“Why did I agree to do this?”, I thought to myself when the first drops of rain splattered on my glasses. It was a 30 minute walk up to St. Hugh’s, and my feet were sore, it was hailing and I was freezing. Not a great start.
My friend had told me that there was a café in the new China Centre that was opened by Prince William, and since I was curious about both café and library, I didn’t think twice about accepting. However, on that Tuesday evening with my coat becoming more and more saturated, and my stomach being cold and empty, I was worried that in this barren area of North Oxford I was not going to find my friend and then starve whilst trying to find St. Margaret’s Road.
You can imagine the delight I felt when we got to the China Centre and I saw warm bowls of food being eaten. I would say “steaming”, but that was probably because my glasses misted over when we entered. Not only that, but there was more than one item of food was on offer. The selection was surprisingly broad, ranging from sandwiches to sushi to rice to noodles to soup. There was also a separate condiments table as well, and Blenheim Palace bottled water stood alongside various jugs of juices and St. Hugh’s bottled water. Chinese tea featured on their menu board, which was pleasing to see, but then again it would have been criminal for it not to have been there.
The room was large and airy enough to not be smothered by the smell of food, and the environment was clean, if a bit non-descript. I mean, it looked like a perfectly decent library café rather than living up to its pretentious name, the “Wordsworth Tea Room” which, admittedly, is not actually named after William Wordsworth, but rather, the founder of St Hugh’s.
There is no character to the café, but that suits its function; it’s not meant to be a very impressive dining room, it’s a more informal café for hungover students. The prices of the hot dishes aren’t bad either: the Kung Pao chicken that we both ordered was £4.35 each. Considering the same dish costs £6.95 to eat at the hellhole that is Noodle Nation, this is reasonable, and the helpings are generous enough.
Neither are authentically Chinese, but for library café food at least, that’s pretty standard. Although the rice was too wet, the tender chicken chunks were juicy and coated in a good rendition of the Westernized Kung Pao sauce: sticky, sweet and sour. For those at St. Hugh’s, it offers a nice change to normal hall lunch without having to go far, especially because they seem to be stuck in the middle of nowhere. And when eaten as a mid-afternoon snack before a normal dinner in hall, the two added together still cost less than formal hall at St Hughs.
Other items do not differ much in price from their high street counterparts. But if you are keen for some Westernized Chinese food the café is open from 9am to 4pm, and can be accessed from Canterbury Road. Since my college doesn’t allow us to eat in the library it was a fun novelty to be able to eat in here. The food was okay but that trek up Banbury Road is hard and the food wasn’t really worth it.