Thursday, 6 October 2011

Six months, one full stomach

Six month anniversaries have never seemed worth celebrating, to be honest. Surely it's a bit premature to champion something still in its infancy? In this case, though, I'm willing to set my preoconceptions aside: I'm now halfway through my one-year Girl Eats Oxford mission.

Back in April, I decided to spend one year working my way around the city's eating establishments, visiting and reviewing one per week based on reader recommendations. Six months later, both my waistline and my wallet have taken a bashing, while the list of 'must visit' cafes and restaurants still to try will keep me occupied for almost another year. I've discovered that most of my friends' names begin with either A or S; that even my seemingly boundless appetite can be satisfied and that it is possible to crave a plate of salad. Rare, you understand, but possible. Most importantly though, I've confirmed my suspicion regarding Oxford's 'culinary desert' label, often applied dismissively by foodies spoiled by the capital's bounty. Oxford isn't the size of London, hence its options are fewer, but it's no desert:  you can barely swing a camel for eateries; they're everywhere. Yes, I hear you, doubting Thomas: 'sure, there are plenty of places to eat, but that doesn't necessarily mean there are any good ones'. I beg to differ: I think the most exciting chapter in the city's gastronomic history so far has just begun, with innovative independent establishments such as Oxfork and Atomic Pizza popping up, and new foodie organisation Oxford Gastronomica Seen seeking to raise the standard of dining across Oxfordshire.

In the past six months, I've dined at both old haunts and plenty of previously neglected or unknown establishments as I chomp my way through all the recommendations I've kindly been sent on Twitter. Although it would be impossible to pick a catch-all 'favourite' (restaurants are like shoes; different ones suit different occasions), I've managed to whittle down the 26 reviews I've written to date and compile a list of my top picks so far.

Best budget: If you're looking for good grub that will satisfy your stomach but don't have much cash to flash, try Red Star on Cowley Road. Serving up cheap noodles and rice dishes, you can fill your boots here with change from a tenner. Try the spicy Ma Po Tofu served with steamed rice.
Best smart: If it's occasion dining you're after, it's got to be the Ashmolean Dining Room. With a stunning location overlooking Oxford's rooftops and a light, airy space given a modern touch unexpected in such an ancient institution, the setting is simply perfect. The food doesn't play second fiddle, though: there's a strong, well-priced menu of seasonal dishes which also caters well to vegetarian diners.
Best for vegetarians: It's certainly not new to Oxford, but the Magic Cafe was new to me. Serving tasty meat-free dishes on a budget, it's a winner in my book. If you're dining with a mixed group of veggies and meat eaters, try Al Shami in Jericho or The Vaults & Garden on the High Street (review coming soon).
Favourite cafe: Avoiding the chains (and the crowds) in central Oxford can be tough, but the cafe at Modern Art Oxford is a welcome relief: bright and funky, it serves delicious Monmouth coffee. The pop up cafes at East Oxford Farmers' Market are well worth a visit: brunch at the Moving Teashop was a real treat, with a range of seasonal eats washed down by their own blend tea. And I may only have visited once so far, but Oxfork looks set to be a favourite with its inviting atmosphere and excellent quality dishes (review coming soon).
Favourite new discovery: The best part of my project is the fact that it's taken me to places I may not have otherwise considered. Santorini on Cowley Road may not look much from outside (or even really inside, unless the holiday on a Greek island circa 1995 look works for you), but I was charmed by the quality and taste of their lip-smackingly good offerings. It's also reasonably priced and great for vegetarians. In central Oxford, Edamame gave me my first experience of Japanese cuisine, and although I still doubt that chopsticks and I will ever be friends, I'll definitely be returning for more of their home cooking.
Best meal so far: Somewhat surprisingly for me, my my favourite meal so far was in a pub: the Rickety Press in Jericho. Pubs aren't exactly famed for their ability to cater well to non-meat eaters, but the Rickety Press managed to woo me with its feta, squash and pine nut pithivier. On my visit, this refurbished pub seemed to have the whole package: a well-decorated interior, friendly service  and a seasonal menu of competitively-priced deliciousness.

Who knows what I'll discover in the next six months? Whatever happens, I certainly won't be going hungry. I hope you're enjoying reading my reviews as much as I'm enjoying writing them (OK, researching them), and if you have any feedback please do get in touch or fill in this short survey: I'm always looking for ways to make the blog more interactive, so all comments and suggestions are much appreciated. You can also interact with Girl Eats Oxford on Facebook, and I always welcome your opinions for my monthly slot on BBC Radio Oxford. In the coming months, I'm hoping to have a bit of a makeover (well, the site, not me personally) and I have some exciting plans afoot for visitors to Oxford, so please keep checking back.

Thanks for reading, and here's to another six months of gluttony.


  1. Congratulations! Love your reviews and so glad there are another six whole months left to hear your thorough and entertaining take on eating in Oxford. Drooling!!

  2. Thanks Margo! Glad you're enjoying it. Who knows, it might take me longer than a year...

  3. Yum! I love your round-up of the best places... I think I need to make a trip to Oxford!

  4. May you find many more delicious places to delight you in the months ahead. :-) I'm cracking up that most of your friends names start with A or S. What a quirky thing to discover. :-)

  5. Thank you everyone! Glad you're enjoying it so far.


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