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The Cherwell Boathouse, eitw
Photograph: Cherwell Boathouse

The 22 best restaurants in Oxford right now

From Sri Lankan street food to Michelin-starred dining, the best restaurants in Oxford let your taste buds travel the globe

Written by
Huw Oliver
,
Kitty Drake
&
Etain O’Carroll
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Oxford’s culinary credentials have come a long way in the last few years with a host of new bistros and restaurants ramping up its reputation for eating out. You can feast on Tibetan momos, Slovak goulash and Keralan curries, all finely spiced and served to perfection, or opt for heavyweight haute cuisine from master chef Raymond Blanc. The best restaurants in Oxford aren’t all expensive either; with a sizeable student population, you can easily dine exceptionally well on a tight budget. And while there’s plenty of choice in the city centre, some of the city’s most interesting new foodie venues make it well worth venturing to Cowley, Headington or Summertown. After a day checking out the best things to do in Oxford, scroll down for a handy guide to the city’s hottest tables.

Best restaurants in Oxford

What is it? Fine dining in the heart of the city

Why go? Tucked away on a quiet street just off Oxford’s Cornmarket, No.1 Ship Street is a sleek and stylish brasserie serving modern British dishes with a Gallic twist. It’s the kind of place where everything feels carefully considered but without any hint of pretension. From the sophisticated décor to the consistently great food, you’ll feel like you’re somewhere quite special. Although the options for vegetarians are limited, if you’re a fan of fish, seafood or heavenly grilled meats, you’re in for a treat. Booking recommended.

Time Out tip: Come for set lunch and enjoy fine food and good value at the same time.

The Cherwell Boathouse
Photograph: Cherwell Boathouse

2. The Cherwell Boathouse

What is it? A riverside restaurant set in a Victorian boathouse.

Why go? This is the peak of riverside dining tucked away down a leafy lane in salubrious north Oxford. Sit back, enjoy the view and tuck into a fine modern British menu as you watch the punts go by. Along with the top-rated nosh, the wine menu has won much praise for its variety and value. Team a prime choice with some local cheese and you might never want to go home.

Time Out tip: If you’re feeling energetic, hire a punt from the punt station next door.

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What is it? Sophisticated South Indian food to woo your senses

Why go? A cut well above your standard curry house, Bhoomi Kitchen serves exquisitely made and delicately spiced Keralan dishes with vibrant flavour. Staff are adept at offering advice on a menu that champions regional delicacies with a choice of aromatic curries, plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans, and a range of sides that include soft but crisy appam and a heavenly, flaky parotta. Although prices are higher than your standard Cowley Road cookhouse, it’s well worth it.

Time Out Tip: Don’t miss the melt-in-the-mouth gulab jamun, a heavenly end to a meal.

Arbequina

4. Arbequina

What is it? Divine tapas in sexy surrounds.

Why go? Set in a converted chemist, this tapas restaurant on trendy Cowley Road is worth a detour out of the city centre. Food is sensational, so no wonder Sunday Times critic Marina O’Loughlin is a fan. Tapas devotees: think Barrafina, but way, way cheaper. Phew.

Time Out tip: A must-order is the thick, oozy tortilla. 

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What is it? A much-loved East Oxford local serving street food from the top of the world

Why go? From market stall to pop up to permanent premises opened mid pandemic, Taste Tibet’s loyal followers will tell you there’s no finer flavour than a momo (dumpling) dipped in their fiery chilli sauce. With a love story worthy of Hollywood behind the scenes and a mission to support local communities, this is feel good food too. Curry, dhal, noodles and smacked cucumber fill out the menu, take out, or eat in, it’ll go down a storm.

What is it? Sri Lankan street food you can’t help but love.

