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Oct 15, 2010 07:35 AM

Oxford area recs.

Just moved to Oxford area and looking for recommendations for good food. Looking for no dress code just really good food, very adventurous in type, and style. Pub to restaurant or even cafe lunch and dinners.


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  1. Should caveat that it's been c.2 years since I and my girlfriend were students there, so may not be super up to date with latest openings. Having said, these were places I liked:

    Thai - Chiang Mai Kitchen

    Japanese - Edamame (not open everyday)

    Sandwich deli - Taylors (there are many, this is one that was near to my college, so ended up being my favourite)

    Patisserie - Maison Blanc

    Full english breakfast - Jericho Cafe

    Country Pub - The White Hart Inn (near Oxford, in Wytham. You can cycle/drive/take a taxi); The Trout is the most popular country pub, and walkable (c.20-30mins from Jericho). Think the Clintons visited, although that doesn't mean the food is fantastic.

    More expensive - Gees; Brasserie Blanc

    Very expensive - Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons (in Oxfordshire, not Oxford 'city')

    5 Replies
    1. re: mattc666

      to add to this well compiled list by mattc666

      Sojo - really good Chinese food, with dishes that you can't get anywhere else in Oxford. Highly recommend the pork hock. They also have Sichuan dishes such as the spicy glass noodle soup that has one hell of a kick. Good value for money.

      Liaison - Another Chinese restaurant in a slightly higher price range. Try the Mongolian lamb here.

      The Missing Bean - A recent addition to Oxford and easily the best coffee in town. Used to grab a coffee here regularly on the way to the library!

      The Magdalen Arms - Set up by the same folks of Anchor and Hope fame, this is the first real gastropub to hit Oxford. Highly rated by many, I found it good but nothing spectacular. Reservations are essential!

      Al-Shami - Pretty popular Lebanese restaurant tucked away in Jericho

      Chutneys - Nice Indian food right in the middle of town

      Jamie's Italian - One of my favourite restaurants in Oxford. Don't let the celebrity name put you off. They constantly deliver good quality, fresh and well prepared Italian food. And for that price, why bother with the likes of the zizzis and bella italias. Highly recommended. No bookings taken here so during peak hours, be prepared to wait!

      Other pubs - Eagle and Child, The Turf, Kings Arms

      The Mission - Best take away burritos. I can't remember how many slow cooked pork burritos/fajitas i've had from this place.

      The Nut Tree Inn - This is outside of central Oxford in a small village called Murcott. A gem of a restaurant. Delightful English cuisine in a traditional little inn, this place is best visited during the summer when you can sit outside and enjoy your lunch and wine with some sunshine. Did i mention they rear their own pigs that end up on your plate?

      If I can think of any more I'll be sure to add to this list!

      1. re: jonY

        The dining options on New Year's Day were limited, and for some reason we managed not to go to the Randolph - our first choice - but all was well. I was dubious about going to a 'star' restaurant, especially one of a chain - although I am a Jamie Oliver fan - but from the very first bite (of the best dipping olive oil we've ever had), this was genuinely superb; and at the price point, exceptional.

        We had two starters - the bread selection and posh chips (the latter fabulously hot and truffley), three pasta choices between the two of us (with the truffled tagliatelle again the best but bolognese also superb, and a mushroom ravioli at least OK), two desserts (the choc-espresso tart w/ creme fraiche was perfect), four glases of wine and coffee, all for just over 60 quid: really fabulous value. Staff were professional and friendly - really have nothing bad to say. It started 2011 for us in the best way possible.

        1. re: ewanm

          Quite intrigued by the two glowing reviews for Jamie's Italian, I tried it twice (in Bath) the first time they managed to burn my main course (and served the burnt bit on the underside of the dish) so I went again to give them a chance.

          To me it was OK, albeit expensive for what it was. For a chain it is OK, but I prefer good independents over chains because the food is better and compared to Jamie's they are usually cheaper. For me it is quite sad that Jamie's is seen by many as "quality" British food, yes it is far better than much available on the high street but it isn't a radical step change, and yes British food is getting better but as it came off such a low base it has a long way to go.

          1. re: PhilD

            I often pass the Jaimie's Italian in Kingston, but have never been tempted to drop in. Perhaps one day I'll do that just to get an idea of what the food is like. There is also a huge one in Guildford, not far away.

            We ate at The Magdalen Arms in Oxford a week or two ago. We enjoyed it greatly, and I was glad to have remembered the Dos Hermanos review a year ago. The food is very much like Anchor & Hope's... fresh, delicious and not overpriced. My American niece fell in love with their treacle tart. :-)

      2. re: mattc666

        Thanks for all the places you mentioned, I have slowly worked my way through them as I could find them.

