There is no shortage of falafel in Oxford. Everywhere from kebab vans to Pret a Manger will happily give you their take on the Middle Eastern staple. What Chickpea serve though is different — authentic, cared for, and well thought out, owner Will is determined to do things the right way. That approach might start with the falafel but it is central to every aspect of the menu here at Oxford’s newest opening.
Will knows the Oxford food scene better than almost anyone. He runs the extremely successful Alpha bar, Vaults and Gardens cafe and Will’s Deli as well as preparing to open Salsas on the High Street. He manages to carve out a new niche, a new identity, and attract new customers with each of these different outlets. The one unifying factor is that they are all always packed. Open for just five days, the same is true here at Chickpea. Just after midday, the queue was already building and by the time we left, it was out the door. This owner is the ultimate foodie who knows how to make a success of the business. It seems to me though that his secrets are simple — care and authenticity.
This time around he has been inspired by his travels to the Middle East. In conversation (listen to the podcast below), he talks passionately about the sustainability of the chickpea and its unique qualities as a foodstuff. From its flexibility to its flavour, he has all bases covered and every way that he prepares it here, whether that be in the tagine or falafel, is thought through with ultimate authenticity and flavour in mind. From soaking times to fresh frying style, he knows it all inside out.
Will himself isn’t vegetarian but everything here is. That is what makes it different and with diets constantly changing and evolving in that direction, this site is poised to capitalise on the young, eco-conscious market.
On offer here are bowls — playing into the increasingly popular lunchtime option that is sweeping across the country. Inspired by similar street food he has found in London and Bristol, Chickpea offers fully customisable pitta bowls, salad bowls, hot stuff, and more. The items on the salad bar are ever-changing alongside the tagine and hot options and as the weeks and months pass the menu will adapt and adjust to the most popular and in-season items.
In terms of standouts for me, the tagine stole the show. The flavours were stunning and the aubergine brings the fibre with flavour. From the salad bar, the falafel are notably light and the tabbouleh is properly seasoned to ensure that it isn’t just the boring, easy accompaniment that many outlets make it.
The sauces also bring that unique authenticity squarely into the centre view. From the standard options (here made in-house) of hummus and guacamole, to the specialist lemon curds and chilli chutneys, every single one has a story and getting a taste of as many as possible in your bowl is highly recommended!
Coffee and sweet treats are of course on offer too. Make no mistake, there’s a story there as well. The beans for the coffee are sourced from a sustainable farm in Colombia that Will and his wife have visited and it is their continued business that gives the company the confidence to continue their imports to the UK. All cakes are sourced locally and the chocolate banana bread was good. If you have a gluten-free friend though, bring them especially for the orange polenta cake. It is beautifully moist in a way that so many gluten-free options neglect.
Better than all of this is the price point. Bowls start at £5.50 and the most you can pay for any single item is £7.50 (‘The Works’ is essentially unlimited additions and is £11). Cakes are all super cheap and the coffee is no different. Americanos are less than £2.50 and a matcha is even more striking at £2.80. (The matcha is, of course, a ceremonial grade and I’m told even rivalled the one from my last review at Maya’s ). Will is clear, where the margins are good, he sees no reason to overcharge the customer.
As far as slow food goes, this restaurant owner basically has the Oxford scene covered. Yet again he has scored a home run with Chickpea. The authenticity of flavours combines with his care and dedication to make it a no-brainer of a lunch and dinner option in central Oxford. Great value, good vibes, and stunning flavours. Quite frankly, what more could you want?
Image: Oliver Hall