My first Oxford review must be dedicated to Hamblin. Not by choice, but by instinct. As I smuggled bites of their cardamom bun into my mouth while walking all that way home, I knew I found quite a gem. The long walk there from home seemed contrary to the desire to make this a regular haunt, but honestly all that fitness just fosters a more reasonable state of mind to pick and choose the baked goods, while upping the excitement along the way.
My top pick here must be the cardamom buns. They also do a whole range of other buns, including cinnamon and custard (below), but this remains top of the list for me. The edges are perfectly browned and crispy without being flaky, characteristic of a traditional cardamom bun. The cardamom flavour itself holds its own.
Leftover or stale cardamom buns are also used to make this cardamom bread pudding which is both genius and delicious. A harder, sugary crumb crowns the slab of soft, squidgy deliciousness.
This very simple cookie is chewy all the way through to the edges. This is the perfect chocolate chip cookie to me- a cute and manageable size, not too sweet, rough chunks of dark chocolate, a hearty mouthfeel with the fresh, locally-milled flour, and doesn’t leave you feeling sick, either. Speaking of flour, their infamous sourdough (below) is all the rage for all the right reasons. The crumb is thick, robust and tender, slightly stiff but never dry. The terrain is perfect for spreading on soft, salted butter.
The potato pasty sounds like an unnecessary carb-on-carb affair but I see why it’s so popular. The sizeable chunks of potato are never mushy or mixed with a bunch of random, weird herbs.
I do miss London with all her cafés, but places like this bring her right back to Oxford. There are so many hardworking, independent café owners that know exactly what they’re doing with the magic they offer day-to-day, and I’m living to promote it.
Right. So. Baker and Cook. You know that feeling you get when you finally get to try some place that’s parading its raved goods everywhere on social media? Yeah, I got that feeling. Even when I stepped into the original, tiny (that beats the word minuscule, mind you) location at 77 Hillcrest Road, really near the pizza place I used to drag my parents along to as a kid. The place reeked of my childhood food memories. You walk in and there’s literally one big table, just one, aside from the two stools next to the window and a small outdoor table for two. That’s it? I thought. I have really got to learn how not to have such high expectations of everything. I was underestimating the untold grandeur of bread-crazed homies.
The place is named an artisan bakery, and I’ve tried a range of their goods, from their lamingtons to their famed carrot cake. Almost everything except the infamous, devilish, apparently ‘The Best’ lemon tart in town. Well of course i had to get it, for their wasn’t any other choice. Correction: I made my mother pay, since she surprised me with this morning trip anyway. Family benefits. I won’t complain. Oh right, I should also mention that it’s $4.95.
Verdict? Ok so, I cut it in half first, before forking a sliver and easing it a nice bit of curd and crust ever so delicately into my tentative mouth. I let the lemon coat the front half of my tongue, relished the sweetness, the tart stickiness, before coming to the realisation: It’s a tad too sweet. The crust too, I confirmed, as I continued the forking action. Not that I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I could even say I thoroughly enjoyed it. But this, my friend, is not the best. Add one more lemon in whatever curd batter you’re churning, mate. And the crust could be on the lighter side of sweet, just to enhance the tingling tartness of a traditional lemon tart.
Iced cappuccino– $4.50+$0.50
French toast (New!- Yes, that’s how they said it, with the exclamation mark)–$16.00
Oh my goodness, this french toast. Penchants run deep, so despite spotting words like ‘pancakes’ and ‘eggs benedict’ and ‘quiche’, all I could see was the golden arched halo above the ‘french toast’, and its winning description. Yes, it’s 16 bucks for some stranger, from me to him, oh happy guy, but this was anything but 16 bucks down the drain. Homemade brioche, dipped in lightly spiced egg custard, served with fresh fruit, maple syrup, lemon curd and mascarpone, and oh, for the heck of it, let’s sprinkle on tablespoons of icing sugar and toasted almonds. Now do you see why it’s 16. To further my point, the plate was around 10 inches wide. No food joke. It was an egg monster waiting to be gobbled up by another egg monster, if you know what I mean. The brioche was nicely thick and browned, holey enough to soak up all that spiced custard (mm, cinnamon and ginger), with the sides calling out to me with leftover, curly bits of egg batter, which you could tell was eggy enough due to it’s almost-fried-egg consistency. And I liked that. That rustic factor. Who cares if there’s a bit of twisted, dried egg batter at the sides? If anything, it was rather inconspicuous. The taste made up for every possible flaw that might have been there and gone unnoticed.
And you know, they’re actually geniuses for adding the lemon curd and mascarpone. Absolute geniuses. I hope you can observe my enthusiasm for lemon and how perfectly it went with the thick and wonderful toast in the picture right above. I’ve made my own lemon curd before, and I must say this one was up a notch on the thick and gluggy scale. Colour beckoned, taste was banal after a while. That was the thing with all the lemon dishes there. Just that bit too sweet. The syrup was also a little more like honey, and more fruit wouldn’t hurt. The mascarpone was a nice touch but looked shallow in comparison to the better lemon-and-french pairing. God, I love lemons. I love french toast even more, and I say that proudly when I look at that picture- moist, airy, fluffy french brioche smushed together with curd.
Eggs Benedict– $19.00 (two poached eggs on toasted pain miche with hollandaise and hint of balsamic glaze and chilli oil, with salmon)
The balsamic glaze and chilli oil thing they had going on intrigued me. I watched my mother attach the crusty, heady plate of lavishly decorated eggy goodness with her knife and fork, mixing everything together into a hurricane of hollandaise and salmon madness. You see the crust? That was a babe, a real sight to behold. The crack was enticing, the melding together of more savoury flavours pleading. A bite was all I asked, and that was all I got. Felt the tang of the hollandaise and robust crunch of pain miche coat the salmon, that fishy flavour you first detect on your palate, with buttery breadcrumbs, cut in half like a fierce interjector by the softly sweet balsamic, even though amounts-wise it was rather paltry. The balsamic I mean, not anything else, Oh no, definitely not anything else. I wouldn’t have been able to polish off more than I slice of this rustic rye for the life of me (but that’s just me and my putrid stomach acting up again).
This artisan bakery also sells homemade packaged products, loaves (I should die to try their fig and aniseed sourdough and wholemeal farmhouse toast), cakes and sweet buns. Tucked away in Hilcrest meant the most unusual peaceful and green morning for the mother and I. Thanks for paying, mother, let’s go back again so I can try their tartines?