        I keep missing Edaname but I will get there yet.

        Thai - I agree that Chiang Mai is great Thai food, that said I have to say it is hot. grin!

        I haven't tried the sandwich or patisserie as I am Gluten intolerant. Lucky for me just intolerant, so I can still eat out without fear as trace (air, cross contamination) is ok. Just not eating a direct gluten product.

      3. Just thought I'd add to this thread, as we were recently in Oxford. Based on recommendations here and in other Oxford threads, we had lunch at the Magdalen Arms and dinner at Moya.

        Magdalen Arms was quite good, but nothing extraordinary. Staff were lovely and the space is comfortable, in a mis-matched second-hand furniture kind of way. They were not very busy and there were only a few other tables filled for lunch, though it was clear that the other tables were all regulars, based on their animated interactions with staff. We had a potato & onion soup, which was surprisingly delicate, but served in a broad bowl that got cold really quickly. The wild game terrine was a tasty mix of meat and livers, flecked with pistachios and prunes, a thick slab served with a piece of toast and jam. I noticed that the face-down side of the terrine was discoloured from air exposure, so I got the feeling that this item wasn't ordered too often and it made me feel a little bit like I was having yesterday's lunch. It was served with a preserve/jam, and I can't remember if the menu actually identified what kind, but it seemed to be plum or damson. Because of the extreme richness of the terrine, I thought something vinegary, like pickled onions or piccalilli, would have paired better. The crabmeat on toast was very generous to the point of decadent, and also extremely rich. It definitely needed the side salad of dressed greens we ordered to go along with it. The bread and butter were excellent, and I enjoyed my pint of Theakston's bitter. Lastly, the sticky toffee pudding was more cake than pudding, sitting in a warm treacly bath. On the whole, a nice lunch for a winter's day, and with very reasonable price tag. But, while everything was tasty and satisfying, nothing was especially memorable on its own.

        Moya was disappointing. We've been lucky to live in cities with some great Czech/Slovak restaurants, and Moya was simply not at a level I would consider Chow-worthy. There were no chalkboard specials that night, and we and another table were the only patrons, so perhaps we were victims of a slow week. The goulash was thin, far more sauce than meat, with the beef diced very small. It was also completely without any spice element. Usually Czech/Slovak goulash is much less spicy than the Hungarian version, but there was no hint at all of paprika. The steamed dumplings (knedličky) were the highlight of the dish, very light and fresh. The pork shank had an ample amount of tender meat, but was also bland. I don't think the shank was smoked or cured in any way. It was served on a bed of cabbage sautéed with caraway seeds. A side order of creamed potatoes was tasty but way over-cooked, to the point of dissolving into a milky mush. Overall, a very bland meal. It had more the feeling of unsophisticated home cooking than restaurant fare (which is fine, I suppose, if that's what you're after).

        Some images below from the Magdalen Arms meal.

        20 Replies
        1. re: gemuse

          Not food worthy, but a short piece in a cookery magazine this month about 'what's hot,' is that mismatched plates are 'the thing.' I had no idea and also noticed how that's what was used at the Magdalen Arms. Too bad I haven't saved my 40+ years of dining plates and cups that don't match!

          1. re: gemuse

            absolutely agree with your assessment of Moya. Was not very impressed when I ate there.

            1. re: gemuse

              Good to know about Moya, thanks. I would probably have tried it if I hadn't read your review; now I won't bother.

              When you say the sticky toffee pudding was more like a cake than a pudding, what do you mean? STP is usually quite like a dense sponge/ginger cake in texture anyway; it's not technically a pudding at all in fact, not in the steamed pudding sense.

              I ask because it's my favourite dessert in the world, and I plan to test the MA soon, so I don't want to get some strange unusual disappointing STP...

              1. re: chochotte

                I see there are some serious sticky toffee pudding fans here. :-)

                When I said it was more like cake, I was referring to mainly the texture and shape of this particular specimen. Usually, STPs are dense, moist, and, well, very sticky. This one was lighter, more delicate, and rectangular, like it was cut from a sheet cake rather than popped out of a pudding mould. The sauce wasn't as sticky and toffee-like as you usually get. It was more of a treacle jus. The word "cake" wasn't meant to be disapproving—it was quite good! Just a different variation on the standard. I realise that cake = pudding for many people, and I meant that of all the variations of "pudding" possible, this was more of a refined cake.

