03 | Sep | 18

Hugh Thomas

Somethin’s Cookin’

Where on the map is Oxford? No, not that map. The food one. Visit for a day or two and you’ll find it’s a real stage for the food curious, where you’ll find things like good Thai, a brilliant pub lunch, and fine Middle Eastern mezze. But like everywhere else, eating out minus the limits of restaurants is increasingly important. The Independent have talked about how street food’s evolving in 2018. It’s a dynamic arena, this, and Oxford is keen not to miss out. So here we are with news of BSF’s latest gig.

Ad hoc eating is well-established in the city. The market scene has always been there. Well, since 1774, when butchers and grocers were brought under one roof in The Covered Market. Now it’s somewhere you can get a lot more than a link of Cumberlands, from souvlaki to freshly roasted Columbian coffee. You can see why it’s all come together so well – the market’s entirely sensory: assistants piping and rolling through the window of The Cake Shop; clouds of caramelised butter from Ben’s Cookies; stallholders leaning over the counter of Nash’s Bakery, laughing with the locals.

Then there’s the newer side of things. Kebab vans catering to Oxford’s student night-roamers are unique to the city. Pizza Artisan (RIP) first brought proper wood-fired pizza to Christchurch College and beyond in 2010. They were one of the first traders registered on our British Street Food app. Later, in 2016, along came Bitten with the right idea – open up a street food market, bringing together the best local traders ­– before having to put their market to bed. It’s a loss, but Bitten’s role of informing people what’s good to eat in the city should not go unchecked. It’s the Hot Dinners of Oxford.

Speaking of which, eating out in general has come a long way since BSF last visited Oxford – to host the Central heats of the British Street Food Awards in 2015, with The Shires on the main stage and our street food crazy golf in the grounds of Oxford Castle. Check out this blast from the past. The city’s casual dining options have crescendoed in the past couple of years. Westgate was in part responsible, bringing arguably the UK’s best pizza (Pizza Pilgrims) to the centre, along with proper Indian street food brought indoors from Mowgli.

Next is where BSF’s crack team comes in. Westgate want to take their Social Street Food space up a level. We’re happy to help. Make it more accessible. We want to give parents somewhere they can go for a coffee and catch up after dropping off the kids. We want students to have a better choice of bars and eats before going out on the town (or across the road to Spoons). We want families to have a great space to come together, and have something nice for a weekend lunch without having to dig too deep.

So, before Christmas, we’re going to bring in a raft of new faces to Social Street Food. A coffee roaster, a vegan cake maker, a Greek skewer specialist – all sorts. Did any one say Sri Lankan? Yes, and all on rotation. So there will always be something new to sit alongside our stalwarts — Tommi’s Burger Joint (the Icelandic burger kings, who have now parked up their van and come indoors), Ned’s Noodle Bar (the Number One Noodles in a box), Salt ’n’ Sauce (the quality chippy from Bonnie and Gull), Shawa Lebanese Grill (purveying grilled chicken or lean lamb piled high in Lebanese flatbreads loaded with salad) and Benito’s Hat (the Burritos and Margaritas bosses, making their first break from London).

Oxford deserves it. Up in Leeds, Trinity Kitchen is five years young. And in those five years, we’ve had people coming to us wanting their own spin on it. Can anyone blame them? It has, after all, been a pivotal part of Rola Wala’s success, later opening their fixed HQ there in 2014. It’s proved that, oftentimes, street food needs to adapt to the British climate. And it’s redefined what shopping mall food can be, or, perhaps, should be – as those averse to the food court might say. SSF has every right to do the same.