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Oxford’s culinary scene

Nicole Stimson of the Oxford Culinary Society gives us the lowdown on the Oxford dining scene.

As a self-professed ‘foodie’ (and President of Oxford’s very own Culinary Society), I can confidently say that Oxford’s food and drink scene is *chef’s kiss* divine! You’re truly spoilt for choice here – there is something for every budget and palate. I hope that this short guide ‘whets your appetite’ and gives you a ‘flavour’ of what Oxford has to offer. 

Cafés 

For the ‘coffee snobs’ among you, Little Clarendon Street and the surrounding area offer a wonderful selection of quaint indie joints just a stone’s throw from the city centre! A few personal recommendations: Tree Artisan Café, which is also one of my go-to study spots when I want a change of scenery; Opera Café, whose Moroccan Wraps you should try, as you won’t be disappointed; and Gail’s. A cheap alternative is the ever-popular Prêt subscription, which gives you a free ‘trial’ month to enjoy an (almost) endless supply of barista-made drinks. There are two Prêts on Cornmarket Street and  a third in the Westgate shopping centre, and they are perfect for those wanting a quick coffee (or tea, frappé, hot chocolate…) fix on a budget! Another favourite is G&Ds, which serves up an eclectic mix of home-made ice-cream (some of their more interesting flavours include Masala Chai, Green Tea, and Mango Malibu, to name a few) as well as bagels if you fancy something savoury. They also do some great deals for Freshers at the start of Michaelmas! Similarly, Taylor’s is quite popular – like Prêt and G&Ds, there are a few spread throughout the city centre, and if you get there after 2pm you can enjoy a free cookie with any hot drink! 

Restaurants 

The selection of cuisines here in Oxford is as diverse as the city itself. Jericho is a foodie’s treasure trove with some top-notch culinary offerings – I would recommend Pierre Victoire, an ambient French bistro with a reasonable fixed-price menu on Little Clarendon Street; Al Andalus, who claim that they are “Oxford’s only genuine tapas restaurant”, and with a patatas bravas that will transport you straight to sunny San Sebastian, I can’t disagree; and the Giggling Squid, serving up a mix of Thai classics, as well as some quirkier flavour combinations. It would be a crime not to mention the Gloucester Green Market in a guide about food and drink in Oxford – open Wednesday to Saturday, this traditional open-air market features an array of authentic street food from more than 20 countries, as well as plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options (my personal ‘tried and true’ is Mitre Street Food)! 

In Westgate you’ll find your standard chain restaurants, like Nando’s, Itsu, Pho, and Comptoir Libanais. For a meal with a 360° view of Oxford’s dreaming spires, head up to Westgate’s Rooftop Terrace, where you’ll find a great mix of restaurants from the Hamptons-inspired upscale dining (Victor’s) to an all-day-breakfast spot (The Breakfast Club). Whilst crossing Magdalen Bridge into the depths of Cowley might seem akin to a plane journey through the Bermuda Triangle for some Oxford students, I would suggest that the ‘trek’ is well worth making, not least because of the sheer diversity of Cowley’s food scene, but even more enticingly because a meal there is (generally) cheaper than in the city centre. The ‘crème de la crème’ of the Cowley culinary scene is undoubtedly Zaatar Bake. Top tip: this is a spot best enjoyed in a big group – order a mix of menu items (don’t forget to give the maqluba a try – it’s brought to the table in a pot, flipped over, and ‘drummed’ out onto your plate), the portions are massive, and it works out to be great value. Newcomer to the Cowley restaurant scene, Tribe, has firmly established itself as a real contender amongst the recognised heavy-weights. Rohit, the owner, has curated a show-stopping menu highlighting the stars of South Indian cuisine, such as the Lollipop Chicken, made all the more special by the complimentary inter-course tasters. 

Pubs and Bars 

Oxford has a strong pub tradition, so you will be spoilt for choice here. The historic Turf Tavern, although perhaps not the most student-budget-friendly, is certainly one to tick off the bucket-list; you’ll be able to brag that you’ve had a pint in the same place as some of Oxford’s most well-known alumni, including C.S Lewis, Margret Thatcher, and Stephen Hawking, to name a few. The White Rabbit is popular and is renowned for serving up some of the best artisan pizza this side of Naples! The Varsity Club, located over four levels, including a Rooftop Terrace with stunning skyline views on the High Street, provides great cocktails. 

The Oxford Culinary Society 

The Oxford Culinary Society is on a mission to unite foodies across Oxford! We’ve got lots of exciting events lined up for Michaelmas 2022 from cooking classes to tastings and the return of our much-loved “meet and eat” social. Give us a follow over on our Instagram and Facebook to keep up to date and stay tuned for the release of our term card. 

I hope that this whistle-stop tour of Oxford’s Food and Drink scene has been helpful! You’re very welcome to shoot me an email ([email protected]) if you have any questions. 

Image Credit: Victor Freitas via Pexels.

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