OXFORDSHIRE is a food hotspot, there's no doubt about it.

And we're on a mission to highlight the best and brightest culinary talent from the county in this year's Oxford Mail and Times Food Awards.

Katherine MacAlister chooses the best restaurants, pubs and cafes in Oxfordshire, ranging far and wide and leaving no stone unturned.

Leaving out The Westgate Centre’s numerous offerings because it opened so late in the year, this is a list which boasts some of the most diverse, exciting, new and upbeat range of cuisines in the country.

The following nominations celebrate the best places, from humble cafes to Michelin starred restaurants as we aim to reward and recognise the sterling work going on in kitchens up and down our county. 

The winners will be announced in Thursday's Oxford Mail and Oxford Times, chosen with the help of fellow food reviewers Christopher Gray and Tim Hughes.


One of the hardest-fought categories, with Oxfordshire's best chefs working in pubs 

  1. Star, Sparsholt – Matt Williams’s exemplary cooking enormously impresses in this laid-back light, refreshing and unexpected country pub.
  2. Red Lion, Blewbury – Another village pub reinvigorated thanks to a total makeover and new chef Phil Wild’s sympathetic and heart-warming food, which begs a walk afterwards on the nearby Ridgeway, to burn it off.
  3. Bottle and Glass, Binfield – New, contemporary, bustling and friendly. Combines both worlds beautifully, both decor and food-wise.Oxford Mail:
  4. White Hart, Fyfield – Husband and wife team Mark and Kay Chandler’s wonderful chef/front-of-house partnership results in some top notch food and service. 
  5. The Pointer, Brill – Has massively upped its game recently. A stunning but remote location and wonderful food.
  6. Kingham Plough, Kingham – Emily Watkins perseveres in producing simple but exquisite, old-fashioned, traditional food with a twist, without batting an eyelid.
  7. White Hart, Wytham – Since Mark Butcher took over, this lovely country pub has gone from strength to strength, now boasting new head chef Martin Sheriff.
  8. Hollybush, Witney – One of my all-time favourites, with a loyal crew of locals and diners alike, a winning hybrid of drinking and dining and a brilliant young head chef, Liam Trotter.
  9. Magdalen Arms, East Oxford – The team behind this Magdalen Road pub coined the term gastro-pub and have maintained standards since. Specialising in communal dining.


A proper booxer selling great food can be hard to find. Here are our favourites. 

1. Jolly Postboys, Florence Park – Has been given a last-minute respite in the form of this fun, passionate, community-focused pub serving delicious fare from stews, curries and pies to tapas and sharing boards.
2. White Rabbit, Oxford – A proper boozer crammed full of students, locals, tourists and theatre-stragglers, this is Oxford’s most eccentric pub. It only serves  superb pizzas.
3. Punter, Osney – A hidden gem, its regulars rarely leave and its outdoor courtyard is packed winter and summer, thanks to a fun and affordable menu. The £5 lunch is hard to beat.

Oxford Mail:

4. Perch, Binsey – Busy since Jon Ellse took over. Enjoy river views and wonderful seasonal food, thanks to the Medley Manor Farm’s ‘pick your own’ down the road.

Oxford Mail:
5. Killingworth Castle, Wootton – Former winners of the Oxford Mail and Oxford Times Restaurant Of The Year Award, this derelict pub was brought back to life by Claire and Jim Alexander, whose passion remains undiminished.
6. Woodstock Arms, Woodstock – The crown in the Jacobs House portfolio, always busy, always fun and welcoming. All day food.
7. Rusty Bicycle, East Oxford – A sister pub of The Rickety Press, it serves great burgers and pizzas.
8. Chequers, Burcott – Chef and landlord Steve Sanderson refurbished and refined his menu last year, concentrating on meat staples. It means he does a damn fine steak, and you can pick-and-mix the accoutrements.


Still a great mix of old and new, the county’s restaurant scene is flourishing.

1 No 1 Ship Street, Oxford – The great cocktails and top notch food suits all occasions.
2 GAF, East Oxford – Has since closed down but certainly merits a nomination for its brave stance of doing vegetarian food brilliantly. A breath of fresh air.
3 Cocos, East Oxford –  Clinton Pugh’s fun set up continues to serve great burgers, salads, pizzas and breakfast to an endlessly migrating crowd.

Oxford Mail:
4 Sojo, Oxford – One of my absolutely favourite places in Oxford, the Chinese food is always superb.

5 Kaz Bar, East Oxford – Moroccan tapas served on slouchy banques and velvet pouffes, the intoxicating atmosphere remains undiminished.
6 Mamma Mia, Oxford – Jon Ellse’s magnificent pizza joints in South Parade and Walton Street, are still the go-to for those who like great pizzas on chequered tablecloths.

