Oxford food and drink guide

Oxford food and drink guide

by Isaac Parham 22 July 2016

Historic architecture and a world-renowned university aren’t the only reasons to visit Oxford; the city has some fine restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes up its sleeve too. Find out which ones are worth a trip with our comprehensive guide to the City of Dreaming Spires – from burgers on the Cowley Road to pints on the river.

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Isaac Parham is a freelance food writer and editor from South London. When not browsing Borough market or watching his beloved Portsmouth FC, you'll find him travelling the country to find the nation's best food.

Isaac Parham is a freelance food writer and editor from South London. When not browsing Borough market or watching his beloved Portsmouth FC, you'll find him travelling the country to find the nation's best food.

Oxford is a small city that punches above its weight. The centre can be covered on foot in around twenty minutes and its population hovers around the 150,000 mark. Yet it remains one of UK’s most visited locations – wooing tourists with its Hogwarts-style architecture, Morse connections and a university ranked among the best in the world. And then there’s its food and drink scene, which perhaps more than anything else encapsulates the spirit of modern-day Oxford: urbane, cosmopolitan and quietly fizzing with creative energy.

Pocketed among the narrow cobbled lanes and historic colleges are oodles of smart cafes, duck-and-enter inns and cosmopolitan restaurants, with enough variety to cater for tourists, students and locals. The historic city centre, complete with a section of the River Thames called Isis, is the main draw for most, but surrounding areas such as Cowley, Jericho and Summertown boast first-class options of their own and tend to be a tad more relaxed.

Casual eats

George Street Social– A new addition to bustling George Street, this casual ‘canteen bar’ has quickly become a favourite among students and lunching office workers. It ticks all the boxes: craft beers, smashed avocado on toast and tea and coffee-themed cocktails, with a strong Wi-Fi signal allowing you to Instagram the whole experience.

35 New Inn Hall St, Oxford OX1 2DH

Turl Street Kitchen – One of Oxford’s many social enterprises, Turl Street Kitchen has a three-star sustainability rating and plenty of local advocates. Menus change daily but generally present are British proteins alongside Mediterranean flavours, for example Barnsley chops with shaved fennel and green salsa.

16 Turl St, Oxford OX1 3DH

Crisis Café– This cafe with a conscience majors in healthy lunches, full English breakfasts and afternoon tea. Always tasty, dishes here represent great value for money, especially considering profits are directed towards tackling Oxford’s serious homelessness problem.

40 George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AQ

The Jam Factory– If you have a quick stopover in Oxford then Jam Factory, a two-minute walk from the station, is well worth a visit. The menu is refreshingly eclectic: a mix of modern British and Southeast Asian cuisine complemented by local beers, teas and coffees.

Hollybush Row, Oxford OX1 1HU

Atomic Burger– Oxford has its fair share of American scholars and in Cowley Road’s Atomic Burger they have a ready-made haven for when homesickness strikes. The Uncle Sam vibes are strong here, as you would expect from a burger joint which names patties after Elvis and Forrest Gump, but it’s all good fun – especially the comic book-themed interiors.

92 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1JE

Turl Street Kitchen
The menus at Turl Street Kitchen change daily, focusing on British and Mediterranean flavours
River Thames
The River Thames runs through Oxford, with plenty of pubs and restaurants lining its banks

Dining destinations

Magdalen Arms– Sister gastropub to Waterloo’s popular Anchor & Hope, Magdalen Arms has a winning recipe of its own, serving up hearty, seasonal British fare that somehow feels both timeless and perfectly on-point.

243 Iffley Rd, Oxford OX4 1SJ

Oli’s Thai– Located on an inconspicuous Cowley backstreet, Oli’s Thai is not the kind of place you stumble across. But it doesn’t need to be, as this is one of the most talked about restaurants in Oxford. The concept is simple: well-prepared Thai food in a cosy, relaxed setting.

38 Magdalen Rd, Oxford OX4 1RB

Ashmolean Dining Room– The Ashmolean is one of the world’s top galleries and its top-floor restaurant is no slouch, either. A set of honest European dishes are well complemented by a decent wine list but the real star here is the blockbuster view, which perfectly frames the City of Dreaming Spires.

Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont St, Oxford OX1 2PH

Oxford Kitchen– Elaborate fine dining restaurants are thin on the ground in Oxford (though rural Oxford has more than its fair share) but in Oxford Kitchen they may have a contender for the top awards. Critics tend to agree that it hasn’t quite achieved consistency yet but there’s lots to admire about ambitious dishes such as poached turbot fillet, quinoa, lemongrass, cucumber and seaweed.

