Yesterday I spent most of the day working in the library at Oxford University Press’s (OUP) venerable headquarters (they’re the UK publishers of WEIT). It’s the world’s largest university press, one of the oldest (founded in the early 1600s), and now located in a huge old building on Walton Street that was finished in 1825. It’s a lovely place, with a central garden and nice facilities.
Here’s the main entrance on Walton Street; the person standing in the arch is my friend and editor, Latha Menon, renowed for her work in trade science books. She’s a wonderful editor, as many of her authors know, and is also in charge of their best-selling science book, The Selfish Gene (did you know that was an OUP book?)
But after a few hours of “labour,” it was time for lunch, and fortunately OUP is within easy walking distance of three gerat pubs: the Lamb and Flag, the Eagle and Child and the Royal Oak. Of these, the Eagle and Child is most famous, for it was where the “Inklings“—the writers’ group that included C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien—used to meet, drink, and discuss their work.
Over the years I’ve gone to both the Lamb and Flag and Eagle and Child many times, but Latha suggested that we repair to the Royal Oak, only half a block north of the others. It turned out to be a good choice, for both the ales and food were better than those two other vaunted pubs, which are jammed with tourists at lunchtime. The Royal Oak, while just as atmospheric as the others, had plenty of room in its warren of small rooms.
This is what you want to see when you enter a pub: a decent array of cask ales with hand pumps. After due discussion with the bartender, and sampling a couple (they’ll give you a taste if you’re unsure), I decided on Sharp’s Doom Bar, as I wanted a “session pint” (something good that you can drink several of without bloating) that was delicious but not too hoppy—something like my favorite pint, Taylor’s Landlord. (Americans think that a microwbrew is not “real” unless it’s reeking with hops, and we tend to overhop our hand-crafted ales.)
Upon discussion with the woman dispensing beer, I was heartened: I asked her if they ever got Landlord, and she gave me a long spiel about how they got it occasionally, but didn’t like to keep it because they had a small cellar and they had to let the beer settle for three days after the cask arrived so it could be served in good condition. That let me know that they were serious about their ale, and they were. The ales were superb, and I chose Sharp’s Doom Bar bitter: a fine pint. It was delicious, of medium body, well-kept, and lovely. Look at this beautiful amber drink!:
England’s greatest glory
The food was equally good: for £8.95 you could choose two courses, either a starter and a “main”, or a main and dessert. I had the former. opting for Caesar salad and sausage and mash. One needs substantial British food to go with a good pint, and it was cold outside.
The Caesar salad was great: almost a meal in itself. While I eschewed the malodorous anchovies, it was also full of hunks of chicken and shavings of real Parmesan cheese:
The sausage and mash was also great: three plump and savory sausages resting on a bed of real mashed potatoes, dressed with lashings of gravy. It was a LOT of food, and oy, was I full afterwards.
So, if you make your way to Oggsford, I would recommend both the Royal Oak and the Turf Tavern as your pubs of choice, for both have really good food and a good selection of well-kept ales. (The Turf is also known for its variety of ales and cask ciders; they usually have at least a dozen on tap.)
I had dinner as the guest of Professor Dawkins at New College, and it was great fun. We sat at the High Table, with Richard wearing the obligatory gown for Fellows, and had a nice meal with both red and white wine (begun, by custom, with grace in Latin). I did not take any pictures, as that wouldn’t have been seemly, but Richard was in fine nick and is working on an autobiography.