Why go? Slightly off the beaten track but well worth the effort to get to, the Coconut Tree transports you to a hot and steamy Sri Lankan market where you can sample everything from hoppers and roti to cuttlefish and curries. The dishes are served in small tapas-sized portions from a menu that makes vegetarians and vegans truly feel well looked after. Bring some friends, order abundantly and share the lot. Well, maybe not the hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes) served with coconut sambol, cinnamon-infused caramelised onions and Sri Lankan salsa – you’ll want to keep that one all to yourself.

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Quod
Photograph: Etain O'Carroll

7. Quod

What is it? Bright, buzzy brasserie that’s styled like an art gallery

Why go? Plummy but yummy and slap bang on the High, Quod is a lively, central pit stop for cocktails, people watching or a decent meal. Large, brightly-coloured canvasses adorn the walls, the chink of glasses and murmur of conversation waft out the doors to the small courtyard, and the menu features classy burgers and steaks, crispy, paper-thin pizza, as well as a good choice of fish and veggie options. Equally popular with college dons, visiting parents and ladies who lunch, the set lunch menu makes it good value for all.

The Perch
Photograph: Squib Photography

8. The Perch

What is it? Riverside pub with a gorgeous garden

Why go? A taste of village life within walking distance of town, The Perch is a historic thatched farmhouse in the quaint village of Binsey opposite Port Meadow. Chic and cosy on the inside, in summer, it has the city’s finest garden dining. The menu is staunchly British, think braised pig cheeks, grilled quail, burgers and ale-battered fish, but decidedly modern in execution.

Time Out top tip: Work up an appetite with a walk around Port Meadow, along the river or to the village’s 12th-century church.

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What is it? Authentic Turkish dishes in a buzzing, family-run restaurant.

Why go? A Cowley Road favourite, Antep Kitchen is almost always busy so book ahead. Its traditional hot and cold meze, huge kebabs, thin and crispy pide (Turkish pizza) and sharing platters are bursting with flavour and served by super friendly staff. There’s plenty of choice for vegetarians and generous portions, so come hungry!

What is it? A deli and bistro from a team that previously delivered a Michelin star on the same premises.

Why go? With a fine-dining pedigree behind them and a longstanding reputation for great customer service, the team behind this new deli and bistro are old hands when it comes to dishing up great food. This new venture combines a deli stocked with organic goodies and an upstairs bistro with a daily changing menu that ranges from all-day brunch to soups, quiche, and generous cheese and cured meats boards. There’s plenty of choice for vegetarians and vegans and no booking, so you can just turn up and enjoy the flavours.

Time Out tip: If you’re in a hurry pick up a takeaway lunch from the chef’s table on weekdays.

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What is it? A tiny Japanese kitchen serving authentic dishes and the city’s best sushi.

Why go? Turn up and join the queue (they don’t take bookings) outside this little Japanese restaurant for the chance to be treated to fresh sushi, stir fries and grills all cooked in authentic Japanese style. You’ll never settle for a pan-Asian chain again.

Time Out top tip: Don’t miss the eponymous edamame (soybeans served in their pods) for an addictively moreish starter

Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
Photograph: Paul Wilkinson

12. Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

What is it? Raymond Blanc’s two-Michelin-star decadence in the Oxfordshire countryside.

Why go? A footpath lined with lavender winds its way up to a vine-covered manor house hotel and restaurant. Inside it’s even more fragrant and a spot for special occasions – tasting menus are complex, delicate and very expensive. If things get really special, you can always book a five-star room upstairs. Either way, book well in advance.

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What is it? A French bistro disguised as a local pub.

Why go? What looks like a local boozer hidden down a residential street, is, in fact, one of Oxford’s most memorable French bistros. Make your way through the front bar hung with tankards and train sets to the tightly packed back rooms where you’ll find happy diners tucking into moules, escargots and coq au vin. The set menus are great value and they do a mean crêpe if you’re after something lighter.

The Folly

14. The Folly

What is it? Thameside dining slap bang in the city centre.

