A casual guide to Oxford’s Cowley Rd
I do like the rough-and-readiness of East Oxford (I lived up Cowley Road as a student back in the day) and it does have a nervous energy and creativity that is sometimes lacking in the genteel streets and spires on the other side of the Magdalen Bridge.
If you’re not local to Oxford and haven’t ventured over to Cowley Road, this feature is here to dangle an editorial carrot – go on, bite it! My most definite recommendation would be, first and foremost, Kasbar, a long established institution that I’ve been quietly in love with for years but somehow have never actually write about until now (oops).
There are many reasons to love this funky Andalucian-style tapas bar/restaurant and the biggest one for me is the buzz – every time I go in there’s upbeat, urban vibe that’s really fun, but it also feels grown up. There’s live music on the weekends, the place is totally packed out, cocktails are racking up left right and centre, and in the summer tables and drinkers spill out onto the prettily-lit street outside, imagining that Cowley Road is actually southern Europe (admittedly you’ll have to squint hard, try it after a couple of drinks).
The food is a big draw too – it was highlighted in The Daily Telegraph last month for its tapas, and offers a kind of Spanish/Moroccan hybrid of prawn tails in chilli, garlic and herb butter, boquerones, babaganoush, potatoes and chorizo, Spanish tortilla, falafel and cous cous.
My verdict on the food? Excellent and good value too. The courses kept coming and I kept eating. Prices average around £4.50 I’d say. Service was slick and glamorous (the waitresses are all beautiful, I’m warning you now) with the manager Fabrice, a long-haired Latino, is a flagrant hand-kissing, outrageous flirting machine.
Across the sparkly-lit way opposite Kasbar is Café Coco, a restaurant/cafe/bar with the same owner that specialises in pizzas/calzone but also does a great line in trendy salads and mezze (in a happy triumvirate, he also owns Cafe Tarifa where we ended up for a cocktail at the end of the night).
Cafe Coco (below) is a great option if you’re going to the Ultimate Picture Palace in Jeune St for a movie – it’s literally two minutes away.
Quirky interiors, with faux favella-style walls and some endearingly bonkers touches like a naked clown in a bath behind the bar. Unlike Kazbar which opens only at 5pm during the week, you can have lunch at Cafe Coco. I had a salmon and superfood salad, below. Delicious actually.
Other places worth your while up this end of town would be Atomic Burger or Big Society if you have teens in tow, Truck Music Store if you’re into your bands (they put on events and have band drop-ins) and Pelaton Espresso (formerly Quarterhouse, they took over in January this year) for great coffee.
This isn’t a definitive list, but hopefully it’s a good starting point for a sojourn over to Oxford’s East End. Anywhere brilliant on Cowley Road that you think I’ve left off? Let me know, I’ll go check it out!
Kasbar, 25-27 Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1HP. Tel: 01865 202920. kazbar.co.uk