Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Grace's first time...in Oxford.

I went to Oxford recently – at last! I’d been meaning to go for years – probably since way back when friends of mine at college were sighing and whining almost every day in the approach to A Level exams, so desperate was their yearning to move to and study in this magical city. I’ve seen a lot of photos of the place in recent years, and as usual social media has played a big part in deciding where I go for my next mini break – curse you, beautiful Instagrammers!

Actually, this particular trip came about after I read online – while in Australia – that Newton Faulkner would be moving his Oxford gig to February 2018. Thanks for being the push I needed, dude! (read my ‘review’, which is really more of a gush, HERE)

The first place I went to after arriving in Oxford was The Nosebag restaurant for dinner; the lovely Demet’s rec. I was sold on the name alone, but then when I went to order I saw a Brain Tumour Charity collection box on the till and shrieked at the poor lady working – ‘they’re my charity! I work with them!’
My dinner there was warm and nourishing – pumpkin and roast pepper tagine with rice and salad. Less than a tenner, as well.

Demet and I then went on to The Turf Tavern – allegedly a regular haunt for the cast and crew of the Harry Potter films, back in the day, and also actually haunted by a lovely lady ghost, Rosie – and had a bev before heading for the bus back to her house. For a Sunday night, at least by sleepy-town-in-Sussex standards, it was bloody busy!? And every table was roaring with laughter. 

I had seen snaps on Insta of the Art Cafe before (and then saved them to my 'Oxford Ideas' collection), so naturally I went there on my first morning in the city. I then went on my second morning in the city – because the vegan breakfasts were amazing, and the general energy of the place was awesome. Amazingly awesome. It reminded me a bit of Cafe Monde, my favourite place for breakfast/brunch/lunch in my old home, Winchester. There were 2 floors of seating, which were small but not too cramped. The service was angelic, and the food was unreal. I tipped quite a bit on both trips.

I walked up the little mound in the ‘Oxford Castle Unlocked’ area, near the old prison which is now a very trendy hotel. The walk was nice, if short, and only cost £1. After that very small climb, I needed coffee. So I gave the Castleyard Cafe a try – and was pleasantly surprised! It gave off a touch of ‘National Trust canteen’ from the outside, but wasn’t at all like that. The service was lovely, and the staff startlingly well-dressed. I was perfectly happy sitting in there for a while, thawing out and fuelling up.

Lunch was had at the Handle Bar Cafe; a place I’d caught sight of the night before as it was a couple doors down from The Nosebag, weirdly situated on the floor above a bicycle shop!? Such quirkiness. It seemed busy when I rocked up, but I found a seat tucked away by a window. I just had a little starter for lunch, as I was still pretty full from brekkie and was planning on getting a big pre-gig dinner; peppered tofu with avocado pesto, fresh leaves and kohlrabi shavings. Absurdly fancy, and pretty good. And when I put a photo of it on my Instagram story (obvs), the owner got in touch to ask if I enjoyed it! That is good social media managing.  

One thing I must say now about food and drink places in Oxford – they are 
so good at accommodating laptops, and the humans attached to them. There is a plethora of plug sockets in most cafes, and while a few little restaurants will have scribbled signs saying ‘Laptop Friends: please be considerate when we’re busy’, there’s never a fuss when someone takes up a seat for a couple of hours to study or work remotely, for the price of 1 coffee. 

(I definitely took a photo of this place's whisky list because I knew Dad would appreciate the J&B)

I was at a loose end some time after my lovely lunch, and after wandering for a while and chancing trips down smaller streets, I found Turl Street Kitchen. I had been wanting an afternoon coffee (rare for me!) to ensure I was on top form and not sleepy at the gig, and this place seemed perfect. Really good vibe – bare wood and cushions, high ceilings, nicely airy. As I walked in I saw a ‘staff wanted’ sign near the wall of staff member polaroids, and I was actually upset that I couldn’t apply!

The only downsides of this place were: the coffee was a little too tangy for my liking, and the younger customers were irritatingly loud conversing in groups. I feel like such an old lady saying that, damn...but they were. 

Before seeing Newton at the O2 Academy, the wonderful Demet Charlotte had suggested we dine at 
Pickled Walnut, in Cowley, a short walk from the Manzil Way bus stop. I was so impressed with that place. Their Syrian veggie/vegan options were fabulous; I couldn’t pick just one main so went with a few appetisers (*does Pam Shipman’s classic ‘sharing food’ hand-swirling gesture*). I really enjoyed my dinner of chickpea falafel (shared with Demet), fresh stuffed vine leaves and deep fried cauliflower drizzled generously with thick tahini. Set me up nicely for several hours standing/dancing afterwards…!  

And as I type this post up (from a series of scribbled notes in my diary), I am in the basement of Society Cafe; the super-chic new-feel place on St Michael’s, crammed with millennials glued to their mini Macbooks. Their service was lovely – the barista actually asked me how I was!? That’s rare these days. Plus, their coffee is sharp and pitch black. Quality stuff. 

And that's it! Oh, well, not really. I will be posting something about Oxford bookshops very soon after this. But that's the extent of my experience within the city. I know, I know, I should have done more tourist tings - but to be honest, I am so overwhelmed with life right now that I couldn't muster up the excitement to explore much more, and properly study this gorgeous place. I just wanted good coffee, food and pretty buildings. And that's what I got. Next time (because there will be a next time) I'll do a Harry Potter tour of the place, definitely...

Now, I must thank the angelic Demet Charlotte and her kind landlady for letting me stay with them. I really appreciated it. (I owe you both a coffee, or something stronger)

I am now looking into not just reviewing cafes or coffee brands but also vegan products, cafes and restaurants! If you readers know of any businesses that need a boost or a fresh assessment, please let me know.

I am also working with more businesses’ social media platforms; I personally feel any place you can buy food or drink should have a stellar social presence and be advertising to any and all potential customers out there.
Hit me up for quotes and/or tips!

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