Kirsch Choux Bun, griottines and hot chocolate sauce

Oxford foodie guide: where locals eat and drink

Explore Oxford's French wine bars, cheese shops and cafés hidden down passages between ancient university college buildings

Looking for Oxford restaurants? Check out our ideas for eating and drinking in the university city, from Jericho to Summertown and beyond…

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Best coffee shops in Oxford…

Society Café – best coffee shop in Oxford

A 10-minute stroll from the station, tucked down St Michael’s Street, Society Café is a vibrant space that acts as a hub for local creatives. As fans of its sister branches in Bath and Bristol will know, this café is one for real coffee lovers.

Upstairs, a minimal space with grey-washed walls and hanging lights makes for a buzzing work area. Grab one of the wooden tables for two, or a high stool at a communal bench table, and add to the sound of tapping laptop keys and the background whirr of the coffee machine. The cosy downstairs area is a calmer space, where friends play games of Monopoly from the help-yourself board games selection, and coffee enthusiasts flick through copies of Caffeine and Society (the café’s own paper featuring short stories, case studies about the industry and photo essays).

Peruse an open counter laden with squidgy almond croissants, slabs of gooey peanut butter brownies and slices of cinnamon and walnut loaf while you decide on your coffee. Classic options include flat whites, cappuccinos and espressos (helpfully labelled with tasting notes), all made with Origin beans – which you can buy in bags to take away. Various guest coffees are available too, sourced from suppliers such as Horsham Coffee Roaster and Belfast’s Bailies Coffee Roasters. If you fancy something caffeine-free, grab a bottle of Jarr kombucha, or a hot chocolate made with Willies Cocoa.

society-cafe.com

A minimal space with grey white washed walls has hanging plants on. There are sturdy wooden tables with stool seats
Society Cafe makes for a buzzing work area

The Handle Bar Café and Kitchen – best café in Oxford

Whether you need your bike fixing, or just fancy a chai masala tea, the Handle Bar Café and Kitchen can provide. Wooden tables are cosied up with hessian coffee sack cushions while strings of fairy lights and Penny Farthing bicycles suspended on the walls lend this coffee shop cum restaurant cum bar an eclectic air. It’s laptop free between 11.30am and 3pm and from 6.30pm onwards, so if you need a tea fix while working, head there in the late afternoon.

Dig into hearty veggie breakfasts complete with plantain chips and smashed avocado for brunch (and order a pot of JING loose-leaf tea on the side). Or, save yourself for roast squash salads with feta and dukkah come lunchtime.

If you’re after something stronger, head downstairs to Le Bar, a 1920s-style speakeasy serving tea-infused cocktails, from the Chai Chai Again (a concoction of bourbon, chai spice-infused sweet vermouth and Campari) to Chamo Sour (chamomile-infused rye whiskey, fresh lemon, sugar and egg white).

handlebaroxford.co.uk


Turl Street Kitchen – best brunch in Oxford

For an egg-focused brunch, head to Turl Street Kitchen. Housed in a Georgian townhouse, this all-day dining spot is split across three floors, with stripped-back wooden floors, rustic tables and teal tiles. Local artwork (all of which is available to buy) hangs on the mint green walls, while natural light floods through the striking windows.

There are plenty of nooks and crannies to sit in, from seats at the bar to a separate cosy coffee lounge, and the focus is on affordable seasonal food, with all profits going to Oxford Hub, a programme promoting volunteering with local charities. Order the poached eggs with Wye Valley smoked salmon on a slice of freshly baked bread, and be sure to get a side of the lightly whipped avocado.

turlstreetkitchen.co.uk

A teal g
Local artwork (all for sale) hangs on Turl Street Kitchen’s mint green walls

Best restaurants in Oxford…

Pompette – best French food and wine bar in Oxford

Pompette, meaning tipsy in French, is the latest addition to Oxford’s independent food scene. Opened in November 2018 in the Summertown area, this modern wine bar is a hit with locals and visitors alike.

Run by husband-and-wife duo Laura and Pascal Wiedemann, the focus is on French classics with European influences, from the food to the design (white plates with ‘Pompette’ printed on them are inspired by the crockery of classic Parisian bistro Paul Bert while crisp white napkins come with a red cotton trim). Deep blue walls are peppered with an eclectic mix of artwork, from Louise Sheeran screen prints to Lucy Manhan charcuterie line drawings, while a striking bar takes centre stage with high stools to perch at (or sink into moss green leather seats tucked around marble tables).

