A CHINESE restaurant, which once ranked among the best in the city, has permanently closed after failing to reopen after the coronavirus lockdown.

Sojo was among a cluster of Oriental food businesses in Hythe Bridge Street which make up the closest thing Oxford has to a China Town.

Opened 17 years ago by Shuman Tse, owner of what was the city’s oldest Chinese eatery, the Opium Den in George Street, the restaurant had been due to renew its lease with site owners Nuffield College, but took the decision to close after a disastrous lockdown. The restaurant had been serving takeaways but could not cover its costs.

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Mr Tse, 71, said: “It is very sad. I felt like crying. It was like a family there; this is like going through a divorce.

“The problem was lockdown, no tourists and no Chinese students.

“We just couldn't cover the overheads. It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t bear to go back, and handed back the premises on September 30.”

Sojo – named after Mr Tse’s granddaughters Sophia and Jodi – was famed for its spicy, rustic Szechuan, Shanghainese and Cantonese cooking, served in an evocative traditional lacquered wood interior.

It made its mark on the culinary map after a surprise visit by food critic Giles Coren in 2009. The frequently acerbic reviewer said it was the best Chinese meal he’d eaten in years. The restaurant ranked highly on the Tripadvisor site and won Best Restaurant in the Oxford Mail and The Oxford Times food awards in 2017.

A copy of Giles Coren’s glowing write-up for The Sunday Times took pride of place in Sojo’s window alongside a full page review by former Oxford Mail and Oxford Times food critic Katherine Macalister.

Oxford Mail:

Mr Tse was a regular contributor to the Oxford Mail, his delicious cook-at-home recipes going down a storm with readers.

While The Opium Den, which opened in 1977, closed last year, Mr Tse has opened a new restaurant, Tse Noodle in Ship Street, which he said would keep the memory of Sojo alive with some of its most popular dishes.

Although the restaurant had suffered a choppy period, it also featured in a Sunday Times Top 10 of cheap eateries in the South East.

Mr Tse thanked his loyal customers saying: “I really miss them. I am looking forward to seeing them at Tse Noodle.”

Raymond Chu from the nearby Paddyfields Chinese restaurant in Hythe Bridge Street, said the loss of Sojo would be a blow to the area.

He said: “It was competition but it’s very sad to see it go. People come down this end of town for several options, but if there are less options they might not come any more.

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“Everyone has been badly affected during this time. It has affected our finances.”

Oxford Mail:

Paddyfields is now the longest standing Chinese restaurant in the city. Mr Chu and business partner Alan Shek have spent more than £5,000 on technology ensuring, they believe, the best protection against coronavirus of any restaurant in the country. It includes the country’s first misting arch with bathes diners entering the restaurant in ultra violet light and a spray of hypochlorous acid – a weak, safe acid that forms when chlorine dissolves in water, which is claimed to be100 times more effective as a disinfectant than bleach, killing germs and viruses instantly.