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Top 10 Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurants in Oxfordshire

by Adrian Mourby

Top 10 Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurants in Oxfordshire

Recently, in a rather splendid hotel restaurant in Italy, I asked for the vegetarian option. I am not a vegetarian but I rarely eat meat because my wife is, and she does the cooking at home. I’m happy to eat fish, but at this hotel fish was a €15 surcharge. What came to the table - after what I imagine was inelegant rummage in the kitchen - was a plate of sautéed peppers and mushrooms topped with a fried egg. I was disappointed. I suppose I’m used to more thought being put into vegetarian dishes, certainly in the land that invented pasta and risotto.

It wasn’t always the case in Britain. When I married my first wife (back in the 1980s) she was a vegetarian and was often given a lame salad of lettuce, cucumber and tomato as a main course while the rest of us tucked into roast beef or lamb.

By the time my second wife began eschewing meat (in the early 2000s) British restaurants had become much more veggie-friendly. I showed solidarity as far as I could by giving up meat -anything with eyelashes stays alive in our house- and I’ve come to enjoy being meat-free. But I still consume fish and seafood. These are flavours that I wouldn’t want to lose, so that means that when we go out to eat we need a restaurant that looks after vegetarians and pescatarians equally well.

Neither of us wanted to find ourselves only eating in vegetarian restaurants – there are so few around - so I’ve started drawing up a list of vegetarian-friendly restaurants near us in Oxfordshire where we live. My idea of a veggie-friendly restaurant is one where omnivores, pescatarians, vegetarians and even vegans can all eat together and not be disappointed by the choices. There are enough people in each dining camp that it’s worthwhile for restaurants to appeal to a variety of diets. I have had some great vegan dishes at restaurants that also do a splendid steak tartare. As Mrs Thatcher famously remarked all those years ago, what people want is choice.

So here are my ten top vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Oxfordshire. Wherever you live, I encourage you to find yours.


Showing below are all 10 records in "Top 10 Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurants in Oxfordshire"

Cinnamon Kitchen, Oxford

(Oxfordshire)

Oxfordshire

Not many restaurants in Oxford have a view like Cinnamon Kitchen, which opened at the end of 2017 on the roof of the new Westgate Centre. The view from their alfresco seating area is the kind of Oxford panorama you used to get in old episodes of Inspector Morse. Tom Tower, the domed campanile of Christ Church, looms up prominently, with the spire of St Aldate’s Church and the roof of Pembroke College chapel standing immediately opposite it.

The city of Oxford has many restaurants but surprisingly few with a view. Against such a backdrop you might think the food might pale into insignificance, but this “Indian Bar and Grill” is one of the best places to find vegetarian food in the city. Perversely I exercised my rights as companion to go for tandoori king prawns as a main course while Kate, my wife had the vegetarian tandoori trio (paneer tikka, cauliflower, and padron peppers). To start with we shared the muzzeh, three starters (from a list of eight) that were very good value at just £12.50. I selected chicken tikka and cheese nan which was a little unfair of me, seeing as we were meant to be sharing. Here was I demolishing the lot and helping myself to Kate’s samosas with spiced chickpeas and her medu vada (sort of a lentil doughnut) as well.

After all that I really didn’t need a main course (but the prawns were too delicious to eschew), but there was mango cardamom kulfi for dessert. Leon the manager insisted we try the sticky ginger toffee pudding with garam masala ice cream too. Everything was spicy, light and satisfying and the waitstaff were very amiable. (Maybe it was just our friendly faces, but we did get regaled with a few life stories.) Not that Cinnamon Kitchen was quiet that Tuesday evening. We arrived at 6pm and by the time we left – much heavier than we’d arrived – the place was full.

Cinnamon Kitchen have four London restaurants. This is their first outside the capital. I can thoroughly recommend their food for vegetarians and their flexitarian partners. They even offer six vegan options and the wine list uses coded references to indicate vegetarian and vegan wines. We drank a bottle of Chablis suggested by the waiter and found it sturdy enough to accompany tandoori dishes. It was altogether a great evening and as we left, bells started ringing out across the view.