Oxford Mail:
7 Brasserie Blanc, Oxford – Raymond Blanc dines there every Sunday, where possible; sleek, contemporary and undeniably French.

8 The Anchor, Jericho – Julian Rosser’s North Oxford brasserie set up is charming; a retreat which offers a great menu.
9 Cuttlefish, St Clements – This fish restaurant run by Alberto Brunelli and wife Yola Drage was an immediate success.
10 Atomic Burger, Cowley Road – Along with its sister restaurant Atomic Pizza, they bring crazy back into dining out. Their massively loyal fans love the fun food and atmosphere. 
11 Gees, North Oxford – Our favourite greenhouse continues to thrive. My favourite from the Mogford stable.


Fine dining’s become increasingly rare but there are still some real gems out there.

Oxford Mail:

1 Restaurant 56 at Sudbury House Hotel,  Faringdon – Chefs Andrew Scott and Nick Bennett have turned around what was a forgotten hotel on the edges of Faringdon, into a foodie destination with their ambitious food. Silver service to an nth degree.

2 Oxford Kitchen, Summertown – There is now doubt where the emphasis lies but with wonderful head chef John Footman moving on, his replacement Paul Welburn’s credentials impress.

Oxford Mail:
3 The Kitchen at The Feathers, Woodstock – Executive Chef Dominic Chapman has brought a new lease of culinary life to this historic hotel, leaving the kitchens in the capable hands of head chef Wojciech Chodurcki.

4 No1 Ship Street, Oxford – Sylish and relaxed, head chef Owen Little’s food reflects his dedication. 
5 Feathered Nest, Nether Westcote – Head chef Kuba Winkowski’s dedication to the cause is second to none. Throw in the stylish interior and quintessential Cotswold location and you are on to a winner.
6 Orwells, Shiplake – The winning combination of head chefs/owners Ryan Simpson and Liam Trotman is reaping great rewards. Growing their own produce, seasonality and sustainability are core, leading to real invention in the kitchen.
7 Wild Thyme, Chipping Norton – Nick Pullen’s bijoux family-run restaurant is always consistently good. Expect modern British food with Mediterranean influences. 
8 The Bull, Burford – The old-style comforts of a traditional coaching inn are complemented by French owner Jean-Marie Lauzier – a man steeped in Gallic gastronomic tradition. 
9 Shaun Dickens at The Boathouse, Henley – Exemplary food in a picturesque setting from the ex Manoir chef.
10 Nut Tree, Murcott – The Michelin stars speak for themselves but Mike North’s continuous and unrelentingly dedication to food, and a new refurbishment make for a winning combination. Community focused and unpretentious despite its homage to food.


Where to even start with such amazing diversity? East Oxford has stiff competition

1 Sojo, Oxford – One of my absolute favourite  restaurants, it does Chinese food so brilliantly that you’ll never want to go anywhere else again.

Oxford Mail:
2 Dosa Park, Oxford (opposite Oxford Station)  – My new favourite place – stripped back, bare and honest – but the thalis and dosas defy belief, as you can see. 

Oxford Mail:

3 Majliss, East Oxford – Curry expert Tim Hughes’s favourite.

4 Olis Thai, East Oxford – This tiny Thai pearl of a restaurant is so popular it’s booked up months in advance. Its reputation speaks for itself.
5 Cinnamon Stick, Middle Barton – Syrians run the kitchen and front-of-house, which means you’re in for some really superb, authentic Middle-Eastern cuisine, in a former village pub.
6 Spiced Roots, East Oxford – Cowley Road’s alternative to the Caribbean, not for the faint-hearted – the chicken wings defy belief. Totally authentic in terms of spice and hospitality.
7 Kaz Bar, East Oxford – This Moroccan-style restaurant continues to thrive, despite numerous young pretenders. The Patatas con Chorizo (£3.85) – potatoes slow roasted with chorizo, onion and parsley  – is hard to beat, as are the cocktails.
8 Arbequina, East Oxford – In the former Door 74 premises, the tapas defies belief. I dare you to find better.
9 Pomegranate, East Oxford – More Syrian food, in a bright, funky interior, a great attribute to the Cowley Road.
10 La Bobina, Faringdon – This time Spanish tapas with an enviable reputation.


