Spring greetings...

My long overdue 2021 ‘Hello Picture’ has been taken outside 63 Banbury Road, right next door to Gees. It’s a great space with real character. Recently we have been mulling over ideas for what we should do with it, ranging between a wood oven bakery, a proper fishmonger, a tapas/small bites bar, or a gallery/dining room. The latter is the front runner, especially with such a pent-up demand for weddings and celebrations.

I hope you all agree, the current rapid vaccine rollout has put a very positive spin on the second half of this year. ‘Oxford’ is on everyone’s lips for all the right reasons. Have a look at these two images of Oxford buildings. The Radcliffe Camera is one of the most famous buildings synonymous with our city’s worldwide image...

But now, could it be usurped by this other upstart? Behind the unassuming façade in Headington, the Oxford vaccine was developed. We are ready and waiting for the time when restrictions are lifted and a rush of ‘vaccine tourists’ from all around the world come to Oxford and swamp our two hotels. Who needs all our famous historic buildings, Morse and Harry Potter!

So, what do we have for you on April 12th? Easy answer; three of the very best terraces in town. Quod’s Italian Terrace will spill out under the trees at the back, seating around 120.

The Parsonage Grill’s Walled Terrace at the front of the hotel, again will be expanded under one of the two famous ancient beech trees which frame the facade seating around 100, not forgetting the very popular ‘Garden Room’ at the back which can be booked exclusively for up to 8 people.

Last but not least, we have rejigged the outside space at Gees and can seat 50 people. Our reopening campaign says it all… 'OXFORD SPRINGS TO LIFE.  OUR TERRACES ARE WELL AND TRULY OPEN from April 12th. #oxfordspringstolife'

More news from ‘The Oxford Collection’, our little group of very different and individual businesses. At the Old Parsonage Hotel, you may know that we have a famous bedroom where Oscar Wilde lived as a student. It is now going to be joined by the Churchill Suites. On the top floor, we have converted two of our best rooms and named them, Winston and Randolph. The seed of this idea was sown when I discovered that on Boars Hill, at the edge of the city, the Oscar Nemon studio is set amongst the trees and wilderness. It was here that this extremely underrated sculptor created his world-famous busts of Winston Churchill, his son Randolph and others such as General Montgomery, and Margaret Thatcher. Thanks go to Oscar Nemon’s very generous daughter-in-law, Alice Hiller, who arranged for exclusive access to the Oscar Nemon archives and has allowed us to create a unique collection of photographs for these two rooms, plus a fabulous bust of Winston Churchill himself.

I have to admit, I did get some stick for being critical of Channel Four, Les Misérables, News, but I am pleased to report (although it could be wishful thinking, coupled with my imagination), the presenters appear to have cheered up a bit, along with the content... such is the far-reaching power of this newsletter.

On a par with the late, great Peter Langan, one of my true inspirations has recently departed for that great restaurant in the sky. I wonder how many of you will know about Joe Allen. Along with Richard Polo, he created the most famous ‘speakeasy’ basement restaurant and bar, Joe Allen, in Covent Garden. I loved the understated ‘club like’ atmosphere, hidden away in a difficult to find back street with an unassuming entrance door with the smallest, discreet, polished brass name plaque. Descend the staircase and be met with the most electrifying buzz. Frequented by the theatre crowd, both actors, back room and public, two of their most popular dishes were never printed on the menu, you had to be in the know for the incredible ‘Joe Allen Hamburger’ or their ‘Chopped Salad’. Sadly, the place has changed hands and moved premises, so it’s no longer worth the detour. Here’s a thank you to the late Joe Allen who inspired us to print the following statement on the bottom of all our menus… ‘Our Chefs will make every effort to accommodate any special request’.

A fishy thought: One of the effects of leaving the European Union should be a big change to the way our fishing is managed. The potential for sustainable fresh fish and shellfish is one of the UK’s most amazing and important natural resources.

The historical extensive fishing around our shores by so called super trawlers with their infamous chains wrecking the ocean sea bed and indiscriminately scooping up any living creature, should be greatly limited, if not banished. As a result, our locally based fishermen with more traditional and sustainable methods are destined to thrive, reinvigorating the economies of hundreds of original little coastal ports around the UK. This hasn’t quite happened as scripted and promised yet and now our local fishermen are struggling. So, what’s the answer? All of us must source and buy much more British fish and shellfish and be more adventurous with our cooking.

Our three kitchens, Quod, Parsonage Grill and Gees, always make the effort to create delicious recipes with some of the less well-known species and we know our customers love them. Have a look at some illustrated recipes our chefs came up with yesterday here on our website.

About our ever improving ‘Staycation Menu’. Your staycation ideas for the hotels kept coming in and we were thrilled with your interesting and innovative suggestions including; the Anthony Gormley statue on Broad Street, the site of Beaumont Palace (where King Richard and King John were both born), and Magdalen College deer park followed by Addison’s Walk (C S Lewis’ favourite route).

2021 Short Story Prize: We’re getting close to a decision on this year’s winner. Although the number of entries was down, the quality of writing was significantly better. At this exact moment, our esteemed judges, Lemn Sissay MBE, English author, poet and broadcaster, and Mick Herron, famous British mystery and thriller novelist, are now considering the shortlist of four.

Our important group of Collectives: We’re pleased to say that we still have the vast majority of our 200 collectives with us, supported by the excellent government furlough scheme. We are all in constant touch with each other and I know that every one of them is champing at the bit to return on April 12th or May 17th depending….  The ‘mutual recognition party’ is about to begin. All the familiar faces are ready and waiting to welcome you back.

Whilst we have our own ideas for the wonderful shop next to Gees, if you have any bright ideas for 63 Banbury Road, Steve Holmes would be very interested to hear from you...

Swallows. Can you believe that it’s nearly that time of year again?... Outside seating and swallows. Our message to them is; ‘Please fly back safely at the beginning of April, suitably distanced and minus any mutations’.

Lastly, on our reopening, we are really looking forward to welcoming the twelve lucky NHS heroes, who were selected by our local Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to receive a ‘thank you donation’ of a night, dinner and breakfast at the Old Bank or Old Parsonage Hotel.

Time to sign off and hope to see all of you outdoors (translates as ‘outside’) on the 12th April whatever the weather.

Parsonage Grill Quod Restaurant & Bar
Gees Restaurant & Bar Mogford Prize
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