                1. re: gemuse

                  Oh, yes, I'd give my life for a good STP; perhaps, with all that sugar intake, I slowly am.
                  Hmm, treacle jus. I want a good butterscotch sauce AND cream with my STP, dammit!
                  One of the best I've EVER had was in a square slice (from No. 16 on Byres Road, Glasgow, if you're ever in the vicinity...!) but as long as it was nice that is the main thing! It is technically a cake and I suppose it's actually simpler from a mass catering point of view to bake it as a sheet cake instead of using individual moulds.

                  1. re: chochotte

                    A terrific online site is the Hawkshead Relish Company in the Lake District. We discovered their products (also sold on Amazon) on a trip last year. Their chutneys and relishes are fantastic as are their other things. I noticed today that they sell a STP and also a ST sauce. I haven't tried them but one day........

                    The best STP I've had so far was at Margot's in Padstow. It was fabulous.

              2. re: gemuse

                Am I missing something here? I am an American, but I know that in Britain pudding means dessert, which includes all types of cake. So "the sticky toffee pudding was more cake than pudding" makes no sense to me.

                1. re: rrems

                  You're right, we often do use the term "pudding" to describe any kind of dessert, but Gemuse is using the term here to describe the texture of the pudding! Cake has a denser and often dryer sponge than a typical sponge pudding would have (particularly a sticky toffee pudding). You can be forgiven for being confused ...

                  1. re: rrems

                    Isn't the difference generally that cake is baked in an oven whilst a pudding is steamed or boiled. So as others have said puddings have a denser, moisture texture than the lighter airier cakes. Classic English puddings are jam rolly poly, or spotted dick, or steamed ginger pudding, and of course Christmas pudding itself. Puddings are not always desserts though, steak and kidney pudding being a great example.

                    And so the word "pudding" meaning dessert probably comes from the fact that many desserts were puddings. STP (or Sticky Date Pudding) are quite recent. If memory serves me well I think they were invented at the Sharrow Bay Hotel (Windermere) in the 70's or 80's

                    1. re: PhilD

                      Yes - I was trying to remember what the technical difference was. Although I still think cakes can be denser than steamed puds - but I guess that depends on the cake (and the baker ...)

                    2. re: rrems

                      Yeah, super confusing.
                      Pudding does mean dessert, as in, the sweet course.
                      But it also refers to a specific category of desserts - for example, Christmas pudding. In fact, not just desserts - I'll correct myself. A specific category of foodstuff, which basically includes things made in membranes or skins or wrapped in cloths and boiled or steamed in order to cook them. So that includes things like spotted dick, steamed sponge puddings like treacle/jam/marmelade pudding, but it also explains why black pudding is called a pudding. Other regional variants include the Scottish 'clootie dumpling' which is basically a kind of steamed pudding with dried fruit. I think they date from a time before most people had ovens.

                      Confused? You have a right to be. Proper old-fashioned puddings in the specific sense were very old-fashioned and associated with the bad old days of British cooking until quite recently when rustic traditional fare made a come-back with gastropubs and all that whatnot. But basically you have to guess by context; most often pudding simply means the dessert course, yes.

                      Sticky toffee pudding is essentially a cake but it's often baked in individual domed moulds, like many steamed puddings, and has a similar light but rich sponge texture to a well-made pudding, so lots of people think it's a pudding-pudding, but it's just a pudding. That's a kind of cake. ARGH.

                      1. re: chochotte

                        "the bad old days of British cooking" - I think you mean the bad old days of British restaurant cooking. There has always been a strong tradition of good British home cooking, and often the restaurants lauded as being the renaissance of British cooking are bringing dishes from the home tradition.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          I dunno. All these dishes CAN be great, it's a question of how they're cooked. But there's a tradition of very bad British home cooking too, or at least, a kind of cooking that was seen as stodgy, starchy, bland and unappealing. I've been reading lots of diaries, journals and biographies from the 19th century for a research project recently and it's actually funny reading people write about how their hearts would sink when they were faced with another suet pudding/congealed custard on a Sunday night at the family dinner table. Some of course write of delicious family meals. But there's a reason those desserts are known as 'nursery food' - they are what many once got fed without fail every night as children because children were considered to need lots of dairy, no strong flavours and stodge to 'build them up'. That's not to say that rice pudding and roly-poly pudding can't be awesome when done well, but I think that it's too simplistic to see restaurant cooking as divorced from a home-cooking tradition in terms of quality, especially since the idea of going out to restaurants, especially for people other than single men or groups of men, is really quite a recent invention. Going from that kind of nursery food, on to public-school food, on to food in one's Oxbridge college, and then on to dining at one's club - many of the 19th- and 20th-century élite never really grew out of 'institutional' food, as I've heard some of the more ancient survivors testify directly!

