28-32 St Michael Street, Oxford, OX1 2EB
I don’t write café reviews often, but when I do, there is a common theme: brunch done well.
These three words could comfortably sum up the three café reviews currently on my blog: The Locker Café in Cambridge, Wild Café in Bath… and now The Handle Bar in Oxford.
It seems I am prompted to write a review when confronted with eclectic, comfortable décor, a quirky, welcoming atmosphere, a brunch menu full of creative spins on classics, and the sense that this is a favourite spot with locals and students for breakfasts that become lunches when elongated by good food and good conversation.
If that sounds good to you, then drop by The Handle Bar next time you’re in Oxford.
Situated above a bike shop down a quiet side road in the bustling centre of Oxford, the popularity of The Handle Bar is betrayed by the long queue which winds down the stairs, past the racks of bikes and out into the street. Make your way inside (hint: booking recommended) and you’ll see huge windows running the length of a room filled with plants, antique bikes and comfortable, lived-in furniture. Tucked away on the first floor, with friendly service and conversation filling the air, this is a café to get seriously comfortable in. You’ll come for lunch and still be there when the tapas and cocktails come out in the evening.
The menu had a great distribution between different dietary requirements. This is a place where the ‘house milk’ is oat – so woe betide you if you try asking for ‘normal milk’ in your tea, as my mum did on a previous caffeine-deprived visit. (Don’t worry, she went for oat this time, to great success).
My dad and I had avocado on toast, which was bliss. Added to that indomitable pair were red pepper houmous, creamy feta, delicious garlic mushroom, a dribbly poached egg and a liberal sprinkling of almonds and seeds. Each bite was a different smorgasbord of flavours and textures, and I spent the rest of the day in a happy well-fed glow.
My brother had the full English, where bacon, sausages and egg were joined by plantain chips and a spicy tomatoey bean mix. My mum had the veggie breakfast, which swapped out the meat for the aforementioned avocado on toast – a feast indeed. And my other brother had the coconut pancake snack, which was branded delicious. To complete a heaving table, a bowl of sweet potato chips were snatched up in no time by five pairs of hungry hands.
The drinks were excellent too: with his favourite beverage, a cortado, on the menu, the coffee got my dad’s seal of approval – ‘better than most’, he said. Elsewhere around the table, freshly squeezed orange juice and hot chocolates were similarly enjoyed.
We were having such a good time that pudding seemed like a no-brainer: classic chocolate brownies and a slightly more adventurous matcha tiramisu – best for the sweet-toothed.
Whenever I’m next back in Oxford, I’ll be making a booking at this hidden gem to escape the business of the city centre for some delicious food and a relaxed atmosphere.
Prices are mid-range, with brunches in the £8-10 ballpark. More info can be found here.