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By Samuel Ward
Right, well done; you’re here. You’ve nailed the interview, smashed the A-Levels, bagged the grades and now you’ve arrived at what must seem like the grand prize: Oxford. But if Oxford is the Tesco’s Triple Layer Chocolate Cake of your academic career then this guide will help you find the white chocolate stars that make the experience that little bit special. Doubtless you’ll be presented with all sorts of ‘Things to do in Oxford…’ compilations as you wend your way through Michaelmas term. This list, however, intends to reveal some of the city’s hidden gems that you won’t find at the Fresher’s Fair.
#5 – Byron
Something of a delight in plain sight for you here… Opened over the summer, this eating establishment will be a novelty to returning as well as new students. Confrontationally positioned next to Gourmet Burger Kitchen on George Street, Byron is set to become one of the city’s top restaurants. This predominantly London-based chain offers a simple but elegantly designed selection of delicious burgers. In keeping with its name, the dining experience is suitably sublime and, if you have room, the milkshakes rival Moo-Moo’s in quality if not variety. It’s easy to miss this culinary gem as you stroll down George Street in search of an eatery, but it’s certainly one to try.
#4 – The Rose and Crown
Oxford, it is fair to say, has a reputation for Public Houses. As a consequence of its deserved fame and despite its labyrinthine entrance The Turf is by no means ‘hidden’. The Lamb and Flag and its sister pub The Eagle and Child are both fine establishments with rich histories but it doesn’t take much to stumble across them. The Four Candles serves its purpose as a Spoon’s but is more of a rough diamond than a gem. The White Horse and The Bear are fun for the vertically challenged but instead head up the Banbury Road where the charming North Parade Avenue plays host to The Rose and Crown. The owner, Andrew, is in permanent good cheer, the covered courtyard to the rear offers an incredible spot to relax of an evening and the pub’s famous Mulled Cider is ambrosial. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to Oxford pubs but a trip to The Rose and Crown is a must during your time here!
#3 – Edamamé
Have a wander down the predominantly pedestrian Holywell Street and opposite the striking frontage of New College you will find this cosy little Japanese gem, although you will probably have to peer through a snaking queue of eager diners. Edamame’s opening hours are best described as languid, Thursday to Saturday constituting your only chance to sample their evening meals. Last orders falls at 8:30 but get in early enough and you can sample a wonderful spread of authentic Japanese fare. Whilst YO! Sushi may offer the more filling option of a ‘Super Sumo Sunday’, Edamame has the chain beat on flavour, freshness, authenticity and atmosphere. This idiosyncratic restaurant delivers a unique dining experience in a singular establishment; one that is unquestionably worth a visit whilst here at Oxford.
#2 – Vinnie’s
Arguably the most hidden of gems on this, by no means exhaustive, list; Vincent’s Club is tucked away up on the second and third floors of a building on King Edward Street, also home to the infamous and infinitely less pleasant Babylove. Membership of the club is not easy to come by; possession of a sporting Blue tends to stand one in good stead but is by no means sufficient… However, for those of you less willing to sacrifice your time here to sport, membership of and acquaintance with a University Sports Club is often enough to enable you to sample the delights of Vinnie’s. Its ambiguously strong yet dangerously drinkable cocktails ‘Pinky’ and ‘Perky’ are served by the pint and its walls are casually bedecked with more memorabilia than a Hard Rock Café. It may take some time and a wee dram of luck but an evening spent within Vinnie’s dark blue walls is one to be remembered.
#1 – Jericho
Whilst it might be a long shot to describe an entire district as ‘hidden’, it is easy to miss some of the area’s more subtle delights in the glaring glow of G&D’s and Jamals. Late night ice-cream and curry binges aside, Jericho has much to offer the intrepid urban explorer. Whilst weathered Somervillians may snort at this, in Oxford terms Magdalen to Jericho requires rations and a base camp. However, persevere down Little Clarendon Street and the wonders of Walton Street will greet you. Raoul’s, easily the swarthiest cocktail bar in the city, is well worth a look in as an alternative to the Union-favoured Duke of Cambridge. The architecturally imposing Freud’s up the road similarly offers a refreshingly different drinking experience. Delve even deeper into the district and Posh Fish and the Phoenix Picture House provide welcoming sights and smells. The Phoenix, as well as being cheaper than its distinctly stickier rivals in the city centre, offers a more eclectic range of films which vary weekly. The jewel in the crowning suburb that is Jericho, however, is undoubtedly Port Meadow. Beautiful at sunset, quiet and enormous, Port Meadow offers an unforgettable escape from the city that you may desperately need before Christmas…