Hidden away on South Parade in Summertown is the only restaurant in Oxford with two AA Rosettes. Featured in the Michelin Guide and highly acclaimed by reviewers such as Tim Hayward, Jay Rayner, and Giles Coren, visitors would of course expect high quality. What is surprising is the superbly relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere, the care, dedication, and kindness of the owners, and the pleasingly approachable price points.
Pompette is owned by Laura and Pascal Wiedemann and in 2018 the couple completed the move from London to Oxford. Here, they have completed their ‘dream’ — owning and running a restaurant of their own creation. Laura combined her interior design experience with Pascal’s highly decorated culinary background in restaurants such as Racine, Terroir, and Six Portland Road, to create a uniquely fun and stylish bistro right here in Oxford.
Passion and friendliness are very much the not so secret ‘secret ingredients’ of this industry and when we arrived I was immediately struck by Laura talking to a group of her regulars for at least ten minutes. That more than set the tone and speaks to the real delight Laura takes in customer service. She later revealed just how important regulars are to her and the business as a whole with some customers coming back weekly or even more regularly for their reassuring indulgence. The atmosphere and personalities here really make it feel like home and that was reflected in Pompette’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They continued trading with their ‘Pompette at Home’ boxes throughout and later opened a deli at the front of the shop. Laura hand-delivered countless items and meals around the community and divulged of how some regulars turned to group Zoom calls, eating the same meal at the same time as they were used to every week, complete with a background photo of the restaurant itself!
Anyway, time to move on to the food itself. Here too, Pompette is fascinating. The French classics are present but blended with some other Mediterranean options and dishes grounded in Pascal’s Strasbourg roots to complete a delightfully short, concise, and ever-changing menu.
We kicked things off with a Pousse Rapiere (Orange cognac with Champagne) and a St. Germain Spritz to fully ground ourselves in France before browsing the remarkable wine list (better described really as a book). Again though, there is more than just the classics here. The selection is curated by Laura and regularly revamped to bring in new and interesting producers and grapes alongside the well-known vintages. In the podcast I recorded with Laura, we talked about how Coravin has really opened up the potential of the wine industry in an interesting way, making previously daunting blends and grapes much more approachable. I was delighted to find a Blaufränkisch offered by the glass and settled in for the food.
We started with both the ham and manchego croquettes and the Cervelle de canut. The first is definitely dominated by the cheese but does have a pleasingly crispy exterior to add the crunch that is often missing from English attempts at the nibble. The Cervelle is quite the creation. Served with croutons (made from yesterday’s unfinished homemade baguette), and crudités, it is a whipped walnut and herb dip with Lyonnaise cheese. I’ve never encountered it before but it has that kind of irresistible ‘come back for more’ factor that is dangerous when ordered with a pre-dinner drink!
Starters included the Oeuf en meurette and the ever-popular fish soup. Laura tells me they considered removing the fish soup from the menu when they took the site over — it is safe to say that they have avoided a local revolt by continuing to offer it daily. All of the fish is brought in fresh each morning and the soup is left cooking for hours to create a distinctive depth. The Oeuf en meurette was another completely new discovery for me. The sauce is red wine and bourguignon-style with bacon, onions and mushrooms, and a crouton in the centre topped by a poached egg. Baguette is more than required for the sauce and the egg was perfectly cooked to break and soak the crouton.
Next came the mains and we started with Spatzle, an Alsatian speciality I adore but that rarely makes it beyond those borders. The dish combines artichokes and mushrooms with hazelnuts and watercress. The result is a pleasantly complete bite with the pasta itself airing on the lightly cooked side to make sure that it maintains its form. After that was the cod. This dish offered a freshness that made it stand out from other offerings and was served on a base of butter beans and chorizo in a manzanilla sauce with homemade aioli on the side. The manzanilla works well to balance the intense chorizo and the butter beans soak the sauce to ensure they avoid lacking the flavour that is often the case. The fish itself was cooked well with the crispy skin that always leaves me happy.
Somehow I seem to have gotten this far in reviewing a French restaurant without mentioning steak frites but fear not, the wait is over. Again here, the options are perfectly simple: sirloin or ribeye served with fries and your choice of sauce. Cooked rare (and French rare at that) the sirloin melted in my mouth in a way that really proves the quality of ingredients used at Pompette. The provenance of everything is key to Laura and Pascal and the use of high-quality meat, even if it does command a high price, means that the taste is of the highest order. With an accompanying green salad to balance the intense flavour, I’ve no doubt that this is the dish many will return for.
Cheese, oh cheese. I am increasingly of the belief that God created cheese to test human discipline — I am sorry to report that I have very much failed that test. Three arrived gloriously alongside more red wine and an Amaretto coffee on this occasion and were served with a fig chutney and some of that homemade baguette I mentioned earlier. The blue 1924 stared for me but I’d certainly caution non-blue cheese lovers to steer clear. Marechal and Saint-Nectare completed the selection to ensure a diversity of intensities and consistencies.
The dessert list is also home to regulars’ favourites, most notably the Kirsch Choux Bun. Essentially a giant profiterole I was expecting a heavy, over-creamy affair that I would move on from after a quick bite. Unfortunately for my day’s calorie count but luckily for my tastebuds, the reality was quite different. The bun itself is crisp and filled with a creamy but somehow still light filling that is very different from the pure heavy and unflavoured version served up en masse in English supermarkets. The top is rock hard with crystallised syrup and Griottines that mix with a warm dark chocolate sauce for a bite that combines all the consistencies and sweet flavours you could desire. I must warn you though — order this to share or prepare to be wheeled out. There’s also a tiramisu to reflect the Mediterranean options not exclusive to France. It’s good. To be honest, it is probably very good, but I was so enamoured by chocolate cherry goodness that I would struggle to recommend it instead.
There is no doubt that the price point a la carte at Pompette can rack up — starters average around £11 and mains in the mid-twenties. As much as I believe there is nothing better to spend money on than food and experiences, if you settle in for an evening or afternoon here there is potential to go large. However, the Prix Fixe menu comes in £26 and £32 for two and three courses respectively to make it a more than affordable treat. The Wednesday Poulet Frites nights are even better. For just £20 each, two people can share half a roast chicken, a house salad, and unlimited fries with a carafe of Viognier. I wasn’t surprised to hear from laura just how popular this has been and it is definitely the kind of experience that I will be returning for.
Alternatively, the bar is also a great place for a drink, nibble, and catch-up. It offers its own menu of meats and nibbles and if you come in the week between 5 and 6 PM, select cocktails include a snack. It certainly offers a different and exciting option to start an evening with a friend.
The defining thing about Pompette is just how lovely it feels. Every team member is knowledgeable and friendly and owner Laura is even more so. The decor is fun but not chaotic and the atmosphere bustling but more than pleasant. The food matches that — indulgent but not sickening and refined but not pretentious, the best way to describe the whole experience is perfectly French. Come expecting warmth, authenticity, and a good time. Leave feeling stuffed, satisfied, and delighted.