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Food and Drink

Destination Oxford: A Gourmet Tour Around the Covered Market

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CMW MarketCellarDoor Darker  Ed Nix0053 tiftcm

Image credit:Ed Nix

In its 250-year history, Oxford’s Covered Market has had a rich and varied heritage. Now, in 2024, it has morphed into something of a foodie hot spot and social centre. Late night opening has meant venues like the Teardrop (the first bar to open its doors under that hallowed glass-roof) and the popular Tap Social can serve into the evening. Independent bookshop Gulp Fiction is running cocktail nights; newcomers Il Corno are offering lectures on Italian culture and history – it’s a fully-fledged scene down there. 

Verity Hoper, whose job it is to promote the Market, claims one could happily spend a day wandering through the space, and I suspect she may be right. Perhaps you could start off by entering from the High Street and you’ll soon encounter Columbia Coffee Roasters who use beans roasted on their own farms and elevate hot chocolate from childhood favourite to something altogether more sophisticated. It’s just opposite Ben’s Cookies, who famously started their rise to international acclaim from the same store in the market where you’ll find them today.  

If cookies aren’t your thing but you have a taste for something sweet, head to Moo Moos for one of their rich, thick milkshakes or smoothies, made to order from a seemingly endless list of fruits and other sweet treats. Or wander up to relative newcomer Hamblin’s where chef Zoltan, previously Head Chef at the much-lauded Pompette in Summertown, makes everything from scratch – from the bread to the mayo. You’ll find Basque cheesecake alongside the freshly made sandwiches which are a meal in themselves. Made using the heritage grain flour for which Hamblin is renowned, the focaccia-style slabs of bread house a range of exciting and fresh flavour combinations which range from vegan white bean paste to Zoltan’s take on a classic salt beef Reubens. Of course, they’re not the only sandwich seller to be found; you’ll soon discover that there many types of sandwich and filling to be found within the c4,600m2. 

Credit: John Lewis

Whether your lunch is in bread form, a salad from Alpha Bar, a pie from David Johns –the market’s last remaining butcher – or even a poke bowl from Sushi Bowl, who have just moved to the space previously occupied by the fishmonger, you can now linger and enjoy it at one of the bench tables within the heart of the space. Or even in the pretty seating area outside, on a newly regenerated Market Street. After restoration work was undertaken by Oxford Preservation Trust in 2020-21, there was a consultation to create a masterplan to guide the Market’s future and now it is patently being celebrated and nurtured as one of Oxford’s greatest assets with further plans in place for future developments. Watch this space.     

 

Sasi’s Thai

The international food scene is well represented by popular venues including Sofi de France, freshly made Neopolitan taralli at Il Corno, Lebanese wraps and panini at Rozana’s, Mediterranean dishes alongside British favourites at Brothers, or pop upstairs next door for more Greek options at Georgina’s. A Taste of China offers up everything from noodles and dumplings to Chinese burgers, Sasi’s Thai can make to order and cater for any dietary requirement, and the East Asian flavours at Donburi Inn are on offer at dinner as well as lunchtime.  

The Covered Market is now open seven days a week – yes, including Sundays and Bank Holidays – and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights closing time for certain traders is 11pm. The famous Oxford Cheese Company, which has been busily purveying artisan cheese on this site since the early 80s. It closes at 5pm but will happily sell you a tasting platter to take along to The Teardrop pub or sister site The Cellar Door wine bar so you can pair their wares with locally sourced ales or spirits, excellent wine by the glass, or perhaps a flight board of either. One shop on, you’ll find a third sibling in the ‘family’: Sartorelli Pizzas if you’re making a night of it. 

Bonners

In addition to their alcoholic beverages, the bar at Tap Social also serves coffee and snacks throughout the day. Pastries are sourced from Proof Social Bake House in Kennington and we defy you to find a better cinnamon bun in the whole of Oxford. Mark, the Operations Manager, describes the camaraderie amongst market traders as ‘almost like Coronation Street in terms of the sense of community’. Presumably minus the drama and sadly, no Roy’s Rolls. That said, for a traditional English caff, Brown’s has been reigning supreme near the Market Street entrance for over 100 years; a too-often unsung Oxford institution.  

Find out more at oxford-coveredmarket.co.uk 

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