Top 10: Sunlit Places to Eat and Drink in Oxford

by Jacob Warn

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The final few weeks of Trinity term provide the perfect opportunity to capitalise on some of the fine weather we finally get, to take work outside, or to share a beer once exams are over, al fresco.

But Oxford, despite its many quads, eateries, pubs and beer cellars, often seems to lack the plethora of open-air locations that one might expect to find on the continent. However, there is in fact a host of charming, sophisticated, and radiant places where it’s possible to kick back and relax in anticipation (or in tanning-preparation) of the fast-approaching long vac. Here are our Top 10, listed with their respective ‘sun-hours’.

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1. Head of the River (Midday – Late Afternoon)

A little way out, admittedly, but this Fullers Pub is a wonderful, traditional, and often forgotten venue to soak up the sun over a hearty lunch, or to get a pint of something cool and fizzy after exams. Gazing over the Isis in its large outdoor seating area, you might, in the rising heat of the afternoon and a congenial state of tipsiness, mistake those rowing boats for the romantic outlines of something altogether more Venetian…

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2. The Ashmolean Restaurant (Morning to Mid-Afternoon)

At its lowest level, the Ashmolean has a warm, wintry cafe; at its uppermost, it boasts a phenomenal restaurant, capturing the sun from morning right through to the middle of the afternoon. Splash out with the ‘rents on a gourmet lunch, or just enjoy the skyline views with a pot of tea in the afternoon – not to be missed!

3. The Radcliffe Camera (All Day!)

Ok, so it may not be possible to take drinks inside, nor might you want to, but picking up a cheap coffee
from Taylors or Jericho Coffee Traders, saving yourself from the tourist groups within the Camera’s student-only fence, and modelling in one of the multi-directional alcoves of this library provides the perfect work-break. Just don’t sit on the grass.

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4. The Union Bar (All Afternoon)

If you’re lucky enough to be a member, or have a friend as a member, then escaping from the tourist mania of the centre to the Union Bar is not at all a bad idea! With cheap drinks (coffee, tea, beers, cocktails) and a small but leafy outdoor seating area, this is a place of serenity amid the rising stone sun-blockades of the surrounding colleges and shopping units.

 5. The Varsity Club (All Day!)

As much as I hate to admit it, The Varsity Club’s new(ish) balcony isn’t all that bad a place to have a drink (alcoholic or otherwise). The entrance is, of course, to be found just inside the Covered Market; ascend with vigour to lift up your sticking feet, and finally reach fresh, delightful sunlight.

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7. Gino’s Italian (Afternoon – Early Evening)

If in need of pizza, pasta and wine, then there’s no better place to go than Gino’s  – located by the Bus Station between Gloucester Green and Worcester College. Proper Italian food, reasonable, and with great atmosphere, this is a terrific shout if craving something substantial and solid!

8. The Red Lion (Afternoon – Early Evening)

Staying around the Gloucester Green area, and paying The Red Lion a visit for an early supper gets you close to that Mediterranean ambience: with a beer garden, Mediterranean food, and the predominantly pedestrianised surroundings, it’s almost an Italian piazza…

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9. The Castle Quarter (All Day!)

Not oft’ frequented by students, The Castle Quarter is in fact Oxford’s most Italic setting: most of these restaurants boast outdoor seating, or even terraces, in the lime-washed, sun-washed, plant-strewn complex that better deserves the word puebloplaza or something else worthily European. Step back in time and enjoy vins, charcuterie or fromages at Cafe 1071, get some relaxed food at The Slug and Lettuce, or if it’s a special occasion, head to Malmaison – one of Oxford’ fanciest and most stylish restaurants – for cocktails and exquisite food in their garden or roof-top terrace. The Castle Quarter demands sunlit exploration.

10. Kazbar (Afternoon – Early Evening)

Although not strictly offering ‘outside seating’, Kazbar exudes the al fresco atmosphere whether you’re inside, in their glassy conservatory, or under their collapsable roof (creating a Roman Villa-esque Atrium space). But Kazbar is the place to go on a summer afternoon or evening, for sangria, tapas, Spanish music, and for décor, aromas and sights that will whisk you away from Oxford. Particularly recommended are Thursday nights, featuring live flamenco music, and their half-price tapas offer available Sunday – Thursday from 5pm – 6pm.

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The Poor Print

The Oriel College Newspaper. Run by students, with contributions from the JCR, MCR, and SCR & Staff. Current Executive Editors: Alex Waygood & Aidan Chivers.

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