On a mission to get more involved with the Collective Bias community I’m a part of, I agreed to take part in their first Social Fabric blog hop. I happily signed up thinking ‘ooh great, I get to write my reviews of various local restaurants and tell people what’s good and bad about them’. Then afterwards I realised, that being a parent, we no longer go out that frequently to restaurants any more, plus we rarely eat in restaurants in town – choice is fairly limited when the men in our group of friends won’t eat indian, chinese or thai food, and just want steak on a menu to be happy).
But around our local area we do have a lot of good pubs serving extremely good food. Admittedly we don’t take many photos when we’re out eating a meal either with friends – it always seems so rude, so I shall try and illustrate with what I can.
Purple Mango – Hanwell Fields, Banbury (Indian)
This indian restaurant (and restaurant is what it is, rather than a curry house) has never failed on the occasions I’ve been there. I’ve usually been with groups of friends, quite often a girls night out, and we’ve had both the party menu and from the a la carte menu.
I’m not a big fan of really spicy foods, but they have a great selection (in a way, too large which makes it really difficult to choose), and with the choice in spice or warmth levels, there’s something for everyone. I’ve even had friends who say they don’t like Indian food go and then enjoy what’s been chosen for them. My favourite is the chicken sashlack – a garlicky mild dish. Everything’s well presented (you can’t beat the carved carrot shapes for a bit of fun!)
The prices aren’t unreasonable, especially if you opt for one of the offers. And we’ve always found the waiters really helpful in giving guidance and pointing out favourite dishes which is what you want if you’re going a) somewhere new or b) like to try new things.
It’s not the largest restaurant and it’s on one of the new housing developments on the edge of Banbury, so it does get busy – would definitely say book in advance especially on a weekend. There is free parking outside by the parade of shops, but you need to be careful you don’t park in residents permit parking areas, as the clampers can be harsh.
My only complaint is that if you’re in a group and choose from the party menu, everyone has to choose from that menu. You can’t have one fussy person (aka me!) who wants to choose a la carte. Otherwise, if you fancy something a bit more genteel, out of town meaning no drunken people dropping in at the end of the night, Purple Mango could be the indian restaurant to go to.
Thai Orchid – Banbury (thai)
I love Thai food, the aromas and the freshness of the food, and in and around our area we’re quite spoilt for choice. Previously I lived in Oxford but hadn’t managed to get to the sister restaurant there, but the Banbury one is definitely the place to go for a special occasion.
Decorated beautifully, from the carved elephants outside the door through to the beautiful almost ‘conservatory’ area, it feels like an oasis of thai décor in the middle of a British market town. It’s a large restaurant – seems never ending, although maybe they’ve used mirrors and good placement to get that effect (I’ve only ever sat in the middle or back, not at the front so it’s hard to judge. The waitresses wear gorgeous thai outfits, and the times we’ve been, the waiting staff have been attentive without being over the top.
The food is as you’d expect from an award winning restaurant. Different levels of spice depending on what you like (although my OH did find his dish on the time he came with me, a little spicy for him, so it’s definitely worth checking the levels with the waiter if you like it British mild rather than Thai mild!) and lots of variety. I’ve never had a bad dish here. I like a lot of rice as my side and the amount you get in Thai Orchid is just right compared with some other restaurants who’re a bit tight with the portions.
They also do take away. I’ve used it when a friend’s been to visit and the food and service was as good as you’d want from a takeaway service.
Price-wise, it’s not the cheapest, but it’s perfect for a special occasion or treat.
Pinto Lounge – Banbury (café bar)
If you’re after a casual easy lunch in a relaxed café bar, then the Pinto Lounge might be for you. I’ve only eaten here for lunch, but it’s always popular, and there’s plenty of choice whether you’re nipping in for a quick lunch break for work, or having a leisurely lunch and chat with friends.
It’s not the fastest of service (I’m not sure what it’s like in the evenings, but I’d hope they have more than one person in the kitchen and more than one serving like they seem to offer during the day), but if you’ve got a baby in tow it’s one of the most baby friendly places to eat in town. Changing facilities, high chairs, kids menu including colouring books and pencils, plus last time I went I spotted activity boxes. There’s also lots of room to park up prams and buggies, so there’s always a few tables of mums and babies meeting up during the day.
It’s order drinks and food at the bar – this is where you end up waiting to be served, but the food itself doesn’t take any longer to arrive than in other eateries. Drinks-wise, being a café bar, there’s plenty of choices, including some more unusual ‘healthy’ soft drink brands to try out.
Food is a mixed bag – lots of sandwich and panini options (who can resist the delicious fish finger sandwich), all coming with chips, salad or crisps. There’re also full main meal options – I’m a fan of the chicken and ham pie, as well as a half and half light lunch which is soup plus half a sandwich. I’ve not experienced the desserts, but again, there’s plenty of choice.
