Chez Gaston,North Parade Avenue, north Oxford. Tel: 311608
August 2003
At first sight, Chez Gaston seemed promising. A stroll down North Parade on another 'hottest day of the year ever', stomachs growling and yet untempted by the stuffiness of Luna Caprese, Chez Gaston looked perfect. Small, light, French and summery, with bright colours, kitsch art and caricatures adorning the walls, it seemed the ideal place to get a bite. The menu also looked pretty appetising, with a selection of pasta dishes and the Gaston speciality - the special-salted-buckwheat-pancake. It is, in fact, primarily a crêperie. However, despite the airy summeriness the place seemed to exude, the interior was unfortunately like a sauna. Still, we thought we'd stick it out. We ordered a mozzarella garlic bread to share, at £2.95. Not bad, but nothing overly special - a few pieces of ciabatta with a smidge of cheese melted on top and a faint whiff of garlic. The 'Benjamin' cocktail I ordered with it was fantastically refreshing, but small and a tad pricey: £2.50 for a blend of orange, cranberry and lemonade. I started to feel slightly glum about the whole evening. When the main courses arrived, I perked up, my hunger having peaked. I felt obliged to try one of the savoury pancakes, a Green Peace crêpe stuffed with spinach, blue de bresse cheese, spring onions and cream (£6.95). My friend ordered Poulet Estragon, tagliatelle with chicken, mushrooms, white wine and tarragon (£7.20). I have to concede that the service was fantastic; the staff always had a smile and our courses were served quickly without being too hurried. Ever the optimist, I tucked in. It looked healthy and light, which wasn't a downside given the temperature. Sadly for me, it was possibly the richest meal I have attempted to eat in a while. Still, I can attribute that to simple misjudgement on my part. My friend however, was presented with a bowl of seriously undercooked pasta - taking 'with bite' to a whole new level. The chicken was tender, but the cream heavily overdone. Neither of us finished, having completely lost our appetites. I have since been told that this was possibly a mistake, as the crêpes suzettes are legendary; but as the sight of the bill was already a galling experience, the prospect of another £5.50 for a sweet pancake made me a little nauseous.

Chez Gaston looks like a great place to have a light snack or lunch, but its prices force you to expect something more. A simple panini, although served with salad, can come in at a hefty £6.50, while a bowl of sorbet totals at £3.50. In all, it's not bad, it's just overpriced.

Abby Chicken

Reviewed pre-2000

Walk down North Parade and you'll come across a small brightly-lit French restaurant called Chez Gaston. This atmospheric café that genuinely captures the feel of a Parisian brasserie, without the pretention, is truly worth the walk up the Woodstock Road. Even on a dingy November evening the place gives a mediterranean feel to the tiny street, its sunny yellow walls and blue window frames reminiscent of similar buildings in sunbaked alleyways in the south of France. It is chic but relaxed, sophisticated but fun, with its quotations from surrealist poets on the wall, and its strains of Piaf murmuring in the background.

And the food, well, I haven't had better in France. To start, I have avocado topped with prawns and marisco sauce. It is beautifully presented on a white plate scattered with olives and prawns and powdery pepper. The avocado is just right - ripe and squidgy like it should be, and the sauce not overpowering. He has Pimiento Asados - roasted marinated red peppers served with ciabatta bread. An unusual dish, an acquired taste perhaps, but interesting. We also have an order of mozzarella garlic bread, always a winner!

Having been here many times, I always try to choose something other than the grilled goats-cheese salad, but can never persuade myself that I won't regret my decision. So I always have this dish - bistro style salad served with slices of french bread topped with hunks of goats cheese and apricot, cardamon and coriander pesto. The latter is no ordinary garnish. Its sweet/sour element perfectly complements a cheese that is somewhere between sweet and bitter. The result is positively orgasmic. He has a favourite too - Le Grand Bleu - one of the choices of crêpes salées. This is a buckwheat crêpe oozing with seafood, mushrooms and peppers with a tomato and basil sauce. Served with salad he pronounces it delicious, and a pleasant variation to your average cheese crêpe.

As for dessert, Chez Gaston offer a wondrous selection of sweet crêpes, ice creams and other cakey things such as pecan pie and lemon tart. I have had the hot chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce and ice cream. This is definitely the best of its kind in Oxford - an utterly decadent, deeply chocolatey creation. However, for the authentic French experience try a crêpe sucrée. He has the Gentle Giant, a thin crêpe filled with chocolate ice cream, house chocolate sauce and pistachio nuts. I have the simply named Banana, filled with, yes, banana, with maple syrup, vanilla ice-cream, marinated sultanas, cinnamon and toasted almonds. As if that isn't enough, it's then flambéed in rum... If the brownie is decadent, these things are corruption itself.

I like this place so much that I am loathe to recommend it, in case it's full next time I want to go. However, if you must know, it is probably the best value small restaurant in Oxford. For an intimate tête-à-tête, or a cosy chat with friends Chez Gaston is just the thing. Get a bottle of wine and let yourself sink into the atmosphere. Delicieux!

Jane Labous


Perhaps not the best restaurant in Oxford for one of the hottest days on UK record (French food is generally known to be rich, after all!!), Chez Gaston has always served me well. Though the prices might seem a little steep when you see your plate arrive, by the time you have finished (and you need to be hungry) you won't be worrying. A decent lunch can come in at around a tenner, and the atmosphere has always been pleasant enough for me (pluses: child-friendly, friendly staff, lots of windows, cheery decor; minuses: the venue can be cramped when full).

Try it when it has cooled down a little!

Dailyinfo Staff, August 2003