Katherine MacAlister is delighted to find tasty, fresh and astonishingly cheap food is still the order of the day
Last time we came here it was underwater,” Tim Hughes observed as we climbed out of his car at the West Oxford Community Centre on Botley Road. Which meant, now that the flooding had abated, we could actually go round the back and climb the steps to Oxford’s best kept secret, the WOCA Cafe, which produces consistently healthy food to a wonderfully eclectic bunch of clientele and passers-by.
The WOCA cafe overlooks Botley Park, its new children’s playground, the Tumbling Bay open air swimming pool and nature area, and the bowls club, so we were surrounded by locals, mums, someone being interviewed for a job and a man with a strange fascination with lentils.
Odd to bring notorious reprobate Tim Hughes here then, our music guru, to whom Ann Widdecombe’s wonderful observation about Michael Howard would be appropriate – ‘There is something of the night about him’. Rarely seen during daylight hours, Tim requested a trip to WOCA because with May Day looming and a long partying marathon to tackle, he needed to stock up on healthy food before succumbing to the bacchanalia of May Morning.
The sun was out when we arrived for lunch but as there was only one table outside, which was taken (more garden furniture needed guys) we ate indoors in the charming cafe run by Ingrid Gaitet, above, who has replaced the equally wonderful Ailsa who ran it passionately until a few months ago.
Ingrid, who was running the East Oxford Farmers’ Market café, has carried on cooking the simple but tasty food WOCA is known for, opting for healthy, contemporary, often vegetarian fare, all well within our price bracket.
There were only four dishes on the blackboard when we arrived so we ordered most of them, the thick and seasonal beetroot soup, flavoured with orange and apple, which we expected to be rather sweet but was instead a savoury and well seasoned concoction served with home-made bread for £3.50, a lunch in itself.
Next up the lamb mince and eggplant ragu with orzo, which sounded rather earnest but had a deep, rich flavour perfectly paired with the orzo, which is a very trendy cross between pasta and rice, and all for £5.
We also tried the lentils spiced with carrot and feta which came with fresh herbs and a lemon dressing. The salad could have been sharper and more juicy, but it still hit the spot, and spared the wallet at only £5.
By this time we were so full we couldn’t even manage the wonderful array of cakes on offer at the counter, opting instead for the refreshing home-made St Clements cordial, made up of juiced oranges and lemons. The bill for two was £19 and we could have eaten half that and still been content.
As for Mr Hughes, he surpassed his five a day in one fell swoop and our meal at WOCA would have kept him going into May Morning and beyond. His only criticism was that next time he would bring a bottle of Tabasco with him.
So anyone in need of a quick vitamin boost, or a healthy meal in a sweet cafe, take stock. This is one to remember.
West Oxford Community Centre, Botley Road, Oxford.
01865 245761 or woca.org.uk