Oxfordshire

At first sight The Fishes looks like one of those red brick Victorian schools that used to be found all over Britain. It sits in three acres of grounds in the village of North Hinksey with a garden that runs down to Seacourt Stream. Were it not for the Oxford bypass throbbing in the distance, you’d think you were way out in the country.

According to Oscar Wilde in the 1870s John Ruskin, then Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford, thought his students would benefit from learning the value of manual labour. He encouraged them to build a road with him past The Fishes. The project was not a success, as Wilde wrote in his essay “Art and the Handicraftsman”: “[Between the villages] Upper and Lower Hinksey, there lay a great swamp, so that the villagers could not pass from one to the other without [diverting] many miles around. Ruskin asked us to help him to make a road across this morass for these village people to use. So out we went, day after day, and learned how to lay levels and to break stones, and to wheel barrows along a plank - a very difficult thing to do. And Ruskin worked with us in the mist and rain and mud of an Oxford winter, and our friends and our enemies came out and mocked us from the bank. We did not mind it much then, and we did not mind it afterwards at all, but worked away for two months at our road. And what became of the road? Well, like a bad lecture it ended abruptly - in the middle of the swamp. Ruskin going away to Venice, when we came back for the next term there was no leader, and the 'diggers,' as they called us, fell asunder.”

Knowing this story, I was pleased Kate agreed to cycle out to North Hinksey and look for the remains of Ruskin’s aborted road. It was a chance to check out The Fishes’ vegetarian-friendly credentials. That lovely late summer evening, we were fortunate to be given a table on the veranda overlooking the sweeping lawn and barbeque area.

The menu was by chef James Grassby, who was pleased to hear about my vegetarian-friendly project and came out to talk to us. For a starter he recommended his veggie board of spinach pakoras, spiced tomato humus, buffalo cauliflower with chipotle dip, and a courgette and feta salad, which was designed to serve two as an alternative to the deli board starter. The chilis and zingy vegetables went perfectly with our bottle of Picpoul de Pinet.

For her main course Kate ordered the special of stir-fried black pepper tofu, shredded vegetables and noodles. I was advised to order the last lobster available “because Thursday is lobster night”. Sometimes there is a lot to be said for being your wife’s flexitarian friend. She in turn helped me out with the fries that came with it. We are such a flexible couple! Altogether it was a very jolly evening enlivened by the East European waitstaff.

Brasserie Blanc

(Oxfordshire)

Oxfordshire

Brasserie Blanc in Oxford’s Jericho District is housed in a former piano shop with big wide windows partially glazed with stained glass by a local artist. This was the first ever brasserie created by celebrated Oxfordshire chef, Raymond Blanc of Manoir aux Quat' Saisons fame. Back in 1980 Blanc declared that he was eschewing haute cuisine here in North Oxford: “If the Manoir is a delicate waltz then my brasserie is the can-can.” The menu consisted of basic French dishes that were a tribute to the food Blanc remembered his mother preparing in Franche-Comté. The place has changed a lot in the twenty years I’ve been visiting however. Originally it was brightly-lit, pine-stripped and painted white; unsurprisingly, given the times, it looked like a Habitat catalogue. Nowadays the brasserie’s palette comes from the darker end of the Farrow & Ball spectrum and the menu has moved on too, reflecting “Raymond Blanc’s love of travel”.

Lamb tagine comes from M Blanc’s visits to Morocco, his grilled cod on squid ink risotto from a visit to Venice’s fish market near the Rialto Bridge, and the gunpowder chicken with papaya salad was inspired by the chef’s regular trips to China.

For vegetarians there is much more on the menu than there was 20 years ago. The Moroccan mezze platter was even vegan friendly, with Indian spiced samosas that were described coyly as “Little parcels of deliciousness created by Raymond and chef Clive” and coconut yogurt for dipping. Also among the starters was a heritage tomato salad with pine nut pesto, and BB’s cheese souffle, which Kate opted for. It arrived in its ramekin beautifully crisp and puffy. Indeed she was so enamoured of Blanc’s way with souffles, she ordered the pistachio souffle for dessert, denying that it was decadent to have two souffles in one meal.

