There are freshers who adapt well to university life… and there are those who can’t cook. Brave young men and women, Cherwell salutes your ignorance. There is, of course, still time to learn, but who wants to remember anything constructive from fresher’s week? So in the spirit of reckless libertinism, prepare to be helped by Cherwell as we give you five days of culinary freedom, a hole in your pocket and enough eaterie ideas to last until Hilary. And not a pot noodle in sight.
With Oxford’s fresher’s week starting whenever your particular college says it can, dependent on certain (fun-sponge or no) members of the SCR, Cherwell plumps for a nice round Monday. You arrive around midday, when that morning’s full English starts to look like a distant home-cooked memory. With the parents still in town, do the right thing and set a precedent of fleecing them for good food when they visit. Quod is your first port of call; central, pricey but not decadent, well-known, the only downside coming when the open brasserie-style layout allows everyone to see that sweet sorrow of parting which your mother has indulged in with Shakespearean gusto.
Finally let loose, the afternoon’s meeting and greeting drains your social stamina. Time for a pick-me-up before those first night antics. Nothing major – the sandwich shops are just closing, so you head off to Mortons for cut-price baguettes. Hell, it’s your first day, you’re feeling confident; tell the bewildered shop assistant you’re husting for JCR president and get a whole bag of them for free. She’ll be so busy trying to work out what ‘husting’ means that she’s bound to give them to you. If you’re feeling slightly braver, try Taylors deli; when it comes to bagging up, you might even get one of those swish little blue numbers.
You swan back from a club or film night, or take a break from small talk in your kitchen (well it has to get used for something) only to be mercilessly pressurized into sampling the delights of the college’s chosen kebab outlet. One year on, you will mercilessly pressurize incoming freshers with a by now firm sense of allegiance to Hassan’s, Hussain’s, Branos, The Organic Burger Van or that cheap pizza thing down by Christchurch.
Ancient Chinese proverb: he who kebabs shall refuse breakfast. Nevertheless, after the apocalyptic boredom of any and all library tours – save for that little bit in the Bodleian where the lady says “and this is actually where they filmed the hospital wing scenes in Harry Potter”, cue an astonishing fifty-student simultaneous reality-snap – it is time for an early lunch. The pub calls. Feeling something central, The King’s Arms or The Turf Tavern are your big names, while The Eagle and Child offers Inkling visions of Tolkien and Lewis; down in surburbia, The Jericho Tavern might get you thinking about the Oxford live music scene. All offer decent, upmarket pub-food either side of a tenner.
Another evening, another complete lack of health conscience. For the British take-away think Posh Fish in Jericho, and rumours also abound of Carfax Fish and Chips on the high street, although chancing the maze of back-alleys to find it, and whether it’s open if you do, is another matter. Then there is the eternal Noodle Nation on Gloucester Green which has yet to be surpassed for offering enjoyable, if not spectacular, chinese food for a fiver – possibly the best way to toast your new student card. Eat in, or get their rapid take-away for a quick-fix. The Mission’s mexican burritos offer a similar experience with a portable bonus; fighting your way through the layers of pure carbs is a perfect pre-training warm-up for the sportsman on a schedule. For a more idiosyncratic affair, Atomic Burger in Cowley blends outrageous comic book chic with inventive burger options.
Having somehow forgotten about college hall until now, you take tentative steps to breakfast. You recognise a few faces – ah, the success of integration. Cue elaborate stories from all and sundry about foam parties, gap years, sports trials, workloads, homesickness, blah blah freshers blah. End up on the wrong table, cue elaborate stories from reluctant finalists about “touring hard”, internships, 21st parties, theses, blah blah finalists blah. Somewhere in between you might spot some second-years, probably having two breakfasts just to start the year off how they mean to continue.
