An Oxford Lunch

Most of the time when I meet a friend for lunch, we usually just grab a meal in our of our colleges, or the department canteen. Very rarely do I eat out for lunch, partly because of the cost, but partly because of the time it takes out of the day. So when I do want to spend some money and take some time out of my day, it better be good. Instead of going to a restaurant, though, I’ll often just grab bits and pieces from the local stores and bring a bottle of wine from home. But to do this, you need to know where you want to visit a priori, otherwise you could spend hours walking around Oxford looking at food.

Fortunately, Oxford is a great place for food. Perhaps because of the large number of students and international academics in Oxford, there are a large variety of restaurants and delis. With The Covered Market in operation you have your butchers, fishmonger, cheese shop, tea and coffee shop, and greengrocers right in the city centre. Little Clarendon Street is worth a visit, being home to Taylor’s deli, Maison Blanc, G&D’s (ice cream café), Oddbins (wine shop), The Duke of Cambridge and Angels (cocktail bars), and several restaurants. And of course, there are several fun places to visit dotted around Oxford too. I don’t have time to talk about them all, but here’s the usual tour of where I visit if I want to put an exciting lunch together.

Maison Blanc

Bread from Maison Blanc, near Little Clarendon Street
For some reason, although I’ve been in Oxford for 6 years, I hadn’t visited Maison Blanc until this year. Situated just near Little Clarendon Street, this bakery was among Raymond Blanc’s first enterprises in Oxford. Since it’s humble beginnings, Maison Blanc has added a lovely coffee room inside, and everything I have eaten there has been fantastic. Their almond croissants remind me of those I had in Paris, and I am told their almond pain au chocolat are worth looking out for too. But for me Maison Blanc is still about their bread, which I think is heads and shoulders above any other bread in Oxford. My favourite is the rye bread, the ‘Columbier’, but on this occasion we went for a pain de campagne (£2.60).

Oxford Cheese Company

Cheese from The Oxford Cheese Company, The Covered Market
Really there is nowhere else to buy cheese in Oxford. Not cheap, but you definitely buy cheese to get excited about. Fortunately, in the past, I have had the chance to buy cheese for college dinners, so have tasted a lot of the cheeses they have on offer. I think they are particularly strong on goats’ cheeses, with my favourite being the bell-shaped ‘Clochette’ (~£7), and Burgundy washed-rind cheeses like the ‘Ami de Chambertin’ (~£8). I’ve often said it’s more exciting to bring a cheese as a gift than a bottle of wine, especially if you have cheese of this quality to give. On this occasion we went with a soft goats’ cheese from the Loire (~£5), and a creamy white from the Rhône (~£5), to match the Rhône white wine we had.

Greengrocers

Dried figs from the greengrocers, The Covered Market
Every time I go to the greengrocers in the covered market they have something new I want to try. Whether it is seasonal fruit, like quinces or damsons, that are hard to get hold of, a large variety of dried mushrooms, or just high quality apples, there is something for everyone. We particularly like the dried figs, which are fantastic with cheese, so picked about 8 of them up here (~£3). Pretty hard not to do when the cheese shop is right next to these greengrocers.

Fasta Pasta

Felino from Fasta Pasta, The Covered Market
On the way through The Covered Market, it would be hard not to stop here for some charcuterie. An Italian deli, here you can get a box of pasta for lunch with assorted sauces or fillings, pasta to take home, gnocchi, olives, other fine foods like marrons glacé, and charcuterie. I’m not generally a fan of Italian cuisine, but everything I have had here has been delicious. The prosciutto melts in your mouth with a salty sweetness, and the salamis have the right flavour-fat balance. We felt like some Felino (~£5), a softer, light charcuterie, which went very well with everything we had bought so far.

Olives

Duck liver terrine from Olives, The High Street
A little walk down The High Street, Olives is a French deli which specialises in sandwiches. A lot of students will have their lunch here, with one friend telling me that one day each week he just gets the sandwich filling of the week, and it’s always lovely. You can get foie gras, truffles, a variety of French wines, terrines and pâtés, soups, and other gourmet ingredients that you won’t be able to find in supermarkets. I usually come in here for pork or duck rillettes, a preparation of meat in fat a little similar to a loose meaty terrine, but they didn’t have any when we went in. Spoiled for choice, we had to make our minds up between lobster terrine and duck liver terrine. Given what we had already bought, we went for the duck (~£3/100g), and headed on home.

A real feast, with the wine we had bought beforehand. All we needed then was the late game heroics from Andrew Luck in the American football game we were watching to finish the experience off.

Lunch

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