Oxford restaurants

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SoJo

Price guide: Budget
#8/27
expert-rated restaurants in Oxford
Expert overall rating:4.1 (out of 5)

The current Oxford in-place for Chinese food.

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Shanghai 30's

Price guide: Mid-range
#13/27
expert-rated restaurants in Oxford
Expert overall rating:4.0 (out of 5)

Named after the Paris of the Orient - a new style of Chinese dining in Oxford.

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Eating out in Oxford is a real pleasure. The size of the city means you don't have to trek miles to find a good meal and this is fortunate because parking - as ever - is an issue. If you're staying centrally then you have lots of really excellent restaurants in easy walking distance.

We English eat earlier than in countries like Spain. Lunch at 1pm and dinner at 7.30 or 8pm are the norm. Do look out for "early dining" or "pre-theatre" offers. These are promotional initiatives to get you in early and can prove very good value.

It's worth knowing that tipping in the UK is 10%. You can give more but that is not expected in the way that it is in the States. It's often possible to add the tip when paying by credit card, but not all restaurants have this facility. In any case if you tip in cash then you know the money is going directly to the serving staff and not the management.

Generally service in British restaurants is not as good as on the Continent or in the States. I travel a lot for my work and I enjoy going out to eat more in just about every other country I know than in Britain. There has been a long-term attitude problem. The British traditionally have not taken pride in service and, perversely, those waiters who did consider their job important tended to behave scornfully towards customers, as is still the case in some Paris restaurants. My advice is - if your order is late arriving of if the waitstaff are chatting at the counter and ignoring you, or if items are forgotten or the bill takes forever to come or there is a general surliness - don't take it personally. We all have to put up with it. The one thing I don't put up with is a waiter leaning across one guest to serve another at the table. This is a bad habit on the increase. Please join me in pointing out politely that to lean across is rude.

This said, waiting a table is improving in the UK. The influx of keen trainees from the EU has made a difference, although it has also meant that making yourself understood in English is getting less easy.

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I have lived in Oxford for more than seven years now and in that time have got to know where - and where not - to eat. The first thing to say is that Oxford is very fortunate in having so many individual restaurants, certainly in comparison to many other cities in the UK. It should be possible to eat well during your stay in Oxford and never go to a chain. The one exception I'd make would be for the Pizza Express in Cornmarket. The food is good, the manager is charming and the building has a fascinating history. Do try it.

I have included Brasserie Blanc but then that began Raymond Blanc's chain. Gee's, Quod and the Old Parsonage belong to their own Oxford chain. The same is true of Taylor’s. Fisher’s started in Oxford but has branched out to Bristol now, and the Summertown Wine Café began in Oxford but has recently opened an offshoot in London.

Oxford is fortunate in having such a range of genuine ethnic restaurants and I've tried to reflect this in my selection. However I would also argue for the traditional English grandeur of the Randolph and the modern fusion restauarants that present British food with a French or Mediterranean twist.  Finally, visitors to Oxford should try fish & chips and an Indian meal, which is now our alternative national dish.