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…
For more exciting restaurants and weekend ideas for food lovers, check out our best UK city breaks.
A weekend break in Oxford
Oxford’s Jericho neighbourhood is a great place to start the day, with independent favourites including Jericho Cheese Company and G&D’s ice cream, an Oxford institution, all on your doorstep. Stop for lunch at French-inspired Pompette or contemporary wine bar Wilding. Head into town to explore the streets amongst the colleges and soak up the atmospheric old-school style, with Society Café providing the perfect pitstop for coffee and a slice of cinnamon and walnut loaf.
For more food-fuelled exploring, wander down the aisles at Oxford Covered Market, where you can stock up on seasonal produce before heading to Teardrop, a tiny micropub (part of West Oxfordshire Church Hanbrewery) serving cask ales to drink in, as well as local draught and bottled beers to takeaway. Be sure to check out Objects of Use while you’re on Market Street, a treasure trove for cooks, too. Dinner options are aplenty: for Asian dining pay a visit to Edamame for authentic Japanese home cooking, or Oli’s Thai for a unique neighbourhood restaurant boasting impressive East-meets-West techniques.
Where to stay
The Porterhouse, a seven-bedroom boutique hotel and restaurant, offers king size beds and smart bathrooms with double showers, wall mounted TVs and coffee machines. It’s a convenient two-minute walk from Oxford train station and five-minute walk to the Castle Quarter, too. Doubles from £156 per night, check availability at booking.com.
Where to eat and drink in Oxford: the full list
New Ground Coffee – for top-notch coffee and waffles
Started by Dickon and Joel (who believe in great coffee and social justice in equal measure), New Ground Coffee is an Oxford-based social enterprise that trains and employs ex-offenders. As well as selling their beans (these come in beautifully sleek white packaging, with a simple pop of colour to distinguish the different blends), they have a speciality coffee bar where you can sit in and sip. Interiors are minimalist, with white-washed walls, black stools and birch ply tables. As well as top-notch drinks, you can stock up on moreish stroopwaffles supplied by Bath-based Dutchboy Waffles. Newgroundcoffee.com
Society Café – for speciality coffee
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. 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
The Handle Bar Café and Kitchen – for cosy breakfast or brunch
Whether you need your bike fixing, or just fancy a chai masala tea, the Handle Bar Café and Kitchen can provide. 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
Pompette – for French fare and wine
Pompette, meaning tipsy in French, is 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: 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. Order the piping hot croquettes to share, oozing with a gently spiced roux sauce and nuggets of ham. 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. Pompetterestaurant.co.uk
Spiced Roots – for Caribbean food
Various Caribbean influences can be found on the menu at Spiced Roots in Oxford. Run by friends Jumoke Brewster and Michael Krah, dishes to look out for include include buljol (a traditional salad of salt cod, peppers, chillies and tomatoes) transformed into croquettes, mellow curry goat, and Guyanese pepperpot beef shin, while vegans will delight in jerk tempeh and stewed pigeon peas.
Wilding – for small plates and exciting wines
Jericho neighbourhood’s new restaurant and wine bar offers more than 400 wines, including 50 available by the glass, alongside Dominique Goltinger’s seasonal small plates that highlight locally foraged ingredients. Wilding.wine
Cherwell Boathouse – for modern European
For a lunch with a view book a table at Cherwell Boathouse, an Oxford institution serving a modern European menu (expect everything from Jerusulem artichoke arancini to guinea fowl with celeriac fondant). 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
Edamame – for Japanese
Peter Galpin and his Japanese wife, Mieko, set up Edamame in 1998 with the intention of creating an inviting, hole-in-the-wall eatery for guests to enjoy authentic Japanese home cooking. There are no reservations and tables are shared to help keep the prices low and the seating efficient in what is a tiny restaurant. Edamame offers a lunch-only menu Wednesday to Sunday lunchtimes, a sushi-only menu on Thursday early evenings, and a dinner-only menu on Friday and Saturday early evenings. Peter says: “We are delighted that for the last three years the Japanese government has awarded us with exclusive recognition as being Oxford’s only truly authentic Japanese eatery.” Edamame.co.uk
Oli’s Thai – for Thai
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. 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 – for rustic, Mediterranean dining
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. 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
Jericho Cheese Company – for cheese and sourdough
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. Jerichocheese.co.uk
Oxford Covered Market – for food market dishes
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 before heading to Teadrop, a tiny micropub 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. 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 – for kitchen accessories
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
G & D's Café – for ice cream
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 – for baked goods
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. 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. Challah, focaccia and farmhouse are also on offer. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, be sure to pick up a cinnamon bun or pain aux raisins. Naturalbreadcompany.co.uk
Where to stay in Oxford and Oxfordshire
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.
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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. Doubles from £156 per night, check availability at booking.com
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. Doubles from £182 per night, check availability at booking.com
Click here to read our full review of Artist Residence, Oxfordshire
Words by Ellie Edwards, Tony Naylor, Alex Crossley and Mark Taylor
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