Warm, welcoming, and modern in a reassuringly old-fashioned way, the Ashmolean Rooftop Restaurant is clean-lined and shiny, made unexpectedly cosy with dimmed lighting; imposing in terms of location and décor, but accommodating and accessible in its food and service. If you’re going to eat above a world-famous museum in the centre of Britain’s least affordable city, you might as well resign yourself to the cost - but that’s not such a bad thing, because, as the menu proudly states, ‘every purchase from the Ashmolean Rooftop Restaurant supports the museum’.
It’s a nice spot to take the chill off on a windy winter’s night, to a background of a jazz duo playing a well-judged mix of standards and pop, and we were very well cared for by the efficient staff. Our server may have been new to the job, as she seemed a little uncertain, but she never put a plate wrong. The food was well-presented, generous and delicious, but what the menu offers is perhaps more high-class comfort food than fine dining, which some might feel doesn’t justify the price tag. What is worth the cost, however, is the ambience, the sense of occasion, and the pleasing awareness of eating in a palace of culture. It was too cold and dark for us to make any use of the balcony but there was a nice sense of being in a rooftop restaurant nonetheless, with an expanse of glass overlooking on one side the eaves of the Randolph Hotel in shadow, and on the other the bright open stairwell of the museum.
We started with hot smoked trout with watercress, fennel, dill, horseradish cream – and a plate of Cornish crab, smooth avocado and gremolata on toasted sourdough crostini. There was a bit of a scrap over who would get to have the crab dish and I lost, but both starters were solid performers and a good, light, well-flavoured beginning to the meal. The main courses were both really well done. My pork chop with butterbeans topped with a piquant salsa verde, perfectly accompanied by a last-minute order of fries we didn’t really need (gracefully and very speedily added without fuss), was just gorgeous. A sweet, satisfying combination of pork and pulses which was simultaneously indulgent and nutritious, beautifully matched with unnecessary chips to soak up the rich sauce. Katy said that her cod saltimbocca was nicest piece of fish she’d ever had – very lightly cooked and so still perfectly tender, wrapped in wonderfully salty prosciutto and pepped-up with Catalan romesco sauce.
Ordering sticky toffee pudding may have been a step too far. In a high-end restaurant a dessert like this needs to tread a very fine line, and should ideally be rich but not heavy. This, although described by the waitress as ‘not too large’ was a proper doorstep of a pudding, firm, generous and extremely sweet. It was great, but made an already sumptuous meal positively hearty. The rhubarb syllabub with pistachio shortbread was a better choice, a lovely moreish mix of sweet and sharp that wasn’t overpowering.
To accompany this feast we splashed out on a Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc at £32.50 (wine starts at around £20 a bottle), which brought the final bill for a meal for two firmly over £100. It’s worth it, if you know what to expect and what you’re paying for, and we’ll definitely be returning – possibly after a long hike or day’s sightseeing to help us do justice to the sticky toffee pudding.