In the main courses there was a lot of meat and fish, as you might expect from a brasserie menu, but there were four “Very Veggie” options on the menu, which included sweetcorn and potato fritter and harissa-glazed aubergine with butternut squash. Personally I’ll eat anything flavoured with harissa, but I was being the vegetarian’s husband that night, not the vegetarian so I indulged in the crayfish and mango salad, and helped Kate with her vegan main-course mezze platter. It’s good to see Brasserie Blanc moving with the times, darkening its hues and providing the kind of meal that a vegetarian would relish rather than just accept.

The Chequers, Churchill

(Oxfordshire)

Oxfordshire

Churchill is a small village close to Chipping Norton with a very commanding church that was rebuilt in 1826 to designs by James Plowman of Oxford - and it shows. The Oxford connection definitely shows. The tower of All Saints is based on Magdalen College’s, its hammerbeam roof is a copy of Christ Church’s roof and its buttresses are based on those found at New College. Sir John Betjeman was said to be a fan. Anyone driving through can’t help but notice this gargantuan edifice and may overlook the pub that stands modestly opposite.

The Chequers is owned by Georgina Pearman and her husband Sam. Georgie set up the Lucky Onion Group, which created some great pubs and dining spaces in the country between Churchill and Cheltenham. When she sold up, she decamped here with her husband. Together they created Bobby Beer, an English premium lager which Georgie uses in the batter for her fish and chips at Chequers.

The dining room is a tall, relatively modern structure behind the older bar with a separate private dining room on a mezzanine above it. It’s a light and airy space with big rafters and big flagstones. The décor is same eclectic chic to be found at many of Georgie’s Lucky Onion pubs with prints of old aeroplanes, a mounted stag with antlers behind the bar, open shelves of Penguin paperbacks and large glass bottles. (There is also a huge wall-mounted metal badge depicting the Order of the Garter, which Georgie picked up in an antique shop.) For a pub that serves such good vegetarian fare there’s a fair number of stuffed animals on the walls.

Vegetarian starters include asparagus with a poached egg, ricotta gnudi, and a twice-baked cheddar souffle with spinach and grain mustard. While Kate did the vegetarian thing and enjoyed the pillowy gnudi with cheese, I went for the Dorchester oysters (which are almost vegetables growing on the seabed, aren’t they?) While the courses for vegetarians were harder to navigate (the gypsy eggs looked like a good choice until Kate realized that nduja was spicy sausage, and opted for the souffle), the offerings for flexitarians were excellent: beef and Guinness pie, pan-fried calves liver, grilled chicken, and lots of steaks. I have to admit that on this occasion I went for steak frites because we never have steak at home. It was very good – and so was the red wine – but I realized there is a digestive price to be paid for falling off the veggie-wagon.

The White Hart, Fyfield

(Oxfordshire)

Oxfordshire

The White Hart in Fyfield is a lovely old public house that was built in the fifteenth century as a chantry by the executors of John Golafre. Golafre had been Sherriff of Oxfordshire and also served with Henry V in France. He is buried in the nearby parish church. The chantry was established so that prayers for his soul could be said by those living in the nearby almhouses. This lovely piece of history is owned by St John’s College – as is so much of Oxford and Oxfordshire - and the pub is run by self-taught chef Mark Chandler, his wife Kay and their manager, Mathieu. It’s a popular and busy place - you’ll need to book ahead at the weekend.

We ordered the vegetarian sharing board to start with. A lot of restaurants are now offering the choice of a charcuterie board, A fish board or vegetarian mixed mezze. This one had three dips – hummus, babaganoush and roasted pepper and cumin – as well as a lot of olives and feta and warm pitta triangles. (Kate especially enjoyed the pomegranate and spring onion garnish on the babaganoush.)

