My old friend Sebastian, who is an art collector, invited me for a birthday treat to the Cherwell Boathouse in Oxford. He first wanted to view the Henry and Rose Pearlman collection at the Ashmolean: Cezanne and the Modern. Pearlman, an American tycoon, made his money in refrigeration. After acquiring a painting by Chaim Soutine, who painted in Paris in the twenties, he began to amass a collection comprising the greats like Cezanne, Manet, Courbet, Van Gogh, Degas, Toulouse Lautrec Degas and Modigliani.
The exhibition was divided into 3 rooms: the first was devoted to the water colours of Cezanne. Although no art connoisseur, they seemed rather insipid to me; the second room has the heavyweight Masters. I was struck by the Stagecoach at Arles by Van Gogh. You tend to think of Van Gogh as wild brush strokes reflecting his troubled soul, but this had more simplicity and you could really feel the intense light and heat. The third room featured the fertile arty world of Paris in the twenties, showcasing an effete portrait of Jean Cocteau by Modigiliani, which the French colossus of beaux arts detested, and Jacques Lipchitz and the Soutrines. I did think that the exhibition was poorly curated. I would like to know more of the Pearlman narrative: how he and wife Rose formed such a collection; how much they would have paid (Sebastian said he could have bought a Degas for $6000), who advised them, and where they bought them.
Afterwards we went to the Cherwell Boathouse. I was immediately struck by its views of the Cherwell. It must be a lovely spot in summer. Sometimes a fine view can mean a poor meal, but not here. I ordered scrumptious scallops. The fashionable approach to scallops is to accompany them with black pudding as I had the same treatment at Aquas. Some chef must have this as his signature dish. This said, I enjoyed the dish as the concoction of flavours worked. For mains I was going for duck but, eating this quite often at home as its Ollie’s fave, I went for rump of lamb which left a greasy aftertaste on the palette . Finally I had a almond tart with mascarpone ice cream, which was delicious. Sebastian ordered cream of sweet corn soup and irish stew and the chocolate pot and found it satisfactory. I was not paying, but the restaurant has a set lunch menu and a formula whereby most of the a la carte dishes could be eaten as set.
The weather was warming up and we spent a few moments watching the river with the odd punt coming down it. Oxford is readily accessible by train and bus and it’s a fab day out. I should add that the Ashmolean, now renovated, has a restaurant which has good reviews and the Quod is a popular eaterie too. However, if you wanted a total Oxford experience, I could not fault the Cherwell Boathouse for its location, cuisine and service.