For those preferring a light snack, lunch, tea or a quick cuppa, there’s lots of choice

1 Worton Organic Garden, Cassington – Only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and attached to the farm shop. Enjoy an incredible mix of international cuisines cooked by chefs from all over the world, using ingredients grown on the farm. 
2 The Rookery, Faringdon – It’s easy to forget that this is a vegetarian cafe, thanks to the eclectic and exotic food being served, and delicious home-made cakes and coffees.
3 The Handle Bar, Oxford – Inconspicuously situated above Zappi’s bike shop, this cool, clean, funky cafe is a wonderful escape with an inspiring menu and is full of hip, young trendy students in the know.
4 Cogges Kitchen, Witney – The museum now boasts its own cafe, but unlike so many institutions whose eateries are given second billing, Rob Tudgey’s family-friendly menu is as crowd-pulling as its premises.

Oxford Mail:
5 Cafe Coco, Oxford – A cafe in name only, this Cowley Road stalwart remains a firm favourite with its funky decor, cool crowd, great cocktails and top-notch pizza, burger and salad type menu. 

6 Faringdon Coffee House – An unlikely location for a Lebanese restaurant, especially one that masqerades as a tearooms selling great cake. But try the platters and you’ll be a convert.

Oxford Mail:
7 The Milkshed, Weston-on-the-Green – No list would be complete without Lucie Greenwood’s Cornish inspired space, where the zest for food is as strident as ever.

8 Yellow Submarine, Oxford – An inspiring charity venture which teaches hospitality and catering skills to run the sandwich and coffee shop.


It’s been a busy year in terms of new openings but they keep on coming. A good sign

1 The Kitchen, Farnborough – Reopened with a funky look, large garden and super food.
2 Cinnamon Stick, Middle Barton – Syrian food in the former Carpenters Arms. Authentic, delicious and addictive. An unlikely location but well worth the effort.
3 Blue Boar, Chipping Norton – Recently refurbished and totally transformed, it boasts top-notch head chef Dale Ventham.
4 Boxing Hare, Swerford – The former Masons Arms is going great guns thanks to husband and wife chefs Nick and Kate Anderson.

Oxford Mail:
5 The Porterhouse, Osney – More like a gentleman’s club than a pub, the sleek, tasteful, elegant interior and meaty menu are already a big hit. Steak lovers will rejoice.

6 Head of the River, Oxford – Thankfully given a good overhaul by Fuller’s, the colourful, enticing menu and decking finally merit its location.

Oxford Mail:
8 No 1 Ship Street, Oxford – Ross Drummond and chef/partner Owen Little bring Oxford city centre an independent restaurant that is fun, sexy, and serious about food. From cocktails to oysters, tapas to a la carte.

8 The Fox, Boars Hill – Brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century, now in the capable hands of head chef Cliff Burt with a new look and new menu.
9 Jolly Postboys, Oxford – Florence Park’s new centre of gastronomy without the frills. Enjoy wholesome food with a heart.
10 Muddy Duck, Hethe – Re-opened with a new open plan kitchen and revised menu which includes Nigel’s famous salt cured beef. Now a better version of the beloved eaterie.


With pizzas taking over the world, we hunt down the best from an ever-increasing selection

1 Atomic Pizza, East Oxford – As fun as it gets; the decor is as wacky as the menu. Try The Shaggy – pulled pork, sausage slices, and two kinds of BBQ Sauce.

Oxford Mail:
2 Franco Manca, Oxford – George Street’s most winning newcomer works on a bums-on-seats modus operandi which means a fast turnaround, but the pizzas it whips out in no time at all are splendid and use a secret sour dough recipe.

3 Rickety Press, Jericho – Sells great burgers and pizzas in a real funky interior, doing both brilliantly, according to Naples chef Mariella Bliss, who went into the kitchens to make sure the pizzas were as authentic as they tasted.
4 Rico’s – A pizza van which scours the provinces and has a loyal clientele who queue regularly for the fabled pizzas.
5 Jamie’s Pizzeria, Oxford – My favourite, often forgotten arm of the Jamie’s Oxford contingency, does great pizzas really well, thanks to Gennaro Contaldo.
6 Cocos, East Oxford – Sells some of the best pizzas in town, and certainly on the Cowley Road. The Greek pizza is a personal favourite. Think classics with a twist.

Oxford Mail:
7 White Rabbit, Oxford - Only serves pizza but does it brilliantly in its authentic wood-burning pizza oven. Must be tasted to be believed. The best pub fare in town, which goes perfectly with a pint. Even sells its pizzas in supermarkets these days.

8 Mamma Mia, Oxford – In Walton Street and South Parade, both traditional pizzerias done brilliantly. Independents which loves families.
9 Crown & Thistle, Abingdon – Has sister restaurants The Post Office in Wallingford and Blue Boar in Witney, all with wood-fired pizza ovens.
10 The Crown, Woodstock – With an ever-changing line-up, the egg, ham and spinach is a current favourite.

Find out the winners in the Oxford Mail and Oxford Times on Thursday, January 25