215 Banbury Rd, Oxford OX2 7HQ

The Black Boy –If there was ever a reason to take a trip out to Headington, a small suburb on the outskirts Oxford, then this is it. The Black Boy offers top-notch pub grub at modest prices and once got a favourable review from none other than Jay Rayner.

91 Old High St, Headington, Oxford OX3 9HT

Watering holes

The Lighthouse –Recently refurbished, The Lighthouse has bloomed into a lovely pub. Its ‘nautical steampunk’ interiors and small terrace on the river make it a captivating setting, while 2-4-1 cocktails on weeknights are always welcome.

1 Park End St, Oxford OX1 1HH

The Grand Café– This High Street institution is believed to be the site of the oldest coffee house in England, which makes a cream tea here taste that little bit better. A great stop-off point for when you need a break from sightseeing.

84 High St, Oxford OX1 4BG

Rusty Bicycle– A favourite hangout of bumbling academics and ebullient students,seek out this charming community boozer for a snapshot of Oxford University life. Decent food (pizzas, mainly) and ales add to its rustic appeal, while if you’re feeling brave you can take on locals in the weekly pub quiz.

28 Magdalen Rd, Oxford OX4 1RB

Isis Farmhouse – What could be better than a pint at this riverside pub on a sunny day? It has one of the biggest pub gardens around, from which you can smugly watch the exertions of passing rowers, runners and cyclists.

Haystacks Corner, The Towing Path, Iffley Lock, Oxford OX4 4EL

Truck Store – A cafe and record shop rolled into one, Truck Store is a novel proposition. But the marriage works; after all, is there a better way to spend an afternoon than buying a few vinyls and going through the sleeve notes over a cup of coffee?

101 Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1HU

Truck Store
Truck Store is the place to go if you're a fan of vinyl records and good coffee
There are all sorts of contemporary food and drink businesses hidden among the historic buildings of Oxford

Stocking up

Beetroot PantryFirst and foremost Beetroot is an independent cafe serving healthy take-out food but it also has an attached deli that is well worth perusing, especially if you’re into organic produce.

166 Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1UE

Wild Honey – There is more virtuous food on offer at Wild Honey, a small store on Magdalen Road. But you will also find a glut of local produce, including cheeses from The Oxford Cheese Company and Hook Norton Honey.

111 Magdalen Rd, Oxford OX4 1RQ

Fudge Kitchen – There is nothing healthy about fudge, of course, but who cares when it tastes as good as it does here? Not only are you free to sample a few varieties before you buy (butterscotch or Rocky Road are my favourites) but the open kitchen also lets you see how the traditional sweet is made.

5 Broad St, City Centre, Oxford OX1 3AJ

Rectory Farm– Drive (or better still, cycle) out to this farm on the outskirts of Oxford on a summer’s day and you will be in for a treat. There are strawberries, gooseberries, broad beans and potatoes to be picked or, if you want to spare yourself the effort, a well-stocked farm shop.

Pound Ln, Stanton St John, Oxford OX33 1HF

Oxford Wine Company – Oenophiles will find plenty of corkers at the retail arm of this award-winning wine merchants. Or you could swing by one of their two wine bars instead, found in Summertown and Jericho.

165-167 Botley Rd, Oxford OX2 0PB

Oxford square
Oxford's main square is the perfect place to relax with a drink and people watch
A quick bike ride out of the city to places such as Cowley or Jericho will reward you with even more foodie gems

Don't miss…

East Oxford Farmers’ and Community Market –This takes place every Saturday behind the big Cowley Road Tesco and most of the wares are from local farms and producers.

Cowley Road

Covered Market – Oxford’s indoor market dates back to the 1700s and houses over forty traders, many of which are gastronomically focused.

Market St, Oxford OX1 3DZ

Oxford Food Symposium – Every year some of the culinary world’s biggest names come to Oxford to discuss ideas and share philosophies over a good feed. Past speakers include David Thompson and Claudia Roden. Registration opens in December.

St Catherine’s College

Pizza Artisan –A real local favourite, you can spot this pizza van by the queues down the street. Believe me, it’s worth the wait.

Outside Christchurch College

Picnicking on Christchurch Meadow – Oxford has a lot of green spaces but few beat Christchurch Meadow. Take a picnic and while away the afternoon as people try to master the vagaries of punting on the river nearby.

Christchurch Meadow, Oxford OX1 1DP


Photography by Gianna Goulding.