Now if your college does not offer such a discerning breakfast club, you take a walk to Combibos, Gloucester Green’s other recognised establishment, and get the Eggs Royale in. Wednesday means market day, too, so take a stroll through afterwards, pick up your fruit cheaper than the supermarkets, and enjoy taking something edible back to the kitchen, safe in the knowledge that it doesn’t require heating. Anyone not convinced by the Combibos cult, check out Café Bleroni on Walton Street, offering a choice of gourmet breakfasts for a fiver. For those needing a bigger shot of luxury, The Grand Café does a breakfast almost as indulgent as their cocktails.
Somehow you manage to miss lunch, probably distracted by the chaos of fresher’s fair. Sackful of propaganda in hand, get home and sift out the dross. Extempore craving for a capella? Bin it. Someone flattered your good physique for rowing? Bin it. You were promised your first piece of stash by the poetry society? Bin it. Having spent some valuable time finding out your true personality, prepare to degrade it with a crew date.
There is only ever really one option. In fact, it’s not even an option. Embrace Jamals. This den of iniquity has been allowing students to run amok long enough to know they needn’t serve real food. A seemingly innocuous jar of pennies on the front desk belies the hedonism. Top tip – the set menu is a monstrosity. Other notable dens include At Thai, and the now sadly defunct sausagerie The Big Bang; pity, freshers, not to know the pleasure of “going the whole hog”. Most of these are BYOB for a small additional fee; no different is Café Nour, who have been tactically great in planting themselves next to the Cowley Road’s Tesco, and by serving Egyptian for cheap.
Probably having found your departmental building by now, you suss out the food close to hand. For English, Law and Sociology students, The Alternative Tuck Shop must seem the last outpost of culinary activity, unless that is, they risk swapping their sandwich for sushi at Edamame, Oxford’s best-kept oriental secret – be prepared to study the labyrinthine opening hours carefully. On the other side of town, the Engineers are tempted by The Old Parsonage flashing its Cotswolds charm just across the road, and any History freshers, after overcoming the sheer vanity of having two separate faculty locations, are spoilt for choice by the non-library half sitting plum on George Street, restaurant-central. Jamie’s Italian is a popular choice here, with no pre-bookings leading to regular queues outside, but it has been upstaged recently by the sheer cheekiness of Fire and Stone’s £4 Thursdays – probably the best value pizza in Oxford, and a whole host of wacky “world” flavours to choose from. Answers on a postcard for the nearest department to Cowley, but let’s say you’re pining after second year already – Café Coco near Magdalen roundabout offers a pizza and a cocktail for £10 in the evening, the best way to shake off a day’s working from home.
For all single freshers, what better way to woo that boy/girl you met in Camera than with a romantic bike-ride through Port Meadow. Your destination? Either The Perch or The Trout, two gastropubs on the route which have excellent reputations. That sorted, you feel keen to introduce a little student ethos into paradise by jumping through various states of undress into the river – well, it’s better than cow-tipping.
G and D’s for breakfast, simply because you feel you should at some point. This may well be the G and D’s core marketing strategy – popular duress. It is definitely not to early in the day for ice-cream, and so invariably you pick one flavoured after the latest student drama production, which then makes you want to go and see it, doesn’t it?
Walking past The Randolph, wondering when the parents are next down and exactly how they much have been missing their favourite child, you remember that LawSoc run a termly afternoon tea there. All it takes is the joining fee pittance and one successful ballot and you will be finger-sandwiching it with the best of them. Hurrah. Obviously though, for top food for top dollar, there really is only one place to look. Heading out of the city for the wonderfully-named village of Great Milton, Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons offers double-Michelin-starred cuisine. It doesn’t get better than this, folks.
For a more affordable evening’s sustenance, you head over to a fellow fresher’s kitchen for a big group meal – Oxford loves dinner parties, on both sides of the apron. Firmly in the attending rather than hosting category, you pay a couple of pounds to the fund, and have nothing more to do for your supper than setting the cutlery. Result.
Feeling peckish late at night, you sneak into the kitchen and indulge in a pot n… No! You go straight to bed and sleep off your heathenism.
You will discover how to cook pasta. It’s quite tricky, so you will practise every day for the next three years of your life. Thank god for Formal Hall.