To follow I ordered soused scallops with kohlrabi. Even if I were to give up my flexitarianism and go full veggie, I’d always have to make an exception for scallops! These had come from Flying Fish Seafoods near Newquay in Cornwall but a lot of the produce at the White Hart travels virtually no distance at all. The courgettes and tomatoes in Kate’s pasta main course, pappardelle come from the inn’s own garden, and the eggs are from Ben Lay who works the nearby Manor Farm (where you can see 8,000 Hy-Line Brown hens wandering around self-importantly). We also ordered courgette chips with homemade ketchup, which were a welcome novelty and felt very healthy.

Kay Chandler’s philosophy has been to create the kind of food and dining experience that she and her husband Mark like when they go out to eat and it’s an effective rule to follow. We’d managed an early booking, and as we left both the bar and the restaurant were full.

Oxfordshire

I have to admit that The Old Parsonage on Oxford’s Banbury Road is a particular favourite haunt of mine. It’s a small hotel with all-day dining and an excellent dark but brightened with chrome and mirrors, and run by bartenders who make the naughtiest martinis in the city. Back in the nineteenth century this was where Oscar Wilde lived when he was temporarily suspended from Magdalene College. It’s a cosy old building that dates to 1660, the year that Charles II was restored to the English throne. Then it was a little Cotswold house outside the walls of medieval Oxford. Today as soon as you enter, stepping down into its walled garden, you enter a world of log fires, good books, a superb paintings, and solid English fare.

The restaurant is lined with owner Jeremy Mogford’s personal collection of art. Pictures cover every wall in a busy eclectic way that reminds me of the Chelsea Arts Club. The all-day dining menu is full of allergen advice, including the fact that the courgette, lemon and sheep’s curd risotto can be prepared as vegetarian or vegan. We’d eaten here last year and pretty much ordered everything from the vegan menu. This time round there were fewer vegetarian options although Kate was happy to have a twice-baked goats cheese and thyme soufflé and a salad of heritage beetroots. (When we married, I told her that the one thing I could not abide eating was beetroots and ever since she seems to go out of her way to prove to me how much they delight her.)

The starter choices for a pescatarian were excellent: white crab mayonnaise with fennel and dill, seared king scallops with butternut squash, or house cured salmon with horseradish crème fraiche. I wanted them all so in the end started with the crab and asked for the scallops as a main. (I’m ashamed to say I only realised you could ask for starters as mains about ten years ago and it’s really improved my enjoyment of meals out. Starters always tempt me in a way that mains don’t necessarily.) At the Old Parsonage there were some great mains for carnivores – venison and 10oz ribeye steak with the Parsonage’s excellent handcut chips – but I was happy with my two seafood starters while Kate also had two starters, with the souffle for her main course.

This is one of those dark restaurants ideally suited to a winter evening. You just want to linger and linger so I ordered another martini to enjoy while my wife finished off with the peach and almond pavlova.

Oxfordshire

Out in the Oxfordshire countryside, not far from beautiful Burford there is a rambling pub that used to be a notorious drinking den. The Red Horse in Shipston under Wychwood had a bit of a reputation, and its garden was completely overgrown. When Tracey Hunt and her son Paul took it over in 2013 they completely refurbished it. Now known as the Wychwood Cotswold Inn, the pub has extended over four rooms each named after a season. The old bar where in the bad old days you drank to forget is now painted red and gold. It is known as Autumn, and has an enormous fireplace. Winter is a quiet dining room of with frosty white wallpaper with a large silver rhino head on the bar.

Chairs are leather, floors are wooden and there’s a very attractive central white-painted table with bar stools where you can sit or stand to drink or snack. There are plenty of tables in the garden too. Dogs are allowed. Children are allowed. The only thing that’s not allowed is going home hungry.

The menu is one of the best we’ve tried recently for vegetarians. Of the five starters, three were veggie and the main courses were three vegetarian choices, three meat and two fish. The day’s vegetables are delivered every morning at 6am all the way from Worcestershire and chef Joe McCarthy makes good use of them. We were tempted by butternut squash veloute with a poached egg, spice courgette fritter with raspberry and cashew, and roast baby beetroot and goats cheese. In the end I opted for the dill-dressed prawns because Hattie the waitress urged them on me, but I think Kate’s beetroot and goats cheese looked better.

