Cakes, brownies, cruffins, pastries, croissants, Barefoot Bakery has just about everything that you could ask for from a café. What makes it even more special though is the ethos behind it and every single dish on offer. Fraser and his wife Emily started out as a market stall just under ten years ago and, ever since, locally sourced and high-quality ingredients have seen them become Oxford’s go-to place for cakes and bakes.
These days, Barefoot is spread across several locations. The main café is located on Walton Street and it is here that you’ll find all of the large slices of cakes and the widest selection of other options. Just a short walk away on North Parade, there’s the first bakery location where all the cakes are still made, as well as a smaller café with mini-cakes and brownies.
I sat down with Emily and Fraser in the Walton Street location to chat all things cakes and bakes, as well as, of course, sampling a selection of items. The pair explained first just how important locally sourced and high-quality ingredients are to them: with everything from eggs to butter, the business goes to great lengths to find the best products they can, just like Emily used to when she was baking for family and friends at home.
This focus on ingredients means that each and every cake tastes brilliantly strongly of its bases. We first saw this in the pumpkin and ginger slice: here, the ginger and vegetable flavours are complimented superbly by the cream cheese icing. That icing is a constant across all the other cakes too and really comes into its own when balancing sweeter options like the courgette and lime. So often, the sweetness of frosting is overpowering but at Barefoot the cake is given room to shine and is all the better for it.
The cakes on offer change with the seasons and by the day but an even wider selection can be found in ‘mini cake’ form on North Parade. These are great if you aren’t fancying a whole slice to yourself but are still in the mood for an indulgent treat. Perhaps the most unique thing about Barefoot is the high proportion of vegetable-based bakes. Emily described to me just how lengthy the testing progress can be with each and every cake tried and tested to perfection over the course of weeks and sometimes months before it reaches customers.
Even more indulgent are the cruffins. I’ve never seen these anywhere else but Emily makes the point that it is very hard to go wrong with croissant pastry, whatever form it’s in. Each one is more than generously filled with all manner of options from banoffee to chocolate ganache. Those were the two that I tried and although I’d recommend both, I do so with two provisos: prepare for a mess and maybe skip lunch first! These are a meal into of themselves and leave crumbs wherever they go…. The chocolate ganache followed on the theme of being rich rather than sweet and the banana dominated the banoffee.
Brownies are most popular of all and, of course, are on offer in all manner of flavours. Plain and simple chocolate fudge was far from plain or simple and the centre managed to strike that perfect balance of being soft but still fudgy. I didn’t get a chance to try it but peanut butter stood out as an appealing alternative too.
Perhaps more than anything else, that pre-discussed focus on provenance, vegetable-based choices, and the fact that everything is made in house, leaves the bakery scope to provide more options for different dietary options than you will see almost anywhere else. Sticky-toffee apple cake is a gluten-free favourite but there are countless others too with vegan and dairy-free options across the board.
In terms of price-point, Barefoot makes no bones about the fact that their cakes aren’t cheap. That isn’t the point and in spite of recent inflation and energy bills, they have only raised their prices twice in their history. What you get is more than reasonably priced and worth what you pay. We still aren’t talking anything over £5.
As well as the cafés, Barefoot Bakery is renowned for its wholesale business. You can find everything from vegan almond croissants to brownies across the city and some, such as Peloton Espresso on Cowley Road, have even created special days to recognise their arrival. ‘Doughnut Thursday’ here was the first place I ever tried a Barefoot item and for a long time, I wasn’t even aware that they had a physical site! This has become a larger and larger aspect of the business and the bakery now hires multiple drivers alongside Fraser himself to deliver by bicycle and van.
Whole cakes can be made to order too and this is available both online and in person with all manner of customisation options. A friend of mine recently did this and there is something that strikes me as extremely rewarding about going in, sampling a few options, and landing on the one you want. Aside from anything else, it’s a great excuse to eat cake (if you need one that is).
Barefoot hits the nail on the head in so many ways and speaks to me as yet another example of the values and care required to succeed in today’s market. Amid spiralling inflation across the board, reduced consumer spending, and the struggles of Brexit, the high street is seeing a boom in businesses focussed on ethically sourced and high-quality products. Barefoot falls firmly into that category and its continued success is richly deserved.