The Old Bookbinders Ale House in Oxford is one of those subtle gems, from the outside it has the appearance of your regular run of the mill pub buts as the website says it’s known as Oxfords best kept secret since 1869. The Bookies (as it’s also known) is a family run pub settled off Walton street away from the everyday hustle and bustle of Oxford and was re-opened in 2011 by the Sardones family who endeavoured to mix the quaintness of the British pub with the formidable menu of a French Bistro. Although the menu itself is bijoux, the menu changes regularly so you’re never bored and it also allows the emphasis to be on quality rather than quantity.
Great food served and a warm and friendly environment is always a draw and the Bookies is a master of both as the website also says children, dogs and students are welcomed as long as they behave.
Café Coco has been serving Oxford for 23 years now, a real achievement in the era of momentary pop ups and passing fads. If a restaurant has been established this long you know it’s absolutely doing something right. It’s won quite a few awards not to mention a loyal following among its Oxonian clientele and has stayed current by recently revamping its menu to include more health focussed and gluten free offerings (It also claims the best cappuccino in Oxford). The menu is everything you would want it to be from classic ground steak burgers to pizzas and calzone all the way to mezze, tempura and baked camembert. Even the most fussiest of eaters will find something on the menu to devour. The cocktail menu is just as wonderful from Bellinis to Martinis and from Mojitos to Mai Tais or if you’re looking for something fresh and a little less sinful, fruit and vegetable juices are made to order. It’s easy to see why Café Coco is still going strong, and may I say, long may she continue.
Famous for hosting the likes of famous writers CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien the Eagle and Child is situated within a short stroll of Corn street, Oxford University and St Johns College. A public house since 1650 on a street that dates back to as far back as 1398; there is no better place in Oxford to ample some truly traditional English fayre. The Pie House at the “Bird and Baby” offers an amazing selection including the incredibly English sounding beef and bone marrow Pie as well as a the slow cooked lamb shank pie, the blade of beef, mushroom and stilton pie and some more European offerings such as the venison and Malbec pie and the chicken chorizo and cider pie which sounds absolutely gorgeous and all are made with a variety of pastries. Again this is another venue where you are spoiled for choice from steak frites to potted Devon crab, smoked Scottish salmon, Gloucester Old Spot sausages, and a variety of delicious sandwiches, vegetarian options there’s even nachos if that’s what tickles your fancy. So pull up a chair soak up the history (and few gins) and enjoy some sumptuous food in this historic building.
The Jam Factory is famously known for as the place Frank Cooper made his famous…um, marmalade. These days of course it’s an art centre/restaurant/chill out space so that’s cleared that up then. Offering only free range, well sourced local produce it’s popular with tourists, students, and of course artists. It’s everything you would expect; the beef is 28 day aged Scotch Angus, the fish is sourced from boats not trawlers and never from the Pacific ocean. Provenance is everything at the Jam Factory. The menu comes across as the best of everything; duck and Port pate with Mum’s gooseberry chutney and San Francisco sourdough sounding perfectly indulgent it’s not long before my head is turned by cider cured fillet of salmon with Irish seaweed, crushed potato and dill and cream but then it’s not long before I’m distracted again by the Sicilian caponata with boccocini, confit garlic, ruby chard and sourdough. I think I would really struggle to make a selection here and would have to return to sample everything on the menu. Art may be subjective but this menu is sublime from anyone’s perspective. If you’re feeling fruity, the chips are half naked (wink, wink) I haven’t really went into much detail about desserts possibly because I’m more of a cheese board type of gal but the Jam Factory offers desserts that even I would push aside the Stinking Bishop for, so for all of you pudding aficionados I’m going to say this in ten words or less: JF ginger cake with pouring cream & Brittany salted caramel.
The Trout is the perfect place to get away from the city centre. Located on the banks of the River Thames and famous for inspiring literary greats such as Lewis Carroll and Collin Dexter’s formidable Inspector Morse, the Trout was also a favoured meeting place of Roseamund the Fair and Henry II. Although obviously refurbished since then you can still expect the warmth of a roaring fire and a comfy armchair or two to while away the day under exposed beams and there are still enough remnants of its historical past in its bones to whisk you away somewhere far back in time. The Trout is set in the beautiful riverside scenery of Oxfordshire and while its location is a feast for the eyes the menu won’t leaving you wanting either. The menu is beautifully put together utilising the best seasonal ingredients the Slow-cooked pork belly & seared scallops with pancetta & thyme mashed potato, green beans tossed in apple butter is surf and turf taken to a stratospheric level. The Pan-Fried Sea Bass Fillets with sautéed potatoes, baby fennel, beluga lentils and lovage pesto well, let me put it this way; if it was a literary work it would be a rich romance. Even your pub standard chicken and chips happens to be Buttermilk Southern Fried Chicken stuffed with ‘nduja sausage, with sweet potato fries, apple salad and preserved lemon aioli, sheer poetry. But does the Trout do a good cheese board? Well even though that’s like asking Wonder Woman “but can you cook?” (which is not just flagrantly sexist but down right offensive) the answer is yes, an astonishingly good cheeseboard is available but that’s not all; the dessert menu is one of the more extensive ones I’ve looked at so far and offers such delights as baked New York style cheesecake with British blackcurrant curd, warm Belgian chocolate brownie with bourbon vanilla ice cream and the divine sour cherry & nut Florentine with British blackcurrant curd and bourbon vanilla ice cream amongst others.
A quirky little joint Kazbar brings the exotic to Oxford with a little bit of Spanish/Moroccan flavour. Offering all the great things you need for a casual night out with best friends, Kazbar’s Tapas and cocktail menus are sublime. Everything at Kazbar has a very authentic provenance and you can see this from the menu. Sample the delights of “Sliced lean cured ham from Iberian free roaming black hoof pigs” and “Creamy blue cheese from the mountains of the Picos de Europa” every little bite is a taste of sunshine; and those are just to start. Sliced octopus legs, served with new potatoes, red onion, paprika and olive oil, Braised butternut squash, chickpeas and harissa and Duroc black pig cheeks, slow cooked in Mayador cider are all available on this stunning menu which feels more like a holiday than a dining experience. Wash it all down with a fig and vanilla daiquiri, morrocan iced tea, a glass of the house sangria or, if you’re feeling it try a Marrakesh Express (a combo of cinnamon espresso shaken with Absolut vodka and kahlúa). The décor at Kazbar isn’t a let-down either and is pleasingly exotic and relaxed not unlike the staff who are worldly and warm and always willing to give advice on dishes. All in all, Kazbar is a wonderful place for the winter months when you’re missing the warmer weather.