Pub/Bar of the Month March 2013: The Royal Blenheim, Oxford, UK
The Royal Blenheim, Oxford, UK
As Inspector Morse, and latterly Lewis, has consistently proved to worldwide television audiences, Oxford is not short of excellent pubs.
A few years ago, for this website, I did my own recce of the city's atmospheric watering holes. Recently I had the chance to revisit the pub with which I kicked off that crawl and found plenty to recommend it in more detail.
The Royal Blenheim is one of those great finds. You know the sort of place: in the heart of everything but nicely tucked out of the way at the same time. To reach it, you simply take the road down the side of British Home Stores and stroll past the Modern Art Museum to the next corner.
The outside is a pastiche of Tudor black and white above eye level, with a solid red-brick foundation below. The current building is Victorian but was constructed on the site of an earlier, probably 17th-century, pub.
Inside, the bar is single and open, but not short of convenient corners or tucked-away tables. A raised seating area runs along the windows on the right, and there’s a kind of snug at the far end, past the bar counter.
Elaborate tiled flooring and stained glass ensure this is no plain-Jane boozer, and many of the sporting prints framed on the walls feature exploits of students of Pembroke College, located just at the end of the road.
Live Football Banned
Sport features large in the pub's entertainment provision, with Sky Sports prominent on the TVs. Refreshingly, though, the emphasis here is on rugby. Even more refreshingly, live football is banned – which offers a clue to the character of the clientele.
That clientele’s fine taste is reinforced by the vast selection of beers. The pub is actually owned by Everards, but, being one of its Project William pubs that are entrusted to small breweries to run, the beer selection is extensive and constantly of interest.
While ales from White Horse Brewery, which is working with Everards in this case, take centre stage, ten handpumps in all are worked tirelessly to dispense beers (plus one cider) from near and far.
The bottle range is limited to a handful of famous Belgians, but there’s also Titanic Stout in keg format, which makes a welcome change from Guinness.
Food is relatively simple and totally unpretentious, featuring the likes of sausage and mash, chillis and fish and chips, and half the choices are vegetarian. Prices fall into the range that you are happy to pay while sinking a few pints in a pub, rather than the pseudo-restaurant bracket that is all too prevalent these days.
With some well-chosen piped music at a reasonable level and a selection of board games to borrow if ever the conversation dries up or the sport comes to an end, it's a pub that covers all bases. And in city centres, that's not something you find very often.
The Royal Blenheim, 13 St Ebbes Street, Oxford OX1 1PT.
Tel. (01865) 242355
Opening Hours: 11–11; 11–11.30 Wednesday & Thursday; 11–midnight Friday & Saturday