Start with warm bread (all of which comes from local French bakery Gatineau), slathered with butter and sprinkled with sea salt from dinky pots on the table. If they’re on the menu, order the piping hot croquettes to share, oozing with a gently spiced roux sauce and nuggets of ham. Slices of sweet pumpkin and buttery spinach sit on a bed of super-soft polenta, with a blanket of winter truffle dusting the dish, while a generous portion of meaty roast brill flakes onto juicy Umbrian lentils, finished off with a kick of chilli and chargrilled lemon.

Desserts are not to be missed, from hearty choux buns laced with boozy cherries and a glossy chocolate sauce to crisp meringues loaded with lightly-whipped vanilla cream, chunks of juicy rhubarb and pistachios.

Wine is the focus when it comes to drinks, from natural and low-intervention to sweet orange options from Georgia but it’s the French wines that really shine. Click here to read more about what to drink at Pompette…

pompetterestaurant.co.uk

Kirsch Choux Bun, griottines and hot chocolate sauce
Choux buns with boozy cherries and a glossy chocolate sauce at Pompette. Credit: John Carey

Cherwell Boathouse – best fine-dining in Oxford

For a lunch with a view, book a table at Cherwell Boathouse. Tucked out in Park Town, this Oxford institution serves a modern European menu (expect everything from Jerusulem artichoke arancini to guinea fowl with celeriac fondant).

Set on the river bank, the old Victorian boathouse, with its exposed beams and brickwork, has a traditional approach to décor, with tables laid simply with white linen cloths and laid-back, unpretentious staff. In winter, try to get a window seat to make the most of those views or, in the warmer months, sit outside and watch as people punt past you down the river.

Choose from an à la carte menu, or, if you’re visiting on a weekday lunchtime, go for the set menu which offers three courses for £17.75. On our visit we tried crisp brown shrimp fritters with a gently spiced carrot and caraway purée and sweet onion chutney. Pink duck breast came in a rich blood orange sauce with tender kale and buttery Pommes Anna, but desserts are where it really impressed. A fudgy slice of sticky toffee pudding with a slice of caramelised banana perched on top had the right balance of sweetness, with a rich caramel sauce and quenelle of cooling milk sorbet, while biscuit nuggets added a welcome hint of salt.

cherwellboathouse.co.uk

Sticky Toffee Pudding at Cherwell Boathouse, Oxford
A fudgy slice of sticky toffee pudding with caramelised banana at Cherwell Boathouse

Oli’s Thai – best Thai restaurant in Oxford

It’s not far from East Oxford’s hip, studenty Cowley Road, but hidden amid houses on an unassuming suburban street, Oli’s Thai is deliberately discreet. “We wanted a traditional neighbourhood restaurant,” explains Rufus Thurston, who runs Oli’s (named after their son), with his Thai wife, Laddawan. “A lot of my favourite restaurants are in Brooklyn, and it’s not obvious where they are. They’re plain, food-focused and the customers are people who walk there.”

It is ironic, therefore, that this bright, simple canteen has become one of Oxford’s hottest restaurant – such is the power of Ladd’s cooking. The shelves are decorated with Thai groceries but she is no slave to tradition. Instead, Ladd uses Western techniques confidently (confiting duck for her panang dish, slow-cooking pork for her green curry), to bring a new depth to dishes beyond their radiant Thai seasoning.

The oven-roasted pork belly on rice in a dark soy broth – its glassy crackling swathed in a fresh chilli and lemongrass paste – is a glorious example of this East-meets-West process.

olisthai.com


Gee’s Restaurant and Bar – best for date-night dining in Oxford

Housed in a listed Victorian conservatory, this cosy restaurant on the Banbury Road, just north of the University Parks, has been going strong since 1989. Flooded with natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows, the light and airy space has a greenhouse vibe, with its tiled floors and potted olive trees. An outdoor terrace is the perfect place to relax come summer while soft lighting sets an atmospheric tone after dark in the winter months.

