Summer has thankfully been long and kind to us in Oxfordshire, which means I’ve been out and about a lot recently, sampling some food and drinks delights, and thought I’d share some of my favourite recent finds. Most of these places are in central and North Oxford.
Afternoon Tea at The Reading Rooms, Combe, Oxfordshire
I recently went to something I heard about last year. Afternoon Tea is served at the Reading Rooms (the village hall) in Combe every Sunday in summer months. The tea is organised by a different village group each week (the WI, the church, the football club) and is hosted to raise funds for the village. This means that it’s an absolute bargain, at £4.50 for a cup of tea, a large scone with cream and jam, and a slice of one of a range of homemade cakes.
Tea is eaten in the beautiful gardens, where many tables are set up, and dressed with fresh flowers. The atmosphere is very ‘English country village’ so its the perfect place to take visitors to Oxford. I ended up going two weekends in a row as the weather was so lovely. I would advise not eating lunch before you go, as it’s so filling, and you probably won’t want dinner afterwards either.
The tea attracts a large crowd of all ages, and there are beautiful flowers on each table in the garden. Refills of tea are available and additional scones and cake are available for a small charge. Combe is a picturesque village and worth a walk around the local area. There are a number of walks that pass through the village, including a circular walk from Stonesfield (6.5 miles) – map and directions here, which is a perfect way to work up an appetite for your cream tea, and then burn some of it off.
Combe Reading Rooms can be found at the following address:
Cream Teas are available every Sunday in July and August from 2.30pm to 5pm, and cost £4.50.
Pimms at The Manor, Weston-on-the-Green
The Manor is a country house situated in the picturesque village of Weston-on-the-Green, which is half way between Oxford and Bicester. Surrounded by beautiful mature grounds, the Manor is a lovely stone building dating from the early 16th Century. I cycled to meet my friends one Sunday afternoon and we had a walk around the grounds (and stopped to look at the lovely vintage cars parked outside) and then popped in to Bertie’s Bar to order glasses of Pimms.
We sat in the grounds of the Manor sipping our Pimms for a couple of hours, and it was a very tranquil way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The Manor also has tennis courts and an outdoor pool and I believe you can combine these with a lunch or dinner during the summer months. The Manor also serves afternoon tea (served in the Georgian Room), which I would love to try, and of course, dinner, served in the atmospheric Baron’s hall.
Brunch at Gail’s Bakery, Summertown, Oxford
This branch of Gail’s Bakery was (and still is I believe) the first to open outside London. It’s reputation preceded it and there was a great deal of anticipation in Summertown upon its opening. Summertown is a very brunchy/farmers market/upmarket coffee shop type place, so the arrival of London’s most talked about Bakery was only going to up the trend stakes of Summertown.
With no bookings taken, getting a table at Gail’s isn’t the easiest thing in the world, especially on a Saturday morning, which is when I went. Luckily my friends turned up a bit before me, and nabbed the only free table, meaning the four of us could enjoy brunch without the wait for a table, which I believe is quite common at the weekends.
The kitchen is very small at Gail’s, and dishes are served as soon as they are ready, meaning you can end up finishing your scrambled eggs before your friends have even got their dishes. Despite this, the food is undoubtably fresh, and always very well cooked. I had the Maple Bacon Brioche the first time I went (not for those on a diet – sugar high then crash almost certain), which was amazing, and very sweet, but a delicious treat all the same. I have also enjoyed the sweetcorn pancakes (served with tomato relish and avocado salsa) which is a much healthier and lighter option for those that prefer a savoury brunch dish, and the scrambled eggs on French dark sourdough, in which you could taste the quality and fresh-ness of the ingredients.
The full breakfast menu can be found here.
All the bread and pastries are baked in-house, every day. A range of breads and pastries are available to buy to take away. Gail’s is open from 7am on weekdays, and 8am on weekends.
Gail’s in Oxford can be found at 251 Banbury Road, OX2 7HN
Cocktails at The Varsity Club, Oxford
The Varsity Club is a four storey building in central Oxford, with its main entrance via the Covered Market. More commonly known as a bar and nightclub, Varsity now has an excellent roof terrace which serves cocktails, and is particularly popular on sunny weekday evenings. We visited on a Thursday evening in July. Turning up (and walking up four flights of stairs) just after 7pm, we found that the roof terrace was absolutely packed. Luckily we pounced on some people who were departing, and found a table for the three of us, with great views looking out to the east and south of Oxford.
Below: Enjoying cocktails in the evening sunshine with my friend Aimee.
The views from the terrace must be some of the best in Oxford, if not THE best, and being a lovely summer evening, with a hot air baloon floating overhead, it did seem like we had stumbled onto perfection. My cocktail choice was a ‘Long’, which was super tasty and refreshing (Grey Goose, Angostura Bitters, Lime Cordial, Lemonade). Ordering is table service only, which makes it relaxing, and the perfect way to enjoy an after work drink with exceptional views.
You can find the full cocktail menu here. There is a two for £9 offer on cocktails (must be two of the same cocktail) on Weekdays before 7pm, which is a great offer as individual cocktails start at £7.
The Varsity Club is at: 9 High Street, Oxford.