Tellingly, the hype behind the venture wasn't generated by those behind Oxfork, but largely by those excited by the prospect of a cosy but chic café serving well-prepared seasonal dishes sourced from local suppliers. Trendy East Oxford types may like to shop and eat local, but if they can do so in a quirkily-decorated, relaxed venue, so much the better.
Visiting on its opening weekend, it was clear that the hype had worked: by the time I turned up on Saturday lunchtime, the demand-supply balance was looking a bit precarious. The cheery staff were rolling with it admirably though; one of the chefs even delivered our order and apologized for the delay. Oxfork's brunches and lunches were clearly in demand.
Although I love the idea of brunch, as a vegetarian who used to pretend to be allergic to eggs as a child, such was my hatred of them, the options available often leave me a little cold. Thankfully for me, although Oxfork's menu is an egg-lover's delight (benedict, royale, scrambled, poached, in a sandwich...), there are a number of other choices for the less enamoured: a vegetarian breakfast, a variety of treats on toast and porridge. And as brunchtime runs into lunchtime (no noon cut off point here), I was also able to pick from the daily lunch menu. From the short selection of dishes chalked on the board, I opted for the potato and thyme soup with wild mushrooms (£4), while S went for eggs florentine (£7.50). Perusing the menu, I was struck by the price of the egg dishes: £7.50 seems pretty steep, especially when you consider that the Oxfork breakfast (sausage, bacon, fried egg, beans, slow-roast tomato, mushrooms and sourdough bread) is the same price. Still, there's no denying the quality of the ingredients: all the eggs used are free-range, sourced from a farm near Witney.
Sipping our Luscombe juices as we waited for our food, we observed Oxfork's interior. Building on the mismatched furntiture look du jour, Oxfork's individuality extends to its decor. The three levels are adorned with murals and complemented by a quirky cutlery chandelier. A lot of love has clearly gone into giving the café a stylish yet inviting feel: its eccentric but polished finish is something I'd expect to see in London rather than East Oxford. Fresh flowers on the tables added a homely touch, while the assorted vintage crockery was a hit with me.
|Mushroom & potato soup|
What about the food, though? With such high expectations, I was a little concerned that style might triumph over substance. I needn't have worried. Given that the chefs used to work at the Magdalen Arms, it wasn't exactly going to be ghastly. My soup was a winner: although it would have been more accurately described as wild mushroom with potato, it was delicious – creamy and rich, with a lovely texture. It was served with 3 slices of sourdough from the Wantage-based Natural Bread Company, making it excellent value. S's eggs florentine were also served on sourdough, and the generous portion size made me reconsider my judgment of the price. S found the dish light and tasty, the lemony hollandaise adding a fresh flavour. The spinach was well cooked; her only criricism (when pressed), was that the yolk could have been a little runnier.
There were no such issues when I returned to give Oxfork another go. The opening crowds and the frenzied whirl may have died down, but almost every table was occupied. On a rainy Sunday morning, G, M and I lingered over pots of tea and brunch: G's eggs benedict had him in raptures, M's sausage sandwich (£4) hit the spot and I was delighted they served me an off-menu request for cheese on toast. Gorgeously gooey cheddar oozing all over slabs of sourdough: just what I needed. I was also pretty pleased that nobody batted an eyelid over the trail of fake Halloween blood still lingering by my mouth. Oxfork, you're just my kind of place: friendly and unpretentious, serving great food in a cosy yet chic setting. I'll be back soon for more. And I'll wash my face properly this time, promise.
Oxfork is at 39 Magdalen Road. Open daily for brunch and lunch. Now also open on Friday and Saturday evenings. Tel: 01865 243280.