I can’t resist a buzz. Like Belle De Jour in a private shop, Oli’s Thai on Magdalen Road has been buzzing since news of its metamorphosis from a couscous restaurant to a new Thai surfaced.

But what to expect? Would it be jadingly commercial and predictable, off-puttingly provincial or something worth shouting about? Because Thai aficionados, and there are hordes of us in Oxford, are obsessive in their quest for the best Thai. Twitter has been twitching for weeks about where deserves the Thai crown, spurred on by Oli’s opening.

But for me the search is over, I’ve found my Thai holy grail. Not that Oli’s is an overtly swanky joint. You could miss it opposite the Pegasus if it wasn’t for the hordes queuing, sitting and waiting for tables on a Thursday night.

We had booked luckily, and the turnover is quick, but it’s a tiny place, the size of a juice bar, so we were squeezed into a seat by the window. Those who couldn’t get a table sat on single stools at the bar and front, or outside on the tables even though it was dark, anything to try out what has already become a massive hit in Oxford’s ever-changing restaurant scene.

And it’s in good company because this little corner between Cowley and Iffley Road has transformed itself into a superb foodie haven, kicked off by The Magdalen Arms and soon joined by Oxfork, The Rusty Bicycle, Oxford Blue, and next The Chester Arms which is being revamped. Now swelling the ranks is Oli’s, which has elbowed itself into prime position already despite the stiff competition.

Oli is actually Rufus (Ru) and Laddawan (Ladd) Thurston’s four-year-old son who obviously wanted to make his mark on his parents’ new business. Rufus has spent a lifetime in restaurants but brought a more recent career in publishing to a crashing halt by opening Oli’s – a lifetime’s dream realised. Rufus is front-of-house while his Thai wife Ladd is responsible for the impossibly fast succession of dishes which appear from the kitchen.

While some Thai venues go for ornate, authentic decor, Oli’s is stripped back. Rufus’ brother runs the tapas joint next to Moro in London and it seems the emphasis on food and whitewashed interiors has brushed off.

The menu is similarly basic: 12 dishes including dessert to choose from, all mouthwateringly fresh and delicious sounding so we had no problem choosing. The lemongrass mieng (£5.50) came as a series of mieng leaves, with the lemongrass stuffing placed in the middle and some peanuts, shrimp and chilli to distribute by hand, before you rolled them up, like a Thai version of ravioli, and quite, quite delicious with that wonderful hit of chilli which instantly reminds you that Thailand’s cuisine packs heat.

Tomato, radish and cucumber salad (£4) which sounds English, but was far from it, transparently thin-sliced with a wonderful lime and chilli dressing and was hedonistically refreshing.

Next up, the confit duck panang curry (£10) disappeared in an indecent time, the pad thai (£7) a stir-fry noodle dish which was a bit dry for me, the aubergine curry (£7.50) and the green curry with chicken (£8.50). Yes there were only two of us, but for research’s sake we overindulged. The piquant red sauce which accompanied the aubergine curry was a highlight for me and I used it to spice up the pad thai a bit, although the slices of aubergine were a bit large and tough. The green curry sauce however I could have drunk straight from the bowl but instead plied it with rice and ate in rapture.

An enormous surprise then that we managed dessert at all, but the tiny Portugese custard tarts (£2.50), baked on site, are such tiny little morsels of loveliness which perfectly match the lightness and balance of the rest of the menu, that we couldn’t resist.

Even so, it was only 90 minutes later that we reappeared back into the night, our table immediately being pounced on by a waiting and eager fan. So get down there and see what the fuss is all about, you won’t be disappointed.


38 Magdalen Road, Oxford, OX4 1RB
01865 790223
Email: olisthai@yahoo.co.uk

Opening times: Tuesday 5-10pm, Wednesday to Saturday 10am-10pm, Sundays:
Parking: Bring a small car
and squeeze it in among the students’ vehicles
Key personnel: Rufus and Ladd Thurston and of course their four-year-old son Oli
Make sure you try... everything, the menu is tiny
n In ten words: At last, great Thai food without any singing and dancing