From weekend brunches to Sunday roasts, the Mediterranean inspired menu focuses on cooking over fire. Dig into sweet potato and oregano risotto, burrata with rainbow chard and sides of wood fired courgettes with beetroot and dill. Puddings include British classics like pear and apple crumble and sticky toffee pudding, while crema catalana and chocolate nemesis take inspiration from Spain and Italy.

gees-restaurant.co.uk

A greenhouse room with a tiled floor. There is a long table down the centre and smaller tables for four in the rest of the room
Gee’s Restaurant has a greenhouse vibe, with floor-to-ceiling windows and potted olive trees

Best food shops in Oxford…

Jericho Cheese Company – best cheese shop in Oxford

If you’re looking to stock up on cheeses, head to Jericho Cheese Company. Set up in 2016 by an ex-Neal’s Yard Dairy cheesemonger, the shop sells a variety of cheeses from across the British Isles. Ask the shop’s enthusiastic staff for a recommendation; options range from raw Isle of Mull cheddar to Suffolk’s St Jude.

Other shelves are stocked with loaves of sourdough, local free-range eggs, jars of Radnor Preserves chutney and bottles of Herefordshire’s Townsend Farm apple juice, while a fridge holds Neal’s Yard yogurt and Kentish butter. If you’re visiting on a Saturday, book in for one of the shop’s monthly evening cheese and wine tastings. You’ll taste the most exciting cheeses of the season, with bread and butter and wines to match alongside.

jerichocheese.co.uk

Jericho Cheese Company, Oxford
The shop sells a variety of cheeses from across the British Isles

Oxford Covered Market – best food market in Oxford

This indoor market doesn’t just sell food but it’s worth a visit to stock up on fruit, vegetables and local beers. Wander down the aisles, stopping off at Bonners Fruit and Veg for a colourful array of seasonal produce. Pick up candy beetroots, brussels sprouts and radiccio before heading to Teadrop, a tiny micropub (part of West Oxfordshire’s Church Hanbrewery) serving cask ales to drink in, as well as local draught and bottled beers to takeaway.

If gelato is what you’re after, head to iScream for scoops of chocolate, hazelnut and stracciatella. Founder Graham was inspired to open a gelateria after holidaying in Tuscany over 10 years ago. Cream and milk comes from Guernsey cows in Wiltshire, while the production equipment comes direct from Italy. Classic Italian flavours include pistachio, coffee and hazelnut or, in the summer, keep cool with a cone of lemon sorbetto.

oxford-coveredmarket.co.uk


Objects of Use – best kitchen accessories in Oxford

Be sure to check out Objects of Use while you’re on Market Street. A kitchen shop selling only useful, albeit beautiful, objects, it acts as a treasure trove for cooks, with wooden tables laden with cast-iron baking tins, Japanese brass trivets, Korean kettles, can openers and no less than 25 different brushes, from vegetable brush no. 1 to a three-ring dusting brush.

objectsofuse.com

A wooden table is topped with various sized brushed, all with luggage labels on explaining what each brush is for
Objects Of Use stocks beautiful baking tins, Korean kettles and no less than 25 different brushes

G & D’s Café– best ice cream in Oxford

An Oxford institution, G & D’s (originally George and Davis) now has three branches across the city, but the original still stands proudly in Jericho. Open from 8am until midnight every day, it’s the place to head to (or the central St Aldate’s branch) for a take-away cone to lick while you sight-see.

All made on site, flavours veer towards student-friendly favourites, from classic vanilla to Oxford Blue (blueberry) and Daim Bar Crunch. Don’t see anything that takes your fancy? Sign the petition book in each of the cafés, and if your flavour suggestion gets enough support, it’ll go on the menu.

The cafés serve more than just cones, with ice cream sundaes, banana splits and bagels all best-sellers too.

gdcafe.com


Natural Bread – best bakery in Oxford

You might have to drive 20 minutes north of Oxford city centre to find the bricks-and-mortar version of the Natural Bread, in the market town of Woodstock, but you’ll find the bakeries artisan sourdough in many restaurants and coffee shops across the city. With a philosophy of ‘take it slow, keep it natural’, all the flours used are locally milled and mixed only with sourdough starter (left for over 48-hours), water and salt.

