When an iconic Oxford cafe changed hands Katharine MacAlister realised she had a duty to put the legendary fry-ups to the test

There was only one man for the job. After all, The St Giles Cafe is an Oxford landmark and has been feeding a wonderfully eclectic mix of scaffolders, academics and students since the 1930s. Famous for one thing and one thing only – its breakfasts – this greasy spoon is as iconic as Didcot Power Station and CS Lewis.

So when Mark Butcher, Baz to his friends, took it over in May, he was bound to ruffle a few feathers as ‘St Gilers’ rushed to its defence, begging Baz to treasure Oxford’s favourite working men’s cafe.

Only when they actually began eating his delicious breakfasts did the rumour mill stop, mainly because everyone was down there chowing down on his marvellous fry-ups.

But for me, the true test would be whether Baz’s breakfasts were enough for a fine rugby-playing figure of a man like Dave Brogan, pictured, Kidlington gym owner, fitness instructor and yes, you guessed it, prop.

If they didn’t fill him up then Baz had failed, so it was with trepidation that I led Dave up to the St Giles’ Cafe to see for himself. It’s smaller than expected, and gone are the booths and formica tables of yesteryear. Instead blue painted walls and wooden tables greet you, as a waft of jazz hails from the kitchen and gorgeous waitresses drift about.

Not an obvious hang out for our flourescent-coat wearing construction working friends then, but we were charmed nonetheless as Dave picked up the menu in his huge hands and replaced it five seconds later. “Well there’s only one thing for me,” he said smacking his lips in delight. “But will it be enough?” he asked as the waitress explained about the big or small fry-up options and then stopped, aware that her speech was utterly pointless and only one size would satisfy this hulk of a man.

Even the chef looked scared at this point as our orders were taken. We opted for the kedgeree, a rare and firm favourite of mine which is enjoying a current revival, but still hard to get right, and, obviously, the Oxford English – dry-cured bacon, fried egg, Oxford sausages, grilled tomato or field mushrooms (£5 or £9). Freshly squeezed orange juice (£2.50) and personally chosen tea (£2.50 per pot) Earl Grey for me, kept us busy, along with a plate of delicious bubble and squeak (£2.50), which Dave said he didn’t like until he tried one and then ate the whole lot.

We didn’t mind waiting either, because our waitress explained that as nothing was left on the grill, everything was cooked to order and the sausages were proper so took a while. And then there was a long silence as Dave ate and we all waited.

“Do you know what,” he said as he lifted his head finally to an expectant hush, “that was probably the best breakfast I’ve ever had,” before adding: “If I had to criticise it, the yolk was perfectly cooked but the white a bit runny, but otherwise that was top notch.”

The third member of our party quietly worked his way through the fruits of the season, honeyed Greek yoghurt & granola (£4.50), in great appreciation, which came delightfully presented in a lidded jar with a spoon. We also ordered the blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and blueberries (£7) because, oh just out of sheer greed if you must know, but nothing took the edge off that kedgeree (£6). Often too dry, the smoked haddock, rice and egg dish came with a beautifully mellow curry sauce and was as good as any fry-up in my book. Not that Dave would agree, but as Confucius once said: never argue with anyone the size of a truck.

  • St Giles’ Cafe, 52 St Giles’, Oxford 01865 554200 Serves breakfast, brunch, light lunches, snacks, afternoon teas every day, plus pop-up dinners on Thursday/Fridays and Saturdays.