Think of Oxford, and images of stately university buildings and be-gowned students swishing through the streets spring to mind. Those more familiar with the city might think of punting on the river and maybe high tea at Oxford institution, the Randolph Hotel. It’s doubtful that ‘vibrant dining scene’ pops into your head. However, visitors will find that this cosmopolitan little place has such a variety of tempting dining options that the real challenge isn’t where to eat, but how many places you can squeeze into a weekend in Oxford.
Unless you’re seeking one of the aforementioned cream teas or a chain restaurant, the city centre streets around Carfax and High Street won’t be your first port of call. However, just a short walk away from these main thoroughfares, you’ll find some great independent restaurants. A couple of minutes south of Christ Church College is The Folly, a riverside restaurant with a menu of modern British/European dishes priced around the £15 mark for mains such as pan-fried duck breast or twice-baked carrot soufflé. There’s also a cheaper lunch menu if you’re on a budget.
For something more casual in the centre of Oxford, try Edamame, a pocket-sized Japanese restaurant with communal tables on Holywell Street. With different menus for lunch, dinner and Thursday sushi night, it’s worth perusing their website before you set out. Opening hours are limited, but the high-value, low-cost home-cooked food is so tasty that it’s worth arriving early or being prepared to queue.
A 10-minute walk north of Oxford city centre, you’ll find the bohemian-chic Jericho quarter, beloved by the city’s 20- and 30-something crowd. A couple of student-friendly curry houses still stake their claim on the main drag of Walton Street, but most of Jericho’s bars and restaurants cater for a slightly more affluent market. For a casual lunch, try neighbourhood institution The Jericho Café or Greek deli Manos, both on Walton Street. If you’re looking for a more substantial evening meal, sleek glass-fronted Italian restaurant Branca serves up more than just pizza and pasta, focusing primarily on meat and fish dishes such as chargrilled sea bream and braised ox cheek (both around £15). Pub grub with a gastro twist can be found tucked down Cranham Street at the Rickety Press, a former boozer turned cosy pub, which now has a menu of delights such as crispy pork belly with thyme-roasted plums and sweet potato (£16.95). Further north of Jericho, close to Oxford Peartree Travelodge, is the well-heeled area of Summertown, which has a number of popular restaurants around South Parade, including Mediterranean Portabello (which has a terrace outside in summer) and Italian Cibo.
If you’re looking for a range of international restaurants, you’ll want to explore Cowley Road. Rougher round the edges than Jericho, this no-less trendy area is where you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by the choice of burgers, Lebanese, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian and more. A few addresses to note are Oxford institution Atomic Burger, an unforgettable temple of kitsch; Door 74, an intimate modern British bistro, and Pomegranate, a popular Lebanese restaurant with a great-value menu and friendly service. If you fancy a post-dinner drink, you’ll also find plenty of pubs and cocktail bars on and around East Oxford’s main street. And with Cowley Road just a 10-minute walk from the centre, you won’t have far to stumble home.
With more than 30 colleges to explore (not to mention museums, monuments and galleries), your visit to Oxford is bound to involve a packed itinerary. But the real question isn’t whether you should see Magdalen or Christ Church, it’s which of the city’s many restaurants you should prioritize.