Ferret Food - Carne

by Julian Lynch

Julian Lynch and Ferret Food return triumphant!
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It's been a long time since the last Ferret Food, and in the event anyone's been waiting for a new one I apologise. I can only put it down to having too much free time - reviews tend to get written when I'm avoiding other things (right now I'm avoiding work).

But, frankly, that situation has now changed, and in any case Carne is such an interesting place that it would be a terrible crime not to talk about it having been there. A Brazilian BBQ' that opened up on the Cowley Road earlier this year, Carne calls out to the passer by with its bright dcor and cheesy fake-torches stuck in the window. Its name and the endless puns that go with it helps too. I went along with a friend (our mighty editor in fact), and going with a friend is probably the best way to do a place like Carne. Vegetarians need not apply, but for the rest, here's the address:

Carne Brazilian Barbecue & Bar
212-214 Cowley Road
Oxford
OX4 1UH

What we ate:

Hmm... I was pretty drunk when I turned up at Carne, and I had another drink while I was there. Also, the system rather mitigates against remembering what you had, but here's my best guess:
2 x cocktails of some sort (we got the waiter's recommendation, so it was certainly the restaurant's most profitable drink)
The UNLIMITED BUFFET (!), which I think included:
Some pasta salad
Some beef thing from the buffet
Some salad of the regular sort
Some chicken hearts (yes, that's exactly what it sounds like)
Several sausages
Bacon turkey wrap
Baby beef
Pork loin
Some other sort of beef the exact style of which now escapes me

If you want an idea of all this, I suggest taking a look at the online menu, which helpfully includes photos of the kind of food that gets sent in your direction. It can be found here: http://www.carneoxford.co.uk/. Rather bizarrely all the food is pictured in front of fruit, but don't get the impression you'll be eating much of that (or indeed anything healthy) at Carne.

The total price was around 45 pounds.

And here's the mark scheme...

Food: 30
Ambience: 30
Service: 20
Price: 10
Drinks: 10

And also, since I haven't repeated it for a while, here's a quick way to interpret the final mark:

0-20: Don't go here, or you will likely die.
21-40: Utter shit hole. Don't give them your money - if they go out of business, someone competent might buy the premises and do something nice with it.
41-60: Fine, if you like the type of food they serve, or if you're not fussed about drinks, ambience, or something similar.
61-80: Good stuff - highly recommended, although there's probably some small things wrong with it.
81-100: Excellent! Eat in places like this every time if you can afford it.

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As always, we begin with food. If you like your MEAT spelled with capital letters, you're going to have a damn good time at Carne. The stuff that comes off the help-yourself buffet is great, especially the bucket of succulent pieces of beef which literally melt in the mouth. I'm actually still salivating at the thought. The side salad options are perhaps a little uninspired, but that's forgivable given then emphasis of carne on the meat side of things.

The main event though is not the help-yourself buffet. Carne operates a traffic light system - on each table you get a little wooden thingy, red on one side and green on the other. Set it to green and a man with an enormous skewer (I'm starting to notice a phallic theme here, yet I refuse to apologise for it) appears from time to time with hot, recently barbequed meat products on it, of which you can take as many as you can fit inside you. The skewer-food was mostly good, although the sausages were a bit pedestrian. The greatest surprise came from the chicken hearts - a Brazilian speciality apparently, and something I've not tried before. They're wonderful things - perfectly bite sized, and packed with flavour: more meaty than chicken usually is, with a hint of liver, but light enough so as not to be overpowering. I find myself craving more. More important than the quality of the food though is that it's simply FUN to eat at Carne - it's the kind of place you can just hang about it, pecking at interesting, exciting food at your own pace.

So, food I'm giving 25/30. The five points that are lost are going for the more uninspiring portions of the self-service buffet.

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Ambience...

Well, in some ways it's hard to judge. Going into a place on a Monday night isn't going to give you a fair appreciation of what goes on. I've often seen Carne full to bursting (it has a bar in it too, which probably helps), but when I was there it was really quiet.

The dcor is nice though. Funky, slightly 1970s, bright, very clean. It would have been nice if the meat had been cooked somewhere I could have seen it: I think that would have been fun. It's a minor gripe though. The only sad thing is that Carne isn't in a particularly nice part of Oxford. Cowley Road is a famously... bohemian place. It's got its attractions (I lived off it for two years), but it gets a little grotty as you go along it. Carne borders on being on the unfashionable end.

If it looks like I'm picking on tiny things... I am. The problem is that although there's nothing wrong with Carne's atmosphere, there was nothing startlingly right about it either. I feel compelled to give a pretty good mark, but I find it hard to be enthusiastic about doing so.

Ambience, 22/30.

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Service then. Nothing wrong with it - meat came relatively frequently, and plates weren't empty for long. The traffic light system is good - it allows you to get more food when you want it, and drop the food for a while when you don't. Also, the staff managed to make this system adequately clear to me, even though I was more than a little tipsy. Congratulations to them for that...

All that said though, the staff weren't especially friendly or lively. Polite and competent, but nothing special.

Service, 13/20

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Whether Carne is a good price depends, as so often with buffets, on how much you feel like eating. I felt like I didn't quite get enough food for the money I laid out, but then I might very well have stayed longer and eaten more in other circumstances. Meat is also far from cheap, and I do acknowledge that when judging the fairness of Carne's prices.

Ultimately, you can at least be sure that you will leave Carne full, regardless of what you've paid. I'm going to give 7/10.

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In drinks I have shamefully failed you gentle readers, because I didn't bother to look at the menu properly. I got the impression though that there was an impressive list of beers and cocktails, and a sufficiency of wine and soft drinks. Nothing terribly up-market, but Carne isn't that kind of place, and it would be weird to combine barbequed meat with expensive wine.

Oh, and they have bottomless soft drinks. For this I'm awarding extra marks. All soft drinks should be bottomless.

So drinks, 8/10.

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That gives Carne an impressive overall mark of:

75%

Slightly friendlier staff and a nicer location would have led to Carne getting an unreserved recommendation. Even without those it's a fine establishment, which none but the strictest vegetarian will leave unsatisfied. Fill yourself with meat gentle readers! Carne deserves the reward of your patronage!
Themes: Ferret Food
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