Independent cocktail bars in Oxford are few and far between, tending to settle on the fringes of Cowley Road and Jericho, rather than attempt the sky high rents of the city centre.

Sandy’s off the High Street and 1855 wine bar in Oxford Castle buck the trend, but on the whole anyone preferring an aperitif has to drink in restaurants like Branca or Quod to quench their more refined thirsts. Until Handle Bar came along.

Formerly tiny cafe Zappi’s above the bike shop in St Michael’s Street, it slowly extended the entire length of the building as its reputation for its healthy and eclectic all day food spread among its clientele – a great mix of students, locals and tourists.

Brunch in particular was a big draw, being one of the first premises to really go for the Californians take on pancakes, granola and the eternally violated smashed avocado.

So it wasn’t a massive surprise to learn that the lock-up underneath has now been converted into a bar with an extensive cocktail menu and an urban vibe.

Le Bar came complete with an in-house DJ when we visited, perching at the bar for a few snifters to start the night off with.

Examples included the Smokey Handle (mezcal, tequila, aperol, pineapple, fresh lime, sugar and £8.50), the Marmalada (gin, orange marmalade, triple sec, fresh lemon, sugar, orange bitters £7.75), Chai Chai Again (bourbon, chai spice infused sweet vermouth, campari, £7) or my favourite the Basilica (gin, muddled fresh basil, fresh lemon, elderflower cordial £6.50).

It meant that we progressed to the upstairs restaurant rather unsteadily.

Celine Wills, co-owner and chef at Handle Bar, saw a gap in the market and adapted the space to accommodate a keen night-time crowd, meaning that several evenings were fully booked when we tried to visit.

It’s easy to see why: the clean, spartan, white-washed, cheerful interior, comes complete with theatre posters on the walls and bicycles on the ceiling, run as a cafe by day, and now a restaurant by night.

It’s sundown menu is a stripped back offering of four starters and five mains keeping things simple.

The smoked mackerel pate with pickled cucumbers and sourdough bread (£7.50) for me then, the roasted root vegetable salad with silverskin onions and a goat’s cheese mousse (£8), as well as a portion of the home-made gnocchi (£8) with a sun-dried tomato and aubergine pesto and vegetarian parmesan.

They were extensive portions, beautifully cooked; the veg al dente, the gnocchi soft and pliable, the aubergine pesto a highlight, the smokey fish perfectly complemented by the sharp slivers of crisp pickled cucumber.

The green lentil salad and wholegrain mustard dressing with apple, cranberries, red chicory, watercress, beetroot and micro herbs (£11) sounded suitably refreshing after such a filling first course, and ticked all the boxes, although the dressing could have been stronger.

The harissa marinated lamb steak with pistachios, cumin yoghurt, mint chutney and green salad, as you can see from the picture below, was the dish of the night, magnificent both to behold and enjoy.

A round of dense, chocolatey, chewy brownies from the counter at the front sufficed for dessert, which we shared with a portion of ice cream, such was the lack of space after such a gargantuan feast.

Since then, news has arrived that The Handle Bar has since taken over premises in Magdalen Road which will come as a great relief for those of you in East Oxford.

You’ll know the premises: formerly the ground-breaking Oxfork, then Gaff, followed by Hyper Ramen and more recently the top notch Taco Bandits - hopefully its high turnover of businesses stops here with Handle Bar 39.

Set up as a friendly, neighbourhood cafe, you can expect breakfasts, brunches and lunches, lovingly made with ethically sourced, local ingredients and lots of abused avocados.

Catering extensively for vegans and vegetarians alongside your ‘full English types’, this is definitely the right location for such a hip and forward thinking, independent operation.

As if you cup wasn’t already overflowing, Handle Bar 39 is also opening as a crêperie soon from 5.30pm-9pm every night, except Sunday and Wednesday nights, offering a wonderful mix of sweet and savoury galettes.

Think reblochon cheese, bacon, potatoes on buckwheat (£9) or poached pear with caramel beurre salé (£7.50) to get your tastebuds watering.

One thing is for sure, with an ever increasing shift in diets and ethics constantly pulsing through our culinary requirements, Handle Bar is already cresting the wave, and ahead of us each step of the way.

Handle Bar, 28-32 St Michael Street & 39 Magdalen Road.

Handle Bar

28-32 St Michael St &

39 Magdalen Road