Oxford is one of the most ancient, calm, and beautiful cities in England. Walking down the central streets, you can still see scholars in flowing black gowns issuing from the gates of their colleges and hurrying down the old cobbled streets to their lectures, caps clutched in their hands. Elderly tutors in tweeds push rickety bicycles down Broad Street towards the Clarendon Building, and as the bells ring in St. Mary’s, students flock from the beautiful round Radcliffe Camera library and head in droves towards the centuries-old pubs and coffee shops for a much-needed break from their studies.
However, if you look a little closer you will see signs of modernity everywhere. Although on the surface Oxford may look as if it has remained unchanged for centuries, in actual fact it has done a spectacular job in keeping up with the times while retaining its own special character. Take a second look at those scholars in their traditional caps and gowns, and you will see pens, pencils, and a mobile phone being carried inside their mortar board – an ingenious solution to the irritating rule that no Oxford student may wear their mortar-board in public until they have graduated. Those doddering old tutors are carrying a laptop along with their newspapers and old books, and the students flooding from the libraries are chattering in umpteen different languages as they head towards the coffee shops to buy a mocha-choca skinny doubledip latte mochacino.
Despite its image of quiet, contemplative study and age-old wisdom, Oxford is actually an amazingly fun city to spend time in – and not only if you are interested in 200 year old manuscripts or want to see the first ever telescope! Yes, its museums are legendary, its galleries stunning, and its libraries unquestionably some of the finest in the world. But it also has top-quality restaurants, delicious cocktail bars, darling little markets in unexpected places, and some of the best clubs in the midlands!
So if you thought that you would never visit Oxford because it sounded too dull, or because you weren’t interested in books or architecture, or because you thought it was full of boring old teachers and posh students flapping about in college scarves and rowing boats, then think again! Here is a guide to getting the most out of Oxford as a real city, not just a town with a university in it.
Let’s start with places to eat. Oxford is full of cute, floppy-haired, and reassuringly intelligent people with strong opinions, easy articulacy, and an astonishing capacity for enjoyment. The workload most suffer under (whether students, graduates, or even professors) usually promotes both an impressive efficiency, and a determination to enjoy themselves as much as possible, whenever the opportunity arises. Find yourself a date, pick one of these delightful dining institutions, and prepare for an evening of British charm and culinary enjoyment.
George Bernard Shaw once said that “there is no love sincerer than the love of food”, and Oxonians certainly take this to heart. There are hundreds of fabulous places to eat in Oxford, from the kebab vans on the corner to some of the best curries in Britain. However, here we’ll just concentrate on the fancy ones that you can take a date to!
5-11 Woodstock Road, 01865 511995
An Oxford institution, though the food isn’t up to so much. Romantic liaisons have been held here for decades. They do a marvelous steak and kidney pie (A British classic that must be tried to be believed), and their bar is long and shining and full of cocktails. Annoyingly they do not take reservations, however the wait is often a great opportunity to sample on one of the friendly barman’s exotic creations.
35-37 St Clements Street, 01865 243003
A little far out of the town center, but worth it for the wonderful selection of fresh fish and seafood. The restaurant is decorated in a slightly kitsch style, with lots of life-buoys and ship’s anchors, but the food is well-cooked and they have a great lunch-time deal of 2 courses for £5.
9 Little Clarendon Street, 01865 316616
Good quality French food in a tiny romantic space. Very rustic and with a genuinely relaxed atmosphere. The lunch menu is very reasonable. The minute, wooden, cutely lopsided tables are filled with absorbed couples whispering sweet nothings to each other, and they have a lovely open fire in the winter-time.
The Old Parsonage
1 Banbury Road , Oxford
A beautiful hotel and restaurant in North Oxford, with a delightful garden and a roaring log fire in winter. Very traditional, with a wonderful afternoon tea. The food is very British, very well-cooked but with no inspired modern touches. A perfect place to take your parents/grandparents.
17 Park End Street, Oxford, 01865 793793
Great steaks, and the open-plan kitchen allows you to watch the food being prepared and cooked. Also has a very good wine list. This place has a slightly older clientele, and is where the high-roller of Oxford take their perfectly coiffed blonde dates for a swish dinner before plying them with well-made cocktails at the several nearby swanky bars.
92-94 High Street, Oxford, 01865 202505
One of Oxford’s trendiest restaurants, this former bank is always full of preppy, pashmina-swathed students being dined by eager, well-bred, floppy haired boys wearing stripy ties. The menu seldom changes but its always a nice experience. The staff are enthusiastic and competent, while still be friendly enough to make it a really personal experience.
61a Banbury Road, Oxford, 01865 553540
Beautifully cooked, inspired modern British cooking in the most elegant location in Oxford. A converted Victorian conservatory filled with plants and sunshine, it is one of the nicest places to eat in Oxford. Lunch is bright, friendly, and delicious; dinner is romantic and chic.
Le Petit Blanc
71-72 Walton Street, 01865 510999
The popular venue of celebrity chef Rayond Blanc, whose fantastically successful hotel restuarat Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons, just outside Oxford, is widely regarded as the best in England.
And there you have it; the best culinary pleasures Oxford has to offer. Enjoy!
Next time, we’ll be looking at the coolest bars to go to after you’ve satisfied your stomach…