The growth of Oxford’s vegan food scene

Moving to Oxford after a year of working in Shoreditch, I prepared myself for the fact that my lunchtime jaunts and street food offerings were going to become less interesting. No more pop-up Oatley stalls or free vegan doughnuts on my way to the office… sob. However, I was actually amazed at how much vegan food has exploded here since I was a student several years ago.

For a place associated with extreme privilege and a lot of famous dead white men, Oxford is a surprisingly diverse city, with people from around the world attracted to the university, and a lively scene in East Oxford in particular for every kind of food could ever want. As could be expected I’ve been eating my way through all of the new (and better established) places that do vegan nosh and am happy to report my favourite below.

Happy Friday Kitchen

Happy Friday Kitchen is the first all-vegan diner in Oxford. In spite of some backlash online when it was first established, it’s now thriving and is loved amongst omnis as much as us plant-munching folk. Happy Friday Kitchen isn’t what most people would think of as vegan food. Specialising in proper American-style junk, it has a menu of burgers and pizzas to cure any hangover, not to mention a great range of brunch options. Better yet, it’s home to a gorgeous little pooch.

Satisfying those junk food cravings at Happy Friday Kitchen

The Coconut Tree

The Coconut Tree is one of the most raved about restaurants in Oxford for good reason. Situated on the charming St Clements Street, it’s a cosy place that is always packed to the gills. It has a huge range of vegan options that you can order tapas-style to share with friends. My favourites are the pineapple curry, fat sister (a rich pumpkin curry) and the melt-in-the-mouth breads. They also do a great range of cocktails and are gluten-free friendly.

Dishes at The Coconut Tree come tapas-style to share as a group.

Pan Pan

Also on St Clements, Pan Pan was a surprise discovery because they don’t advertise their vegan options well. However, with enquiries it turns out they actually have a huge menu of pan-Asian food to sample. I loved the grilled aubergine and bibimbap, and the sesame salad is a fresh and zingy option if you’re trying to keep things light. For some reason, they don’t advertise their vegan options on Deliveroo either – an oversight they could easily rectify to get more business.

The roasted aubergine is my favourite starter at Pan Pan.

Rachel’s

Rachel’s is a charming little Vietnamese café next to the Oxford Tube bus stop for London. It’s therefore perfect for grabbing a quick steamed bun or pastry snack if you’re off to the city. If you have more time, though, it’s a perfect lunch spot. I’m now completely addicted to their peanut satay tofu Bánh mì. They also serve plant-based coffees and have a range of sweet and savoury traditional snacks.

This sandwich is the stuff of gods.

The Fir Tree

‘The Feast Without the Beast’ is legendary in East Oxford. An all-vegan Sunday roast, it is so good it even attracts hordes of meat-eaters, with tables often booked up ahead of time. There’s a traditional nut roast, but my favourite is the mushroom wellington with a side of cauliflower cheese. They also have a range of rich sweet treats for afters including chocolate mint slice, snix bar and a homely treacle tart. The homely and friendly and atmosphere and very attentive chef make for for a perfect cosy Sunday.

Feast Without the Beast

The Rusty Bicycle

Just up the road from the Fir Tree is The Rusty Bicycle, another much-loved haven among locals and students alike. They have a large garden space, and cute little cabins you can cuddle into with your friends. Their vegan options are a bit junky but delicious, and they’ve expanded this year to include two burgers and two pizzas as well as a healthy salad option. The ‘simply red’ pizza may seem a little plain, but the dough is everything. The Leaf Not Beef burger is a sloppy delight for meat-eaters as much as the vegan crew.

The Simply Red Pizza at The Rusty Bicycle

Chiang Mai Kitchen

An unassuming place tucked down one of Oxford’s many little alleyways, Chiang Mai kitchen does some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had in England. They have a whole separate vegan/vegetarian menu that you can request. My favourite is the red tofu curry with lychees.

Pho

While I don’t generally promote chain restaurants, Pho has become such a favourite it couldn’t go without mentioning. While there are several vegan options and a whole new vegan menu as of January 2020, I always go back to the ‘Spicy Green Pho’.

You just can’t beat a homely bowl of Pho

Shoryu

Ramen fans will know that it’s often hard to find vegan options. While there’s only one on the menu, Shoryu’s miso and shitake broth with tofu really hits the spot and makes it easier to dine with omnis. The wakame seaweed salad also makes a great starter.

Shoryu’s miso ramen

Art Café

This little yellow café on New Street is another great lunch spot which remains packed out all through the year. With a good range of salads, soups, sandwiches, smoothies and cakes and customisable vegan options, it’s one I keep returning to, not least for the chocolate coconut slab.

Sandwiches at the Art Cafe are stuffed.

The Gardener’s Arms

Tucked away down a little street in upmarket Jericho, I’d never have found The Gardener’s Arms if it’s reputation hadn’t preceded it. It’s a cosy little pub with all that old-man feel you want, but unusually, with an all veggie/vegan menu. The food isn’t out-of-this-world, but it’s pretty reasonably priced for Oxford and it’s a luxury to have a huge range of options in a pub setting, especially during the summer when you can take advantage of the large garden.

Rogan Josh at The Gardener’s Arms

Gloucester Green Market

If you’re as big a fan of street food as I am you have to check out the Gloucester Green market, which is open from Wednesday through to Saturday and has a surprising number of options catering to vegans. My favourites are the momos (below) and the arepas from the Venezuelan van.

Love me a vegan momo

As Oxford has increasingly become a centre for climate activism, I’m hopeful that the growing vegan market will continue to boom. More and more people are choosing a more sustainable way of living and thinking about the impact of their dietary choices. While it’s great to see the big chains fighting to be the next big vegan thing, I’ve always been amazed at the range of independent restaurants and cafes in Oxford. Let’s show them some love – and as ever, please let me know about anything that I’ve missed!