For the main course I had the pan-seared sea trout with black lentils (which was also at Hattie’s urging and was excellent). Kate had a version of risotto with pumpkin, pearl barley, baby sage leaves and toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds. I think we came off equally satisfied.

Altogether it was a lovely dining experience enhanced by a appetite-inducing six-mile walk beforehand and by some very cheery staff. You can just tell sometimes when people really enjoy their work and somehow this mystically translates into the food and restaurant environment.

The Thatch, Thame

(Oxfordshire)

Oxfordshire

The Thatch inhabits a row of knocked-together thatched cottages on the northwest edge of Thame, a long market town in the south of Oxfordshire. In the days when Evelyn Waugh was a student at Oxford, Thame was a famous foodie destination based on the reputation of The Spread Eagle run by John Fothergill, an idiosyncratic (to put it mildly) restauranteur whose memoir, An Innkeeper’s Diary is a must-read. Fothergill, like TV’s Basil Fawlty decades later did not welcome riffraff and had quite a down on locals. As a hotel The Thatch – originally known as the Old Trout – predates the Spread Eagles being built in 1555. In Waugh’s time it was known as Thatchers. Like the Spread Eagle, Thatchers benefitted from the patronage of hearty undergraduates who motored out to Thame because it beyond the jurisdiction of the university proctors. On at least one occasion it was trashed by an undergraduate dining society called The Assassins, resulting in a large bill for damage. The Thatch inhabits a row of knocked-together thatched cottages on the northwest edge of Thame, a long market town in the south of Oxfordshire. In the days when Evelyn Waugh was a student at Oxford, Thame was a famous foodie destination based on the reputation of The Spread Eagle run by John Fothergill, an idiosyncratic (to put it mildly) restauranteur whose memoir, An Innkeeper’s Diary is a must-read. Fothergill, like TV’s Basil Fawlty decades later did not welcome riffraff and had quite a down on locals. As a hotel The Thatch – originally known as the Old Trout – predates the Spread Eagles being built in 1555. In Waugh’s time it was known as Thatchers. Like the Spread Eagle, Thatchers benefitted from the patronage of hearty undergraduates who motored out to Thame because it beyond the jurisdiction of the university proctors. On at least one occasion it was trashed by an undergraduate dining society called The Assassins, resulting in a large bill for damage.

Today, The Thatch’s front door opens into the main bar with its big open fireplace. Rooms lead off on either side with varying ceiling heights. We called in for lunch one Sunday after a visit to Baron de Rothschild’s Waddesdon Manor and were both very taken with the Small Plates section of the menu. Of nine dishes six are vegetarian – with well-executed favourites like babaganoush, tomato and basil bruschetta, and marmite and onion rarebit. Then there are eight starters, three of which are veggie, including a watermelon and mango salad (to which you can add halloumi for £2.50).

By the time you get to mains there’s a wonderful range of fish and meat for omnivores – three steaks, chicken, lamb, calves’ liver, beef and ale pie, plus halibut and sea bream – but just one vegetarian dish, a sweet potato lasagne. We ordered from the more vegetarian-friendly Small Plate and Starter menus and missed out on the mains.

Upstairs The Thatch offers several bedroom, all of different sizes with beds that have had to be specially made to fit the sloping floors. This seems like a good place to not just enjoy lunch but sleep it off too. By the time you get to mains there’s a wonderful range of fish and meat for omnivores – three steaks, chicken, lamb, calves’ liver, beef and ale pie, plus halibut and sea bream – but just one vegetarian dish, a sweet potato lasagne. We ordered from the more vegetarian-friendly Small Plate and Starter menus and missed out on the mains. Upstairs The Thatch offers several bedroom, all of different sizes with beds that have had to be specially made to fit the sloping floors. This seems like a good place to not just enjoy lunch but sleep it off too.

