Indian cuisine seems quite the enigma in Oxford. Of course, there are some fan favourites, with Chutneys on St Michael’s Street being particularly popular. However, perhaps the most renown of Indian restaurants, Jamal’s, is mostly known for its willingness to host crew dates, not its actual food. Away from the Italian juggernauts on George Street or the plethora of French food on Little Clarendon Street, perhaps the sparseness of Indian food is, in fact, advantageous for the restaurants that do already exist. Less competition to tackle? However, it would be a real shame if one’s lasting impression of Oxford’s Indian food scene is violently thrown pennies and overly loud cries of ‘Shoe!’
This all brings me to Jee Saheb, a secluded, casual spot offering a variety of traditional and modern dishes from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is tucked away on seemingly unexplored North Parade Avenue, a street that feels more Notting Hill than Central Oxford. As a result, despite its bare interior, Jee Saheb immediately feels cosy, a secret enclave away from the stress of essays, tutorials and Cornmarket. The staff are overwhelmingly friendly too: dressed uniformly, they seamlessly move throughout the restaurant, always directing smiles at their customers. There is a real sense of pride inside Jee Saheb, which makes it all the more surprising that the dishes took such a while to come out.
No one around me seems to care, however. Old family reunions, birthdays, friends just grabbing a quick bite, you name it – everyone is enjoying themselves, whilst indulging in some homely, delicious food. And when the food does finally come out, it truly is a joy.
A hearty Noorjahani Lamb for mains, its slightly sweet sauce balanced out by tender meat. The Chotpoti makes an impression too, a dish the size of your fist entirely packed with heat and flavour. A classical roadside dish originating from Bengal, it is typically consumed on Pahela Baishakh, a national holiday celebrating the first day of the Bengali calendar. Jee Saheb certainly brings this festive sensation to Oxford. Nevertheless, it may be the Naan that is most impressive. A faithful companion to any Indian meal, if done wrong it can sometimes be stale and bloat-inducing. Not at Jee Saheb. Light and utterly moreish, my friend and I happily sweep up the remnants of our mains with it, all the meat gone.
Here at Jee Saheb there are no frills, no gimmicks, no foolish experiments. This is classic, fantastic southern Asian cooking. Could you want much more?