Middle of the road pricing. Lunch wise, it’s similar to many other places, but if you want to spend some time catching up with friends and taking your time, Pinto Lounge fits the bill.
Red Lion – Culworth (pub)
Having a lot of friends spread out in all directions from Banbury, we tend to meet up for meals at local village pubs. One that is consistently good is the Red Lion at Culworth.
It’s a definitely foody pub, with the prices on the mid-high price range for pub food, but it’s all locally produced where possible and great quality. They do a barter system advertising on the back of the toilet doors for customers to give them any spare produce they grow in exchange for vouchers to spend there.
Menus are changed regularly, although fish is heavily featured with friends swearing by the seafood platter and the prawn thai red curry. For me they’re missing some simpler food on the menu (it’s rare that there’s any chicken or bird recipe featured, so sometimes I struggle as I’m not a fish fan), but there’s a choice of steaks, plus there’s usually a couple of specials to choose from. Recently I had the venison burger special, and it was delicious – and quite unusual to find on a menu.
Desserts are usual good foody pub fare – generous portions sizes, and a reasonable choice of hot and cold.
The serving staff are friendly and chatty, and knowledgable about the menus. So much so that if you’re a regular, one of the girls will even pre-guess what you’ll be ordering (she’s generally right!).
Booking’s pretty much essential on a weekend, and the car park’s tight during busy times, so be prepared to find a space out on the road somewhere.
Pizza Express – Banbury (italian)
Ok, so there’s nothing different about Pizza Express and you see them in every town, but that’s one great thing about them. It means that if you’re not sure on the quality or price of other restaurants in a new town, you can always fall back on the reliability of Pizza Express.
Plus of course, there’s always an offer on (I’m sure they get more surprised by people who turn up without vouchers!), so it can be a great value meal out.
Great choice of pizza, pasta and lush salads, it’s great fun watching the pizzas being cooked in the open kitchens. Nothing like something to keep children entertained, along with the colouring bits and bobs that they get given. The children’s menu is a great value – especially if you’ve got a hungry toddler who eats a lot. For around £6.50 they get main, starter and dessert including a mini version of chocolate fudge cake, plus a warm frothy milk afterwards. The pasta main is a decent size – good given the children’s menu could be covering from toddler to 12 year old.
Each have a slightly different touch depending on the building they’re in, but you know you’re in a Pizza Express. And I think everyone has their favourite pizza – if yours gets taken off the menu when there’s a new one launched, they still give you the option to ask for the old one you love. Great idea.
The George at Brailes – Brailes, Warwickshire (pub)
As a family we always used to go for meals at our nearest pub, but since our favourite owners changed, it’s not been the same. After trying out various others nearby, The George at Brailes has managed to foot the bill and is now a favourite for our traditional Christmas eve meal out. They also cater for our shoot meals so they’re nothing but flexible.
As well as the restaurant menu, they do bar meals so there’s always a good choice. And unlike so many of the pubs near us, although they do really good restaurant food, it’s not over the top fussy which I hate.
They’ve got enough room to cater for big groups, there’s a beer garden, and they quite often hold events for the village as they’re definitely part of the community.
My summary is great food, good sized portions, lots of choice and reasonably priced. Plus nice staff – makes for a good meal out.
Zizzi – Milton Keynes, Oxford (Italian)
Ok, so Banbury doesn’t have a Zizzi (shame), but there’re plenty around relatively nearby, and it’s a restaurant that I always have a good meal in. We ate out there the other day and had a lovely meal and experience there. Plus they looked after N really well which is always important if you’re eating out with children.
It’s great to be able to make the most of the weather, and if there’s the chance for the restaurant front to be opened up, it’s lovely to be able to sit by the open windows, if not outside. I quite often find Zizzi’s a bit dark in décor which is fine for the evening, but it can be a bit depressing in the daytime. However, having plenty of room to manoeuvre a buggy between tables, and helpful waiting staff who’ll help you out, although they don’t promote themselves as child-friendly, they definitely came up tops on that.
Children are given the obligatory pencils and colouring sheet complete with child menu (a good price at £6.50 for 4 dough sticks, a choice of pizza or pasta, plus an ice cream dessert). For adults there’s a great choice – mostly pizzas or pastas, but there’s a few other non pasta dishes to choose from, plus salads. What’s great is they highlight their ‘lighter’ choices – under 600 calories across the menu. Not that light, but handy to know.
I usually struggle to decide what to have as there’s several items on the menu that are very different to those in other chain Italian restaurants, so it’s great to have some other options. There’s always vouchers for money off for Zizzi as well, so it’s a great family choice.
What restaurants would you add to the mix in this area?