I feel like I’ve abandoned the blog a bit of late – I’ve been busy preparing for my Nepal Earthquake fundraiser, as well as having a short holiday. But I’m back on it, and shamefully looking through my notes from the last few weeks and finally writing up about a weekend in Oxford in April.
This was essentially two days of us wondering just how posh some people could be (very) and what the hell is Morris dancing all about – it was also Oxford Folk Weekend when we visited so the dancers were out in abundance! We also managed to fit in lots of nice places to eat and drink so I thought I’d share them, especially as I struggled to find veggie-friendly places before we went. This visit was in April so I wasn’t full vegan although I wasn’t eating cheese.
We decided to each choose a surprise place to eat – me on Friday, Tristan on Saturday. But given that Oxford is quite small and we know what food we both like we were worried about choosing the same place. As I had first dibs it was fine for me. T on the other hand decided to book four different places – just in case! On the Friday, I led us to Moya, Oxford’s only Slovak restaurant. Quite a simple layout and décor but incredibly lovely staff. It doubles up as a cocktail bar and at £6 a pop it would have been rude not to start with a cocktail. I had a caipirinha for old Brazilian times sake. It was my first post-Brazil caipirinha (I know, the horror, right?) and I have to say it genuinely was as good as the ones of Leblon and Ipanema. For starter I had a traditional dish of halusky (potato dumplings) with sauerkraut. It looked like standard slopped out Eastern European fare but the caraway seeds and paprika, as well as the texture of the sauerkraut gave it a really delicious taste. For my main I had deep-fried breadcrumbed cauliflower served with creamy puy lentils and carrots. The cauliflower itself was not-surprisingly plain but the lentils were lovely! I got a side of potatoes too which were a nice accompaniment, but probably not needed as I was so full! It’s the Scottish in me though – anything that is vaguely like chips has to be added to every meal.
After dinner we had a drink at The Turf Tavern, which whilst hard to find from the map you just need to follow the sounds of the chortling rugger lads. It’s a typical cosy Oxford pub with low-beamed ceilings, lots of ales and ciders, and a decent beer garden. We then got in a bit of a folk-off at the Royal Blenheim: watching two folk jams try to out folk each other. By the time we left there most other pubs were shut or just closing so we slowly made our way back to the hotel.
After a wander round the historic university and a few markets, lunch was spent at one of Tristan’s original dinner options – Turl Street Kitchen – which was a good way to whittle down the choices for later. This bistro/bar is situated in Oxford Hub, a social enterprise building that is home to the activist organisations such as People and Planet and ProjectSoup. The bistro was certainly a popular choice and we were lucky to get a seat. We’d had a hearty breakfast at our guesthouse so both went for light options: I had asparagus and poached egg and T had celeriac soup. Both were very enjoyable, although quite pricey for what you get. It was a great place for people watching – both through the large windows and also the comings and goings of Oxford’s eco-warriors and liberal crew.
No weekend away would be complete without afternoon drinking, so we opted for perhaps Oxford’s most famous pub, The Eagle and Child – the former meeting place of The Inklings: a group of writers including Tolkein, Lewis and that other guy who nobody remembers, who would regularly meet to share their fantastical ideas. We then wandered round the Covered Market, got an obligatory cookie from Ben’s Cookies (double chocolate for the win!) and came across David John butcher that sells eight varieties of vegetarian sausages every day. If I lived in Oxford I’d be a regular for sure.
On Saturday night, we started with a drink at The Big Society on buzzing Cowley Road. Quite studenty, I felt that it was trying a bit hard to be the cool kid on the block with the decor, the menu and the ping pong table. After a couple of swift cocktails, we headed to Tristan’s first option, Oli’s Thai, which he had tried to book but they had a six week wait and recommended we try for a walk in. However, being the most popular restaurant in Oxford meant that wasn’t successful so we sloped back round to Cowley Road to Japanese local favourite, Taberu. We almost didn’t get a seat in here either but then they decided to seat us (and only us) in an upstairs section. It was kind of weird for the first while, until they slowly filled it up with other punters. With so much on the menu we went for sharey sharey stuff – one of my favourite ways to dine, and not just because I eat a lot faster that T! Our mega table included vegetable gyoza (a bit like chips, if these are on the menu I have to order them!), katsu pumpkin koroke, edamame beans and various veggie sushi plus a slimey eel sushi for T (eugh!). All washed down with Asahi beer, made this yet another winning dinner. Pit stops after dinner included The Library, which had a banging DJ on downstairs and The Cellar, for some not-so-great DJs…
Our final meal in Oxford was lunch on Sunday at another of Tristan’s reserve dinner options: St Giles’ Cafe. The menu was fairly basic and not many non-cheese veggie options but I was more than satisfied with egg, bubble and squeak and T with kedgeree. In the evenings they sometimes host different visiting chefs. That weekend it was Victor Monroy with a really scrummy-looking Spanish menu including plenty of veggie options. Next time!
We managed one final pit stop at the tie-covered cosy little pub, The Bear Inn which was the perfect place for a Sunday pint. But before we knew it, it was time to leave this beautiful, magical city and get the Hogwarts Express back to London.
Why not check out my top vegetarian and vegan places around the UK or eating and drinking in Brighton, Manchester and London? If you’re a Londoner I’ve also covered the top places in South East London.