Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentine's Day Special

One of my friends was recently inquiring about where's good to take a girl in Oxford. So I thought I'd write a post about it. Last Valentine's day, I pretended to go to the library then went to see my ex-boyfriend where we proceeded to argue about how there was at least one named individual who I would rather have been spending the evening with. The year before, I was brought a rose and had a nice evening planned but was more intent upon running around halls being a fresher and being (more) immature. The year before that I think I probably skipped school to go to Oxford and had a really nice time but that wouldn't fit into my cynical scheme of 'I don't really buy all this Valentine crap yet have still done something which has turned out out awfully to mark the occasion most years.' The year before that I was bought a bunch of roses and complained that they were wilted. They were SO wilted. This year, someone suggested a group of us go to this RAG blind date thing. I briefly considered it (it is for charity, after all) but then dismissed the idea because the latest addition to my 18-strong list of what qualities an ideal partner would possess is 'probably not Oxbridge educated'. So, given my location and complete lack of interest in anyone in the vicinity, I'll probably be not-doing anything romantic on Valentine's day. But if I were to go on a date in Oxford, these are the gems I'd recommend.

Al Andalus
I talked about the food at this place here, i.e. at an event which was very much not a date. But Al Andalus is one of those places which is appropriate for almost any event. It's a classy place to eat but still retains an informality about it that makes you feel relaxed and at ease, as if you were actually on a lads' holiday in Spain or something. Also, sharing is good.

Shanghai 30s
There are quite a few far-eastern food places in Oxford which go for the atmospheric, 'authentic' vibe. I personally think Shanghai 30s does it best. Well, best for a date context. Sojo would be a bit too pressure-filled and I have a feeling the waiter would make it awkward. And then there's the spice issue, (speaking from experience) no one likes snot and that would be unavoidable from the combination of February sinuses and sichuan pepper.
Just as with the far eastern places, there are lots of places in Oxford which go for the Turkish/Moroccan/mediterranean 'authentic' feel too. Unfortunately, most people end up at one of the sneaky chains made up of the owners of The Grand Cafe. Kazbar or the very similar place owned by the same people which is virtually opposite, Cafe Tarifa. I don't deny that they're both very nice and well kitted out but they're both very well known and you want to retain a bit of originality. Also I'm a little suspicious of them because they're all under The Grand Cafe umbrella but it doesn't dawn on you until you realise that the decor of all the places is subtly the same although they're all done up very differently. But they are good. But that kills the authenticity of it for me. Kesh isn't so nicely made up but it feels more real and the food is better. The food at Oxford's Grill is even better but the inside of there (while nice) doesn't have any real atmosphere to it. But then maybe you'd get off on seeing the apprehensive look on your inamorata's face (triggered by the sign) only to later hear 'ohmygod this place is so good I really didn't expect it from the sign you're so wise and learned omg'.

Chiang Mai
This is in the same vein as Shanghai 30s (very good far eastern food in an east-meets-west decorated setting) but it deserves its own special mention because I infer that it's less well known than Shanghai 30s so you can combine 'oh hey this place has a great milieu' with 'have you heard of this place? no? LET ME TAKE YOU THERE.'
Other places which I haven't written about but I'd recommend include Mamma Mia (if you can deal with the awkwardness of the waiters) in Jericho and Gino's (where the waiters are less awkward but the food slightly less good) on Gloucester Green. My personal favourite would be for someone to suggest we avoid the bloating and embrace what St. Valentine was really about then go for brunch here. I'm only half joking.

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