Savannah Hawley on a café which proves healthy eating doesn’t have to be a fad

As trends for health food and ethical products are on the rise, so too is the demand for businesses that adhere to these standards. The health food scene in Oxford has stayed relatively small but strong, with a good number of cafés and restaurants around the city that serve organic or well-balanced meals.

One newcomer to this scene is Nourish, an eatery offering dishes that meet almost any dietary restriction. While I came for the food, the storefront was definitely enticing. It seems to be a one-stop-shop for most of the essentials in terms of dry goods and household products.

Leandra Mills, the manager of Nourish, spoke to me about the goals of the business:
‘We’re a place for everyone to find out about sustainability and taking better care of yourself. We have sustainable alternatives because we’re really passionate about all of these big environmental movements going on, but often people forget about themselves … so we want to help people be a bit more sustainable within themselves so that they have the energy and the ability to go out and fight the big fight,’ she said.

The store sells most things you need in terms of sustainable products — everything from beeswax wrap to vegan purses — and often offers sales. Also featured upon walking in is a wall of vegan and gluten-free food products; while it’s not necessarily a wide selection, all of their foodstuffs are staples that would meet most of your grocery list requirements.

Mark Johnson, co-owner, told me he was proud of the products at Nourish, and has searched hard to find suppliers that met their standards:
‘I can honestly say most of the people that we go to get it. Not only are they good people to work with, they have educated us as well … There are two processes to our vetting: how good the product is and what’s the ethics. That’s important to us, we don’t want to work with anybody that is just in it for the money’.

In keeping with this mission, all of the food offerings at Nourish are gluten-free and plant-based. Johnson told me a necessity for them was that people with dietary restrictions had a plethora of interesting choices at Nourish, instead of just substitutions. Additionally, the business will be running workshops and, if all goes well, regular courses on sustainable nutrition.

The retail section of Nourish, while exciting in its own right, is only a precursor to the intriguing food offerings. The café serves a wide selection of coffees and teas, and you needn’t worry about the cost of milk substitutes in their latte — Nourish uses plant-based milk as their default. Although I don’t drink caffeine, I had a coffee-loving friend come with me to judge their standard latte, and she was thoroughly satisfied. The drink selections aren’t too pricey, which is nice for a student on a budget.
I was a bit wary of the food at Nourish before I first tried it. Although I had already fallen in love with the storefront and mission, the food selection is small and rotates frequently — which, from experience, I know to mean the either that the offerings are refined and delicious, or not a real focus of the business at all.

This initial precaution was proven wildly incorrect after my first bite. I ordered the daily special: sweet potato, tofu, and fine beans with rice in a satay sauce. The combination of ingredients with varying textures and flavor profiles made me feel comforted with every bite I took. The star of the dish was undeniably the smooth and savoury peanut sauce — which added even more layers to the dish – if available, I wouldn’t have hesitated to buy a bottle. I finished simultaneously feeling satisfied, and wanting another serving just so I could keep the rich flavours in my mouth.

I later discovered that Amy, chef and partner at Nourish, also runs Xi’an in Summertown.
‘[Amy] just puts a lot of love in the food … My favourite meal has to be Amy’s Pad Thai. I’ve been to Thailand and I still prefer her Pad Thai to what I ate there. We also have Onigiri, which is like big sushi. Again, I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan and it is very great here. Mills said, when asked about her favourite dishes at the restaurant. “My favourite pastry would have to be the raspberry brownie’.

Ever one to take good advice, I ordered the raspberry white chocolate brownie that she recommended. It was chewy and rich, without being overly sweet – if not told, most would never know it was vegan and gluten-free. However, be aware: these brownies are seriously addictive. Nourish has a constant selection of desserts that includes doughnuts and cookies in addition to the brownies. Every single one is made in keeping with the plant-based and gluten-free standards of the shop.

If the great taste of the food isn’t enough, all of it, like the drink selection, is affordable — I managed to get both the main dish and a dessert for under £10. Cost does seem to be something the Nourish team kept in mind when building their business. In the mornings, coffee is only £1. Thursdays are designated ‘Thirsty Thursday,’ when those who bring in a reusable cup get a free refill from 8-11 am. The staff, too, were welcoming each time I visited, and are always willing to help answer questions about their specific products and sustainability in general.

The only possible drawback of Nourish is that they don’t have wifi. As a student, it would be nice to sit in their relaxing ‘green room’ seating area and work whilst enjoying a tea or my meal. However, the fact that this is the only weak point I could find speaks of the success the young business has already been able to achieve.

Nourish is a testament to the fact that a great meal and atmosphere don’t have to sacrifice affordability or ethics. If you’re looking for a lunch that satisfies your wallet and conscience along with your tastebuds, I strongly recommend visiting this growing business at their location on Little Clarendon in Jericho.