Hidden away at the bottom of Oxford High Street is The Rose, a tea room that offers everything from breakfast sourdoughs to lunch and hot salads on top of the traditional afternoon tea fair. Everything here is made in-house and a focus on local suppliers and produce is at the heart of all the things on offer.
We got a great chance to sample a variety of the things on offer here at The Rose and sat down with the owner and manager as we ate to chat about the food itself but also the story of his ownership. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, the new owner was looking for a site on the High Street to open a cafe/restaurant. After a day of unsuccessful hunting that saw him put off by the sky-high rents of what is now Rick’s Diner, he popped into The Rose for a coffee. By the time he left had struck an informal deal with the owner to take over the site. Many years of negotiations between landlords St Edmund Hall and the pair followed but by the end of lockdown, the site was ready for opening.
The plan when taking over was to build on what the old owners had done so well, making changes here and there to really enhance the business. Now, there is breakfast on offer from 8 and hot food until 6 with vegan choices across every aspect of the menu. All of those breakfasts are served on the same sourdough toast and we tried both the avocado, salmon, and poached egg toast and the portobello mushroom option. The eggs are locally sourced from Mayfield in Witney and clearly of high quality, pairing with the superb salmon for a great dish. The mushrooms are good too but I found myself wanting more garlic and thyme.
Mains vary with everything from burgers (both beef and vegan), to the warm lentil and beetroot salad we had. The latter came with goat’s cheese and that was certainly the star of the show. The lentils were cooked well, not overboiled, and the beetroot paired with red onion for a warming lunch option. Ciabattas are also available with various fillings such as grilled chicken and goat cheese.
Then onto the teas and sweet treats. There is a huge variety of teas on offer, as you would expect, and my dragon was punchy and strong. There are much tamer choices too and you are of course free to let them all brew for as long or as little time as you would like.
All the cakes are made in-house every night, chilled overnight, and then iced and finished in the morning. The same is true of the pastries and the scones. The attention to detail with all of these is remarkable — it took a huge amount of experimentation with various flours but now the use of organic white flour means that they maintain their form to perfection. On an average weekend, they get through about 150 a day here and it is easy to see why. The cakes are all made with almond flour, again the result of much experimentation. We tried both the chocolate and almond and the carrot and walnut. The first’s icing was intense and too sweet for me, with the cake itself too dry. The carrot though was much better and stole the show between the two for sure.
The base afternoon tea costs £32 for two and comes with finger sandwiches, two slices of cake, and two scones as well as a tea or coffee. The scones are served with a homemade clotted cream that is notably more spreadable than the normal store-bought options. I am never a fan of finger sandwiches but the best here was definitely the smoked salmon — the egg mayonnaise and cress were lacking the flavour I was looking for.
Overall, The Rose is a lovely place to treat yourself at any time of day. The focus on local suppliers is mightily impressive, as is the sheer amount of cooking and baking that goes on in the kitchen downstairs. Although it is on the pricey side, the room is a fantastically warm and cosy place to sit and chat the hours away. This contrasts with The Grand Café in every way: understated, homemade food, and a relaxing environment.