The Foodie Shopper Guide to Oxford
Are you wearing comfortable shoes and do you have a wheelie trolley with you? Good, because we are about to take you on a whistlestop foodie tour of Oxford, away from the screeching hustle and bustle, traffic and crowds of tourists. It is always best to start early in the morning, so that by lunchtime you can enjoy a quiet picnic lunch in one of the handsome college gardens, relishing the birdsong and flowers as you tuck into your delicious purchases.
St. Giles is a very good place to start, because here you will find two excellent delicatessens, the Woodstock delicatessen and Taylor’s. You can get Poilane bread, fresh, organic juices, a huge array of both imported and local cheeses, charcuterie, cakes, confectionery and snacks. It is wonderful to sit and enjoy a delicious coffee and brioche or croissant, while watching the students go by on bicycles, or the mothers taking their children to school.
If the weather is warm and you want to have a picnic lunch, then Worcester College has 20 acresof the most enchanting gardens, that look replendant all year round, but particularly so in spring. Take a peek into the dining hall, it really is quite breathtaking. You can spread a blanket on the grass, eat a fresh sandwich or handmade pie, drink an elderflower cordial and look at the imposing architecture. Could there be a finer spot anywhere in the world?
Then onto The Covered Market, the foodie shopper’s must-see destination. You can enter the Covered Market via four possible entrances. It was originally built in 1774, by the architect of Magdalen Bridge, John Gwynn, to clear up and tidy all the messy traders’ stalls scattered about the town. The quote for building it was £916 and 10 shillings.
There are some very old shop insignia left, and they are really interesting to look at. Sadly you will find lots of shops selling tourist tack and rubbish, but if you aim for the following food shops you will not be disappointed. Haymans fisheries offers really fresh, delicious, sustainably caught fish, laid on plentiful, clean ice. The footfall is always brisk and busy, so you can rest assured that the fish is fresh. Hedges the butchers are really excellent, and do take in the side window display. The different cuts of meat are very carefully laid out and labelled. There are several butchers in the market, and one very big greengrocer stall, called Bonners. It is as beautiful as any greengrocer you would find on the Mediterranean, with towers of Moroccan dates, purple artichokes, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, rocket salad and long peppers.
If you are feeling peckish, then stop at Katia’s Brazilian Bolitas stall. These are delicious little cheese balls, made with tapioca flour and cheddar cheese. Just the warm smell of them will make you hungry, and they are extremely good value, at 30p each.
Fasta Pasta, the Italian delicatessen, is very well laid out with really good food: prosciutti, Parmiggiano, antipasti and fresh pasta. Make sure you stock up on all your teas and coffees from Cardews, a truly exemplary shop. It is packed full with every variety of tea and coffee imaginable, as well as teapots and mugs, and the staff are extremely knowledgeable and friendly. If you need a rest, then Brown’s Cafe is the place to head for. It is unapologetically simple and plain, with bare tables and a short menu. But for a quick cup of tea and a slice of cake, it is ideal, and you can sit and watch the world go by from its windows.
As you head out of the Covered Market, into busy central Oxford, the smell of all food stalls follows you down the Cornmarket. You will find the car parking at Gloucester St. Car Park, off of Beaumont Street, very convenient, albeit expensive. It is such a pleasure to shop for food in this way, and you may well find you spend a lot less than you would in a supermarket. As you need to wheel everything in your hand drawn wheelie trolley, you are far less likely to overspend on things you donot really need. And we all know that really good food goes much further, tastes better, is much more appreciated and keeps very skilled food artisans in employment all over this land.