                          That said, I agree that Britain's food traditions and culture definitely don't deserve the universally bad rep it sometimes seems to have. Jane Grigson and actually Elizabeth David demonstrate this. But Elizabeth David, while finding much to admire by going further back, still maintained that home cooking in England was pretty dire by the mid-century. She was probably a little bit wrong but quite a lot right.

                          1. re: chochotte

                            Do you think that perhaps WWII had a lot to do with what happened with British cooking? There were so few ingredients readily available for many years and way past the War, too. Perhaps people just stopped caring as much about what they were preparing.

                            I think the great swing to more pleasurable eating and restaurants occurred, in part, with the ease European chefs had to move here after the EU was established. When I visited here in the late 1980's, there was not a lot going for the meals we had other than in pretty expensive places. That certainly changed a lot by the time I was back in the 90's.

                            1. re: zuriga1

                              I think the war had a lot to do with it - god knows how long rationing went on for - until the early to mid 50s I think. So there was a whole generation of cooks who were only used to eking out powdered eggs and spam to feed their families - my Mum was one of them. She didn't improve her cooking until she got sent to a cookery evening class in desperation by my Dad in the 70s - so I think expectations had started to change by then.

                              1. re: zuriga1

                                I don't know... when you look at the kind of things included in even Victorian cookbooks, while some are nice, there's still a lot of boiling cabbages for 30 minutes and all that awful stuff. I think the industrial revolution, which concentrated people in cities and helped develop new means of processing food, has a lot to do with it. Poor people in urban environments had even less access to decent fresh food than poor rural people. Add to this the development of a large and aspirational middle-class, who were keen to adopt what they saw as more urban and sophisticated habits and therefore to reject their rural family food traditions (which we'd probably now see as comprising the admirable and venerable English culinary tradition) and you have a bad combination.

                                Re: the war - I think it divides along class lines. Working-class people actually ate better during the war than before: their rations gave them a better diet than their incomes had allowed them to access. Richer people, conversely, certainly found themselves eating far fewer of their favourite things. I always think of Virginia Woolf's letter to Vita Sackville-West in which she rhapsodizes over the butter Vita has sent her from her farm, and thinks about all the ways she's going to enjoy the butter she's so missed because of rationing. Most poor people would have been on margarine to begin with, so even rations of butter were more than they were used to!

                                1. re: chochotte

                                  I'm not sure that's true about the butter coming to the tables of the working class during the War. Remember that rationing didn't 'allocate' certain foods. People still had to pay out money to get butter or anything else. I don't think those with less money suddenly shelled out for butter, even if they could purchase it. Too bad my in-laws aren't here as they lived through all that.

                                  1. re: zuriga1

                                    It's statistically been proven that the British populace was better nourished under rationing than it was before to it. Not being a specialist in social history of that period I don't recall all the mechanisms and details that made it so but I think that's the accepted argument. Perhaps because certain groups ie children did have special provisions made for them and because rationing curbed the British's natural sweet tooth! Rationing forced people to distribute whatever money they did have along lines drawn up by nutritionists and not according to their preferences, I suppose.

                              2. re: chochotte

                                Do you think Britain is unique? Given the free flow of techniques and style of food across Europe in earlier centuries (similar dishes across countries will have similar routes) I suspect cooking wasn't much different in Britain, France, Italy and Spain.

                                Britain did lose its way, was it the Industrial Revolution, with the mass migration from the land? But I think it is wrong to assume all food was dire based on diaries as they would tend to document extremes rather than the norms of everyday life.

                                I suspect I grew up on much of the food you denigrate (my mother was in her late teens in the war). I have fond memories of it, and my taste for good cheese with eccles cakes (like St John) and Christmas cakes comes from my boarding school, as does my love of Spam fritters....! A much underrated classic that Fergus needs to put on the menu at St John.

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  One of the main arguments I am familiar with in this area is based on the fact that Britain industrialised much earlier and much faster than any other country in the world, so it lost its food traditions much earlier. It's really remarkable to compare rural-urban population distributions and their shifting over time in, say, England and France.

                                  Anyway- I love all that old fashioned food. I love steamed puddings and steak and kidney pudding and rice pudding and trifle. I'm glad we can take the good bits, done well, and have them served up at St John's, and leave 30-minute cabbage and bread and milk behind!