I instantly regretted the handful of peanuts I’d had in the pub beforehand, and the mouthful of my friend’s dessert at lunchtime, the last piece of gnocchi on the kids dinner plates and the piece of toast I’d had when I got in from work, the slither of birthday cake I’d managed before leaving the house.

Because as soon as I took the first mouthful of our starters of seared beef with tamarind and chilli and the crispy chickpea salad I knew there was a feast to be had.

Where were we? Oli’s Thai, the famed Oxford restaurant who maintains its fabled reputation with continuously brilliant and revered food, and a waiting list that an NHS hip replacement patient would marvel at.

Releasing bookings in waves, and you better be quick to get a look in.

I have tried valiantly over the years, always missing the boat, never quite organised enough. But finally, having booked last year our ticket came up.

I last visited when it first opened and the word hadn’t quite got around, news that a tiny Thai restaurant had opened up in the hinterland of East Oxford pulling people in out of curiosity back in 2013.

Rufus and his wife Ladd, a brilliant Thai chef, decided to go it alone but, like so many before them, making their mark and standing out from the already bustling crowd was going to take some doing.

A few months later it was clear that this was no ordinary undertaking, and not only was Oli’s Thai a labour of love but the food was quite different to anything that had come before.

But time has moved on, trends haves changed, street food restaurants have become the norm, the tapas style, small plate, sharing menu type of global cuisine no longer unusual.

Oxford Mail:

But that would be to underestimate the particular care and attention lavished on Oli’s Thai’s simple and delicious offerings. It’s not about showmanship or food fashions there, but about creating some truly exclusive flavours in the most innocuous and casual surroundings.

Which is why when you arrive you’ll find a very ordinary looking cafe set up, full of happy looking jovial customers. We sat at the bar, ordered a bottled beer, studied the food off the small paper menu, and ordered our food. Dishes poured out of the tiny kitchen as and when they were cooked, so my crispy chickpea salad (£6) arrived before Mr Greedys slices of seared beef (£8), by which time I was absorbed in my little nuggets of crispy yet soft pulses in their sweet and piquant dark dressing with little specks of herbs and red flashes of chilli. The marinated beef and its heavier dense erotic flavours was as successful.

Then another beer while we waited for the mains, chatting happily amid the hustle and bustle of service, as the chefs tossed veg in woks and added their tantalising array of exotic ingredients.

Then the confit duck panang (£14) which had been recommended by countless others; the meat succulent and skin crispy despite being immersed in a thick sauce.

The aubergine curry (£12) was equally as dense, aubergines a tricky customer, its soft melting texture absorbing the coconut based sauce around it, its depth of flavour masking a heat that hit the back of your throat before the sweetness brought it back around.

But perhaps the dish that most summoned up the joy of Oli’s Thai was the tiny apple, cashew, chilli and mint salad, I added as an afterthought. I can envisage it still, the bite of the green apple cubes, the spikes of red chilli, and then the crunch of the thin deep fried onion, its dark Thai dressing adding base notes of herbs, spices and something almost floral, meaning I had to fight the urge to tip the whole bowl up and down it in one.

How we then managed the tiny Portugese tarts sitting on the counter, I’ll never know but they were worth the gluttony, the pastry so delicate that its rings unravelled as you ate it, that custard vanilla filling sticking to the teeth, a little mouthful of heaven.

So, I will conquer my inadequacies and book in again on time, because Oli’s Thai was a revelation. I could eat there every day of the week.


38 Magdalen Road, Oxford, OX4 1RB

01865 790223



Sun and Mon: Closed

Tue: noon to 2.30pm & 5pm to 10pm

Wed: noon to 2.30pm & 5pm to 10pm

Thu: noon to 2.30pm & 5pm to 10pm

Fri: noon to 2.30pm & 5pm to 10pm

Sat: noon to 3pm

PARKING: Persevere on surrounding streets