Why go? Sleek, sophisticated and overlooking the river, The Folly makes a good option for a special occasion and on a warm day, the floating terrace can’t be beaten. The menu is limited but tempting, especially for meat eaters, with classic cuts such as lamb rump and beef sirloin paired with marrow dumplings and tarragon gremolata.

Time Out tip: Go the full Oxford and opt for a pre-dinner river cruise before dining on the waterside terrace.

 

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Kazbar

15. Kazbar

What is it? A taste of the Med in a laid-back setting.

Why go? The place to go if you’re a fan of Spanish and Moroccan cuisine. By day, it’s a bright, airy place hung with lanterns and drying chillies, its large windows opening out onto bustling Cowley Road. By night, its large sofas are dimly lit and usually packed with a lively crowd feasting on classic mezze and tapas such as Iberico pork ribs and merquez washed down with top-notch cocktails.

The White Rabbit

16. The White Rabbit

What is it? Pizza in a pub.

Why go? There’s no more heavenly combination than beer and pizza and this cosy indie pub nails it. There are more than 20 varieties – Americana, Spagnola and a Tabasco-slathered Disco Inferno – and everything comes with a gluten-free option. This is the place to go if you’re nursing a hangover and you need carbs. They’ve even got a garden.

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Gees
Photograph: Gee’s

17. Gees

What is it? Mediterranean grills in a beautiful Victorian conservatory.

Why go? Set in a Grade II-listed glass landmark, Gees is a bastion of good taste and the kind of place where students dine only when their parents – and their credit cards – are in town. The main dining area is in a Victorian greenhouse flooded with light where olive trees and big leafy plants add a nod to its former life as a florists and greengrocers. Today, it’s sleek and stylish with big leather banquettes to sink into and a daily changing menu of Mediterranean dishes to choose from. Reliably good for a special occasion, it’s a bit too conservative to have any real buzz.

Time Out tip: Book a table on the garden terrace for sunny summer days.

What is it: Small Slovak kitchen serving vibrant flavours and killer cocktails

Why go? An unassuming little place tucked away on St Clements, Moya’s low-key atmosphere belies the quality of the food served here. Its pared-back décor is tempered by dishes oozing hearty goodness just the right side of rich with meats that fall of the bone, tender goulash that melts in the mouth and enough choice and variety that you can invite your vegetarian friends along too.

Time Out tip: Arrive before 8pm to make the most of happy hour.

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Big Society

19. Big Society

What is it? A fast food joint named after a political ideology.

Why go? Big Society is a bizarre name for a place that styles itself as a thoroughly relaxed hangout, but that’s part of this American-style bar’s charm. There’s a range of beers on offer plus burgers, fried chicken and cocktails.

Time Out tip: You can play ping-pong and table football while you drink.

Rooftop Restaurant at the Ashmolean

20. Rooftop Restaurant at the Ashmolean

What is it? Unparalleled views at the best lunch spot in town.

Why go? Set on the rooftop of Oxford’s most imposing neo-classical pile, this is the place to go for lunch or afternoon tea. Enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city while tucking into a menu influenced by the priceless exhibits below. It’s worth going for the panorama alone.

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Atomic Burger

21. Atomic Burger

What is it? Every comic book nerd’s dream, the Oxford branch of this pop-culture-themed diner has a man-sized Spider-Man crawling across the ceiling.

Why go? Atomic Burger is also big, big into ‘Star Wars’. Zany burgers and fries are the speciality. We liked the Jake & Elwood which comes piled with blue cheese, fried onions and bacon, but you could opt for the Cactus Jack pulled jackfruit option instead.

Time Out tip: Wash it all down with a bacon milkshake.

 

Yeti

22. Yeti

What is it? The place for perfect curries.

Why go? With its unpretentious frontage, this Nepalese restaurant could be mistaken for a shop. Inside things are charmingly shabby, the focus kept firmly on thoroughly excellent food. Beautifully spiced plates of curry, naan and dumplings arrive promptly – Yeti is family-run and the service is warm and efficient.

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