Tuesday, 28 May 2013

East Oxford Market and Vaults & Gardens Cafe, Oxford

Location: University Church, High Street, Oxford OX1 4AH, UK
FINALLY, Oxford was in receipt of some wonderful sunshine - for an entire Bank Holiday weekend no less! Slap on the suntan lotion, big shades at the ready, bikini on... OK, OK, so not quite THAT sunny. I was keen to get outside though and make the most of it, because if there's one thing you can rely on in the UK, it's that sunshine never lasts. Deciding on a visit to East Oxford Market, followed by a spot of lunch in town at Vaults & Gardens Cafe, I packed MiniF up and we headed off down Cowley Road together.

I'd been to East Oxford Market a few times before, but it had always been packed; thankfully this time, I arrived within half an hour of it opening. With less people around and with a little more space for a buggy, I finally had a good opportunity to browse. It wasn't a particularly lengthy visit, however, as there aren't a large number of stalls here - there must have been about four or five stalls outside, plus a further eight maybe inside. There were producers selling vegetables, Indian snacks, bread, milk, jewellery and cakes, to name a few. You might be able to tell from the picture below though which stall was the star of the show for me...

Food Oxford, FoodieOnTour
www.mydessertation.wordpress.com | www.twitter.com/mydessertation

Christ... where do I start? Fruit tarts, biscuits, doughnuts and cakes... With a selection of goodies like this, there was no frickin' way I was walking past Dessertation. I'll tell you where I started, on the intriguing maritozzi's. I'm not sure about you, but I'd never heard of these before; it turns out they are plump brioche buns, filled with cream - absolutely delicious. Next stop on the Dessertation stall was the fruit tarts, from which I selected a pretty round one, topped off with juicy raspberries, blackberries and crowned with a perfectly ripe strawberry; I also purchased a very attractive pumpkin and amaretto tart - I polished both off at home; thankfully, all to myself! All of the items I tried were perfectly cooked, with beautifully balanced flavours - and the people were pretty lovely too. Sounds like a match made in sweet heaven.

Food Oxford, FoodieOnTour
Clockwise from top: Fruit Tarts, Maritozzi's, Pumpkin & Amaretto Tart

Food Oxford, FoodieOnTour

Top image: Selection of breads. Bottom image: Almond Croissants

The only other item I bought during this visit was a Pain au Raisin (I clearly had my sweet tooth in full effect at the time!), from The Natural Bread Company - who had a thoroughly impressive stall. Apologies for the lack of shot wide angle shot of the stall, but there was such a constant flow of visitors it was near on impossible - a huge credit to the produce as it was clearly in demand. There is nothing more impressive to me at a market than a great, big stall, selling a wonderful array of baked goods - and this one did not fall short!

East Oxford Farmers' & Community Market
Saturdays from 10am-1pm
East Oxford Primary School (behind Tesco on Cowley Road)
Union St

After my taxing *cough* visit to the market, I wandered further into town with a sleepy MiniF, for a spot of lunch at Vaults & Gardens Cafe. I'd heard plenty of positive things about this place and had been keen to check it out for a while, so was really looking forward to my visit. Thankfully, MiniF fell fast asleep en route - this is the perfect scenario for lunch out... no need for distractions or entertainment, I may actually have chance to enjoy a rare moment of eating in tranquillity! If you have kids, you will understand; if you don't have kids, enjoy your peaceful eating; if you're about to have kids, well, enjoy eating in peace it while it lasts.

Oxford Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour

On arrival at the Cafe, I was pleased to see there was seating available in their newly opened garden, so headed inside to check out the rest of the place. On first impression, the Cafe was lots smaller than I had pictured, about a quarter of the size in fact. There was a small counter on the right hand side, with the rest of the room being taken up with large wooden tables and simple wooden chairs. Taking it all in, it became clear that the queue in front of me was for ordering food, which is served up there and then, canteen style. This, I had not accounted for. With sleeping toddler in buggy, I had no hands available for carrying a tray of food, let alone outside to the garden whilst also arranging a high chair for when MiniF (predictably) woke up mid-way through my eating.

Oxford Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour

Anyway, on I pressed, adamant I was going to find a solution. The queue was fast moving, so there was little time to peruse the menu, which was chalked up on blackboards on the wall (sorry, no picture). There were three meat dishes and three vegetarian dishes, along with a soup option. Settling on the Chicken Cassoulet, I grabbed a tray and worked my way along the queue.

On ordering my main I was offered a choice of salad or red cabbage and rice or potatoes - with the potatoes a little delayed, I was happy to opt for the rice (feeling the need for healthy, after all those earlier cakes!), plus red cabbage. Feeling under pressure to move as fast as the lady serving me, I quickly chose a cold drink and asked for direction to the high chairs. It turns out, the high chairs seem to live at the top of a tiny flight of stairs - feeling I would be somewhat unable to push the buggy and carry a tray of food, whilst also popping off to grab said high chair, I asked if someone could help me. Thankfully, a knight in shining armour came to my rescue, in the form of a kind gentleman in the queue behind me. With the waitress offering to bring the high chair and the kind knight carrying my tray, off I went, avec buggy, to grab a seat al fresco.

Away from the hustle bustle of the counter, the garden was lovely - small but well formed, calm and directly overlooking The Radcliffe Camera - a fantastic place to enjoy a spot of food on a sunny day.

Oxford Restaurant Reviews. FoodieOnTour
Chicken Cassoulet with Rice and Reg Cabbage

Tucking into my lunch, I was really very impressed - the food was delicious. The cassoulet was light and tasty, with plenty of lovely melt in the mouth vegetables; the rice was perfectly cooked and still moist; and red cabbage, well, I've always been a big fan! All in all, a really good spot of lunch.

V&GC clearly has plenty of appeal to the local community - good, fresh, home-cooked food; enough choice for both meat eater and vegetarian alike; a pleasant garden AND a fantastic central, drop-in location.

Overall Score: 8/10

The Vaults & Garden Cafe
University Church

High Street
Twitter: @VaultsandGarden
Facebook: @Vaults-and-Garden
Website: www.thevaultsandgarden.com
Phone: 01865 279 112

The Vaults & Garden Cafe on Urbanspoon

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