AN oasis of civilized calm with a dependably cheerful welcome, The Chester Arms is a gem of an Oxford pub – and among the city’s very best.

Tucked away at the bottom of a steep side street, where the terraces of East Oxford give way to the woods and meadows along the Thames, the pub does not grab the attention of passersby but waits, demurely, to be discovered – gently revealing her charms only to those who seek her out,

While just minutes from Oxford’s Iffley Road, The Chester is very much out of sight – though, to her admirers, certainly not out of mind.

Since being rescued from long term closure by landlady Beccy Webb and head chef Hamzah Taynaz, the former dowdy boozer has been transformed into an easy-going, yet effortlessly cool, tavern beloved of all – from real ale lovers to hip young things, local families and (especially) dog lovers – visiting hounds being celebrated with their own photo wall.

And while the secret of The Chester is well and truly out, it remains a proper local.

A big part of its appeal is its fabulous food. Its menu is fun, varied and changes with the seasons, offering delights to meat lovers and vegans alike – and Sunday roasts so good they have eager diners queueing round the block on a weekly basis.

But for many it has become synonymous with one thing: Hamzah’s legendary signature steak platter. And for good reason.

Since the first platter emerged from The Chester’s kitchen in 2009, afficionados have flocked to that corner of Iffley Fields for the irresistable combination of onglet steak, fat chips, savoy cabbage with streaky bacon, zesty salad and homemade Béarnaise sauce.

Oxford Mail: Chef Hamzah at The Chester in Oxford. All pictures by Ed Nix

While no stranger to Hamzah’s deceptively simple culinary masterpiece, it was while chewing away on a jaw-achingly tough and disappointingly dry slab of sinew at a rival Oxford restaurant – which shall remain nameless – that thoughts turned to the friendly food and football-obsessed Hamzah’s superior platter – and I vowed to return to Chester Street to see if it was as good as I remembered.

My friend, the photographer Ed Nix, with whom I was chomping that evening, also had ‘beef’ with the meat, and agreed that a visit to The Chester was, indeed, long overdue.

And so, a few weeks later, we found ourselves in the cosy, oaky embrace of The Chester sipping smooth pints of Loose Cannon Brewery’s moreish malty Abingdon Bridge ale, trading ridiculous stories and settling in for the reassuringly long wait wait for one of Hamzah’s beefy banquets.

Oxford Mail: Chester Arms, Oxford. Steak platter. Picture by Ed Nix

Cooked freshly to order, the platter can take 45 minutes to arrive. And while the time can be ably filled with a voyage of discovery among the cask beers, there is also an ever-changing range of starters to get the juices flowing, and a tantalising, highly recommended, array of homemade bread and dips – including rich harissa, olive tapenade and green tahini. It is perfectly proportioned for sharing without filling you up before the main event.

The platter arrived to gasps and approving noises – not just from Ed and I, but from neighbouring tables too. To be fair, it is an impressive ensemble. The steak, which we ordered rare (onglet – or ‘hanger steak’ should ideally not be cooked beyond medium rare) came chopped, decadently heaped and ruby-red against the greens of the fresh leaves and cabbage. A little pot of golden Béarnaise glowed like a setting sun.

Oxford Mail: Chester Arms, Oxford. Steak platter. Picture by Ed Nix

Its entrance also put paid to any form of conversation; recycled anecdotes replaced with hushed feasting.

It was every bit as good as we remembered. The steak was tender, juicy and richly flavoured with a mouthwatering beefiness and a complex taste approaching game.

It was balanced by the light tang of the smooth Béarnaise, peppery watercress and the comforting bite of the cabbage – itself shot through with the subtle sweet, smoky, saltiness of the bacon. It was perfect.

It would have been great with a commanding Cabernet Sauvignon or spicy Malbec, but we stuck with refreshing pints of session ale, which helped see it off.

Platters come for two or three-people, but be warned: the servings are generous and if you’re dining à deux, you’d need a massive appetite and unflinching focus and commitment to do justice to a triple.

Having complemented the happy Hamzah and the always-charming (and hilarious) Beccy, we left – safe in the knowledge that, for the beer and steak fan, there is no better place in town.

Others may imitate, but only The Chester is guaranteed to leave you grinning from ear to ear.


  • THE Chester Arms, 19 Chester Street, Oxford
  • Call: 01865 790438
  • Email:
  • Menu:
  • Don’t miss: Chef Hamzah’s Steak platter: £45 for two, £60 for three.
  • Also: Other dishes are reasonably priced, with homemade bread and dips at £6.50, fish and chips for £9 (small) or £17 (large) and a vegetable tagine with saffron couscous and pine nuts at £16.
  • Drinks: Lap up the well-kept local beers
  • Get there: Avoid parking stress and try the beer – come by foot, bus or bike.