banquet was being set in front of us. It also didn't take long at all for the food to arrive, which speaks highly of their efficient service.
The first dish I attacked was the chicken tenderloin, one of the day's specials. It was marinated in soy, lime, coriander and chilli, and set on a bed of watermelon and wasabi salsa. It sounds a bit adventurous, but the components that stood out the most were the lime dressing and salsa. The chicken was moist, tender and warm, contrasting nicely with the freshness of the salsa. If you're a bit queasy about eating wasabi/ mustard, fear not: the mustard flavour isn't overpowering at all.
|Chicken tenderloin ($16.00)|
I moved on to the autumn salad, which contained asparagus, pear, goats cheese and semi-dried tomatoes. Once again, the dressing contained mustard, but once again, it wasn't overpowering - the dressing was more cheesy than anything else. The rocket helped to cut through the cheesiness, the pear contributed moisture, and the semi-dried tomatoes added a punch of acidity. I'm not usually someone who will buy a salad costing more than $10.00 (they're often incredibly simple and just as grassy), but this one was definitely more complex than your usual garden salad, and a whole lot more palatable.
|Autumn salad ($14.00)|
The bruschetta was up next, and done amazingly well. The bread was toasted until crusty, soaked in olive oil, and served with a mix of semi-dried and fresh tomatoes. I could also taste balsamic dressing, which tends to go well with these sorts of vegetables, and I was surprised that, considering the amount of liquid soaked up, the bread still retained a lot of crunch.
If I had to pick, the highlight of the evening would have been the scallop dish - paired with Serrane ham and a puree of celeriac and leek, I couldn't have enough of it. The scallops were very lightly grilled and that puree was so addicting I wanted to lick the plate. Pity we didn't order bread to go with it.
|Grilled scallops ($16.00)|
The arancini balls and prawns were added on afterwards because I was greedy. 4 courses would have left room for dessert, but after those arancini balls, I couldn't think of eating a 7th course.
Ahhh prawns. I do love my seafood, and just as with the scallops, the prawns were cooked very lightly. The prawns were laid out in garlic pernod (liqueur) cream sauce with braised fennel, which upon first glance we thought was pasta.
I wasn't a big fan of the arancini balls (they were deep fried and contained leek, mint, chilli, fontina cheese and semi dried tomato. They tasted better after rolling them around in the lemon beurre blanc, but it was nevertheless a bit of an effort eating 2 of them because they were so carby and filling. The interior of the balls was rice-like in texture, reminding me of risotto balls which are so often served at cocktail events. It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't the best thing to eat at the end of a meal. It was also kind of jarring to eat something lardy, having been consuming lighter food for the first 2/3rds of the dinner.
|Arancini balls ($15.00)|
Were I to consume the exact same dishes again, I would probably rearrange the order of eating to go something like this: salad, bruschetta, scallops, arancini balls, chicken tenderloin and the prawns. However, when I return to Oxford Social (and I most definitely shall), I plan on tasting their mains and desserts!