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Eating and Drinking

a group of people standing in front of a store

Eating and Drinking

Oxford has a truly wonderful assortment of independent cafes, restaurants, and food trucks. From tucked-away cheap eats to classy blow-out locations, no one should be leaving the city of dreaming spires hungry.

In this post, I’ll take you through my ideal day of eating before breaking down your options for all manner of eateries around the city.

One of the few forces powerful enough to remove a student from the promise of breakfast at Browns. Featured in William Boyd’s novel, Restless, Brown’s offers seasonal dishes and classic British dishes. Situated on Woodstock Road, just north of the city centre, Brown’s offers an ideal vantage point to watch over the comings and goings of tourists and students as they flock around St. Gilles. A cappuccino paired with avocado on toast is a fine start to the day.

Having visited the sites of the city and worked up an appetite, there are few finer places to have lunch than Manos, a charming Greek café on Walton Street. A casual and small interior gives way to a charming garden which is the perfect place to enjoy a spanakopita.

For a mid-afternoon snack, why not sample one of the many ice cream places of Oxford? Oxford is home to a local ice cream chain called G&D’s. The original G&D’s stands for George & Davis and can be found on Little Clarendon Street, but they also have locations on St. Aldates and Cowley Road.

For an aperitif before dinner, I can heartily recommend the Oxford Wine Café on Little Clarendon Street. I have often remarked that this understated bar might be the epitome of class. With a huge selection of wines and an incredibly knowledgeable staff, you are certain to find something there to suit your palate.

For dinner, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit Chiang Mai Kitchen on the High Street. This tucked away Thai restaurant is the perfect place to round off a culinary tour of Oxford. I recommend their pineapple fried rice. Served in a real pineapple!

A Casual Lunch

While there are plenty of places to grab a quick bit in central Oxford, the real stars of a casual lunch are found slightly out of the city centre on Cowley Road. Check out Aleppo Falafel for an authentic Syrian falafel, or Kazbar for endlessly stylish middle eastern tapas, or Spiced Roots for infamously delicious Caribbean cuisine.

And of course, if you want a tried and tested chain where it’s hard to go wrong, the top floor of Westgate shopping centre offers not only spectacular views of Oxford’s dreaming spires but many popular chains including:

  • Nandos
  • Pho
  • Comptois Libanais
  • Pizza Pilgrims
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Benito’s Real Mexican
  • Le Pain Quotidien

If you’re after a decadent treat, then try out My Cookie Dough on the first floor!

Fast Food

Oxford has all the fast-food establishments you would expect of a modern city. MacDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Greggs, Pret, and Leon all have branches on Cornmarket Street. There is even a Wendy’s across the road on Magdalen Street! But while the occasional visit to a chain restaurant is a delightful creature comfort, these miss the point of Oxford fast food. Though absent during the day, once the evening rolls around, so too do Oxford’s food trucks roll on to the scene. Although opinion is bitterly divided on which is the superior food truck (my vote goes to Hassan’s on Broad Street), most students will have found themselves at one or the other after an evening out. The heroes who run these trucks offer chips, burgers (including veggie options), fried chicken, and all manner of sodas, catering for those occasions when you need a calorie hit and you need it fast. Trucks can be found on Broad Street, St. Aldates, High Street, St. Giles and Banbury Road.

Fine Dining

If you’re feeling flush, Oxford has no shortage of posh restaurants. These range from the understated Branca in the heart of Jericho to the two-michellin star Le Manoir which is located just outside of the city.

If you’re looking for somewhere nice to celebrate a birthday, in the summertime you’d be hard-pressed to beat the riverside Folly restaurant or the Coconut Tree on St. Clements, where I once celebrated my own birthday with incredible Sri Lankan tapas!

