Turl Street Kitchen, 16-17 Turl Street Oxford

 

At a scrubbed wooden table, a dapper, Rumpole-ish gentleman is taking lunch, in immaculate suit and wide red braces. Behind him, also eating alone, is a troll in human form – a small, wild-haired oldster wearing a plunging singlet and very short shorts, his abundantly furry chest and shoulders on proud display. Both of these unlikely fellow diners look perfectly at home.

Other lunchers today in this warm, woody set of Oxford rooms include a smattering of tourists, some chatty ladies-who-lunch (hello!) and several groups of students, or possibly models – since when did young people get so gorgeous? Any casting director seeking a mixed bag of quirky modern diners for a TV ad need look no further than the clientele of the Turl Street Kitchen, the gemütlich little restaurant putting the heart back into Oxford's city centre.

Let's be clear from the off – no one is going to make a special visit to TSK for the food. It's fine, in a home-cooked, kitchen-supper kind of way. Modern Brit fare, some of it trad – Barnsley chop, cottage pie, roast beef and Yorkshire pud on a Sunday – some of it from the dustier end of the Nigel Slater cookbook, such as garlic and bread soup, or trout gravlax with pickled cucumber. All lovely stuff, if not what you'd call destination dining. But Turl Street Kitchen has so much else going for it, that it doesn't really matter.

It's the kind of effortless neighbourhood café/bar/restaurant/whatever found in hip, studenty neighbourhoods the world over, but sadly rare in the UK. It's open from the early hours to the small hours, dispensing bacon rolls to May Ball-ers at dawn, and sometimes keeping the bar open for as long as people are spending. It hosts regular acoustic and open-mic nights, and showcases food sourced from within a 25-mile radius.

In short, it's hard to walk through the tessellated-tiled bar into the sunny, panelled dining room or sofa-filled snug without feeling lifestyle envy. The look, Georgian townhouse meets arty lecturer's kitchen, is hugely appealing. The tables are big, the menus small, changing twice daily to reflect their reliance on locally-sourced ingredients.

There were just six savoury dishes on offer when I went for lunch with my old university friend Cathy (we weren't at Oxford – she just happens to live there). Prices are student-friendly, ranging from leek and asparagus soup at £5, to rump steak with rocket and horseradish salad at £11.50.

The small plate revolution doesn't seem to have hit Oxford yet; each of our 'starter' salads could have fed four. Both featured good ingredients, chucked together in robust quantities. Big, silky hunks of beetroot walloped by salty slabs of Westcombe Cheddar and the mineral tang of watercress. Gloriously fresh soft-boiled eggs, nestling in a spa-break's worth of raw veg, including what seemed to be an entire little gem. "It's hearty provender," as Cathy said, possibly code for "I could have made this at home".

That the kitchen can also do cooking became clear from their smoked haddock fishcakes, fried to the ideal golden crunch, and perked up with split peas to add a bit of bite, and a blousy, vivid aioli. Lamb tagine was timidly spiced – more Tonbridge than Tangier – but rescued by some zippy, herb-packed couscous and yogurt-dressed leaves.

With a carafe of sauvignon blanc, and a huge picture window through which to admire the passing show, Cathy and I spent a very happy lunch. The staff are young, warm, and really confusing. One minute our handsome waiter was hunkering down, gazing into our eyes in soulful communion. Then he was off, ignoring us for long stretches, as if to keep us guessing. Rather like a boyfriend I had at college, as Cathy said.

Clearing our barely touched desserts, he shamingly murmured, "Was it a bridge too far? We did wonder, when you ordered so much food…" Actually, it was more that both puds were rather grim, particularly an oddity billed as 'chocolate crème brûlée', apparently an uncooked hot chocolate pudding in the process of regeneration. Still, it was struck from the bill as speedily as a girl's phone number from a faithless boy's address book at the end of summer term.

We paid a reasonable £65, including wine and service. And here's the best bit – TSK is a not-for-profit enterprise, raising money for the Oxford Hub charity, which promotes student volunteering and social action. So far it seems to be working – they've announced plans to turn a former bank nearby into a café and takeaway. With chains choking the city centre like bindweed and the old traders of the Covered Market being forced out by rent rises, it's great to see an ethical, independent-minded place like Turl Street Kitchen – and its independent-minded, variously costumed customers – taking centre stage.

Turl Street Kitchen, 16-17 Turl Street Oxford (01865 264171)

Around £20 a head for three courses

Food ***

Ambience *****

Service ****

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent