Walking into the Jolly Postboys on a Friday evening is a bit like stumbling onto a film scene set in an improbably delightful bar. Light jazz is playing across a hum of atmospheric chatter, the customers are nicely turned out in a pleasing diversity of styles, and the puppy under the next table is unexpectedly well-behaved. Everyone seems terrifically happy.
The current Postboys are experienced restauranteurs who've been major players in the transformation of east Oxford's casual dining scene over a number of years, with the much-loved Chester Arms, Gaf and former cake-pilgrimage favourite Oxfork all benefiting from their magic touch at various points. I wonder briefly whether they've finally refined their product that bit too much, reaching peak gastropub complete with swishy-haired diners straight from central casting - whether the Postboys are just too jolly - but then I put my doubts aside. The no-nonsense gentrification of community boozers is sad in many ways, but people, including me, enjoy the result, and the largely residential Florence Park area is a prime spot for a venue like this.
The staff treat us like honoured guests who once epically misbehaved a long time ago - wonderfully friendly and helpful with a tinge of wry wariness. This may be preemptive, it turns out, because the food takes such a long time to arrive that after two glasses of wine on an empty stomach there's every chance of my disgracing myself. It's not fair to judge a venue on a probable one-off problem with staffing, and the management are open-handedly apologetic, offering us more glasses of wine on the house with the food when it arrives. It's unnecessarily generous and gives us a warm feeling and slightly blurred vision - some sort of sponge-like carbohydrate might have been a wiser peace-offering by this point.
The menu offers a good choice of interesting dishes, and also a range of selection 'boards' including options like mini beef wellingtons and beetroot-cured trout tartare. It's well set up as you can choose to have a couple of items as a starter and still have a sturdy gastropub main, or order a few to share, or as a main course. It also helps them to offer a pretty reasonable vegetarian selection. Then they throw a spanner in the works by offering a delicious-sounding smoked haddock risotto as a starter. I yearn for lightly salted, flaky haddock and I have to abandon the delights of board-borne variety, but fortunately my companion is still on-board, and the - quite generously sized - little pots turn out to be very nice. The four cheese fondue is like a very tasty though slightly toothless bechamel - it would be nice to have something that was more molten cheese than unthreatening sauce, but you can't really go wrong with hot cheese and good bread. The tempura broccoli is very well received, with the broccoli just steamed through, the batter lovely and crisp, and the sweet chilli sauce piquant and sticky. The smoked haddock risotto is creamy, light but comforting, and I'm not disappointed.
The longhorn beef burger is textbook, well-cooked, with crisp, sweet, deep-hued maple bacon and a brioche bun also on the sweet side. My petition to swap fat chips for skinny fries is accepted but doesn't make it through to the kitchen, but that doesn't matter as the crisp exterior and melting centre of the fat chips are well worth the fork space. The main vegetarian option, a sweet potato and black bean chilli, treads the fine line between comfortingly pleasant and bland, nice enough but without the necessary kick of heat or lashings of cheese (or both!). The stand-out element is the homemade tortillas, which are fresh, delicious and have a lovely oily crispness from being briefly fried. Service is accommodating and very knowledgeable, with interesting and decided opinions about the proper cuisson of different cuts of meat.
Sadly, I can't eat three courses, but the Jolly Postboys puddings look absolutely amazing - if anyone is absent in the kitchen on this occasion it certainly can't be the pastry chef. Beautifully-crafted pistachio-coloured cake is carried past us, and I make a mental note to return soon for a pudding-only session. Addendum pending. And I'll definitely be going back for a meal as well - we had a nice evening in a lovely venue for just under £60 for two courses and drinks.