Some of the better known up-market restaurants include:

  • The Ivy on the Highstreet – another branch of the famous central London eateries
  • Quod – The stylish and classy restaurant of the Old Bank hotel
  • Pierre Victoire – a French brasserie on Little Clarendon Street
  • Gees – Mediterranean cuisine on Banbury Road
  • Hubble and Home – British classics on Walton Street

Pub Lunches

Unsurprisingly for a student town, Oxford has no shortage of pubs. Such a staple of the city, in 2019 the Museum of Oxford had a special exhibit dedicated to demonstrating the importance of Oxford’s bars to the city.

If you feel up to the trek, a stroll through Port Meadow to the nearby village of Godstow will bring you to the Trout, an up-market gastropub on the banks of the Isis which features heavily in Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvauge. In the summertime, it is extremely pleasant to sit in the outside garden and listen to the babbling of the river. In the winter, the nooks of the pub provide a cosy solace.

If the Trout was your lunch, why not stroll back to Oxford via on the other side of the river? Passing the ruined Godstow Abbey and fields full of rabbits, you will eventually reach another fish-themed pub: The Perch. Technically located in a fairy-tale hamlet called Binsey, the Perch is accessible via an illuminated Holloway. In the summer, their garden

If you are visiting Oxford in the summer, then be sure to visit Medley before returning to the city. A summer pop-up, Medley features local beers, local wine, and seasonal cocktails using fruit from the nearby Medley Farm.

For more city–central pubs, try the Turf Tavern. Tucked down a charming side street that feels almost like a hidden passage, the bar proclaims itself to be an “education in intoxication” and is famous for being the spot in which former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke set the world record for the fastest yard of ale. A pint of Old Rosie cider and their remarkably spicy nachos were my celebratory lunch after turning in my MSc dissertation.

There are two pubs named The Gardener’s Arms in Oxford, but by all accounts, the Gardener’s Arms on Plantation Road is the superior version. They offer a fully vegetarian menu, but so delicious that even the most ardent carnivore would find little grounds for complaint. I can heartily recommend their vegan Philly Cheesesteak! (And they do an excellent pub quiz to boot!)

Quirky Cafes

Oxonians are picky when it comes to their coffee; the town’s only Starbucks permanently shut its doors in 2021. Nevertheless, coffee is the fuel that keeps Oxford’s academic labour ticking along.

Opposite Westgate shopping centre is the colourfully yellow Art Café. On warm days, bask in the sunshine and the ambience of their large outdoor seating area which injects a touch of European café culture to the city. If you venture inside the café, you will be treated to a collection of artworks along the walls. All the pieces are from local artists, and all are for sale. Don’t worry about being crowded out by students studying, laptops are strictly forbidden between 11:30 and 14:00, so you don’t have to worry about them being crowded out for lunch! In addition to fabulous coffees, The Art Café makes some truly delicious paninis.

Heading east down the High Street, it won’t be long until you come to Jericho Coffee Traders. JCT began life as a mobile coffee van which was so popular it became a fully-fledged café! Stop by for a locally roasted coffee, tasty pastries, and excellent banter with the staff.

Across the road in the covered market is another staple of Oxford’s independent coffee scene: Colombia Coffee Roasters. Another local roastery, customers can watch in awe at the wide variety of brewing methods available to them, including a kettle which can play snake! The café also offers an excellent array of hot chocolates.

Around the corner on Turl Street, we continue to mourn the closure of the delightful Turl Street Kitchen, but Missing Bean is present with its quirky colours and delicious snacks to pick up the slack!

Do It Yourself

Are you a foodie who loves to cook? Oxford has you covered! Appropriately, the first place to visit for fine groceries is the Covered Market. Tucked between the High Street and Market Street, the Covered Market includes fresh groceries from Bonners, cheeses galore from the Oxford Cheese Company, and the freshest meats from M Feller & Daughter Butchers.

For locally sourced produce and wonderful deals on avocados (5 for £2.50, anyone?) check out Gloucester Green Market, open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. In addition to the street food, produce stalls sell a variety of fresh local goods.

To accompany your meal, you can find a perfectly paired wine from the Oxford Wine Company, a local wine merchant with branches on Botley Road and Turl Street.

  • Adam Johnson, St. Catherine’s College Alumnus