There are eight loaf varieties to choose from, including the classic Oxford, made with just white wheat and rye, to the Pugliese, created with organic durum wheat from Puglia. The carbs don’t stop there, with yeasted breads like challah, focaccia and farmhouse also on offer. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, be sure to pick up a cinnamon bun or pain aux raisins.

You’ll find the company’s freshly baked goods six days a week at 2 North Parade and its brioche buns at Turl Street Kitchen but, if you’re around on a weekend, you can also pick up a loaf at East Oxford or South Oxford markets.

naturalbreadcompany.co.uk

Three loaves of sourdough bread on a dark background
Natural Bread’s artisan sourdough. Credit: Jenny Stewart

Best bars in Oxford…

Vine – best wine bar in Oxford

A wine shop, café and bar on vibrant Cowley Road, Vine specialises in artisan, unusual and organic wines served with cheese and charcuterie boards in a bar with a distinctive tin roof and bare brick walls. The regularly changing wine list offers a range of up to 20 wines by the glass, focussing on small producers, natural and biodynamic wines, and sustainable wine-making. It also includes vegan-friendly wine options, and the menu offers a selection of gluten-free dishes with its Spanish-, Italian- and French-inspired small plates. Vine also has a growing retail section of more than 70 wines to take away (or you can enjoy them in the bar for a small corkage fee).

Click here for the best wine bars across the country

A wooden shelving unit filled with bottles of wine and jars of pickles

Best places to stay in Oxford and Oxfordshire

The Porterhouse

Only a five-minute stroll from the station, this restaurant-with-rooms is the perfect base camp for a weekend in the city. Downstairs, a bar and restaurant focus solely on steaks cooked over charcoal, while seven bedrooms upstairs are simply yet stylishly furnished.

Midnight-blue walls, teal velvet headboards and exposed filament lightbulbs add a sense of modern luxury, while exposed wooden floors and latch windows give it a timeless townhouse feel. A communal help-yourself fridge comes stocked with milk and bottles of water, with a bowl of fruit set above it.

If steak is what you fancy, head downstairs hungry. All steaks are cooked within a bertha (a type of indoor charcoal oven) using charcoal sourced from the Oxford Charcoal Company to give them a smoky flavour. If there are two of you, opt for the juicy cote de boeuf, aged for 35 days, or, if you’re a party of four, go for the Porterhouse which comes with both sirloin and fillet. Fluffy fries and crisp walnut salads come on the side, and you can choose between a selection of sauces to drizzle on top (our money is on the punchy salsa verde).

A succinct yet impressive gin menu is where it’s at in drinks terms, with eight to choose from including Toad dry gin and Twisting Spirits earl grey, both of which come from Oxford. Try them with a splash of tonic, or get them made into negronis.

theporterhouse-oxford.com

Deep blue walls with a bed in front of it. The bed has a velvet headboard and there are copper lights on the wall
Teal velvet headboards and pumpkin-hued cushions add a sense of uxury at The Porterhouse

Artist Residence

In a sleepy village in rural Oxfordshire Justin and Charlie Salisbury, the duo behind quirky Artist Residence hotel group, have restored a 16th century Cotswold-stone farmhouse and opened it as their fourth property, Mr Hanbury’s Masons Arms.

A community-focused pub, with five perfectly put-together bedrooms upstairs, Mr Hanbury’s (the name is a fictional nod to colourful characters associated with the pub historically) is split into two areas – a cosy bar area with a classic pub menu (the heart of South Leigh village life) and a more sophisticated dining room where guests can enjoy a fine dining menu beneath up-cycled crystal decanter lamp shades.

After fine-tuning his skills in professional kitchens across the UK (most notably Michelin-starred gastropub, the Pony & Trap, in Somerset), young talented chef Leon Smith has taken the reigns at Mr Hanbury’s Masons Arms. Hyper-local produce from the Oxfordshire countryside is the order of the day, whether that’s lamb from just across the road or kohlrabi from Leon’s own allotment. And everything is homemade, from elderflower-infused Aperol to brighten up punchy negronis, and wild nettle puree folded into pan-fried homemade gnocchi to toasted marshmallows served with strawberries and lime curd for pud.

Click here to read our full review of Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Farmhouse Loft Room at Artist Residence Oxfordshire

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Words by Ellie Edwards, Tony Naylor, Alex Crossley and Mark Taylor