Oxfordshire

I suppose we go to dinner at The Feathers in Woodstock once a year. This Cotswold stone town is very attractive, with some good boutiques and galleries, and The Feathers always feels like coming home. The staff clearly enjoy working at this quirky hotel which, as an agglomeration of several old buildings, seems sometimes to have more staircases than bedrooms. I’m particularly fond of Octavian from Romania who runs the gin bar at the Feathers, presiding over what was until recently the bar selling the most gins in this gin-loving country. There’s even a citation from the Guinness Book of Records on the wall to prove it. Sadly that honour has recently been stolen by some cheeky upstart bar in Yorkshire - so Octavian told me recently - but I still love his small bar with its brightly-coloured bottles glowing on the shelves like a library of intoxicating glass. Sometimes the hotel is full of flight crews from nearby Oxford airport, which lies to the south of Woodstock. They have to fly out the next morning so stand there with a mineral water, unable to succumb to its blandishments. Fortunately I only have to board the S3 bus and weave my way back to Oxford.

As well as a lovely, naughty bar, The Feathers also has a restaurant and, weather permitting, serves dinner in the courtyard, which is a fine quiet place in the middle of this ancient town.

The Feathers menu is compact, which is often a good sign. If a chef knows the clientele and know his/her own strengths, why prepare pages of dishes? Also too many choices suggest that a lot of meals are either pre-prepared or from the freezer - or both. At the Feathers, Dominic Chapman, late of Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin-starred Hinds Head in Bray, currently offers two vegetarian starters – a soup of the day with warm crusty bread and a tomato tart with goats’ cheese and a basil pine nut salad. For mains there was cheese, onion and sage pie and a cauliflower pearl barley risotto with roasted cauliflower and manchego cheese. Kate had the tart and the barley risotto and pronounced both delicious, but might have liked more choice.

I lapsed to full omnivore with a merguez sausage and harissa mayonnaise starter followed by locally-sourced sirloin steak with confit plum tomato and The Feathers’ own chips. We drank Picpoul de Pinet and I had a glass of Malbec with the steak (which was perhaps a predictable accompaniment but very satisfying).

Oxfordshire

The Cherwell Boathouse is an Oxford institution. When former Rhodes scholar Bill Clinton came back to Oxford as President of the United States, this boathouse, built in 1904 was where he asked to eat.

The restaurant enjoys one of the best locations in the city - on the banks of the River Cherwell which glides slowly south to merge with the Thames. And it really is part of an old boathouse from which people hire punts and rowing boats. In good weather there is always a party atmosphere around the boat house, with people picnicking on the lawn or taking their cool bags of prosecco and crisps on to a boat for a slow meander downstream, or a leisurely punt upstream to the Victoria Arms pub in Marston.

The restaurant occupies half of the boathouse. It’s a single-storey big- roofed structure with a small bar and some great tables in the windows if you can get one. Watching someone who has never punted before turn round and round in circles can add a cruel hilarity to your meal.

We came here one evening after punting for an hour. As I’ve already suggested above, whatever time of day you take out a punt it’s essentially cocktail hour. So Kate and I had made free with a bottle of red wine on the way downstream and all the way back. We were therefore ready to go straight to our table.

Kate ordered the heritage tomato salad which, apart from a chilled cucumber soup was the only vegetarian starter. It was absolutely fine although as she herself put it, you can’t get much wrong by putting tomatoes on a plate. As I wasn’t having cold vegetarian soup, I opted for the seared blue fin tuna, which was deliciously executed – opaque on the outside, and translucent on the inside. It was well suited to our choice of wine, Picpoul de Pinet very well. (This has been a very Picpoul summer.)

For mains we decided to try the two vegetarian dishes, which were a baby aubergine and cashew curry and a wild mushroom risotto. We’ve learned a lot about mushroom risotto in recent months. It does seem to be the go-to dish that English restaurants offer vegetarians and as my wife was growing tired of it, I offered to swap. Not having had wild mushroom risotto for a while and liking both parmesan and rocket this situation suited me fine. Kate was happy with the curry but lamented the lack of flatbread or rice with which to sop up the sauce.

Overall though it was a good evening and the Boathouse was heaving. People love coming here to dine and I can’t say I blame them.

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