Review: Arbequina

Full disclosure: this is actually going to be less of a review, and more of a love letter. We went to Arbequina over the weekend to celebrate the restaurant’s one year anniversary, and I realised it was ridiculous that I’d never written about it on the blog before. Granted, they have absolutely no need of another positive review. With people singing the place’s praises from the Oxford Mail to the Guardian, it’s not been short of attention. Every time I’ve been there, the compact room has been full of lively customers. But I’m going to write about it anyway, because I love it.


We went on a squally evening in October, when Storm Brian was still at play, and the vicious wind was whipping cold rain at us as we trudged up Cowley Road. Arbequina was a little haven of fluttering candles and the enticing smells of good food to come. We were greeted warmly by the staff – as we always are, because they’re lovely there – and settled down to the menu, with which I am intimately familiar. Eased along our way by exemplary Rebujitos and Negronis, we settled in for the kind of meal that you don’t have to worry about because you know everything will be done well.

Crisp toasts topped with warming, punchy Nduja, with the sweetness of honey and the earth of thyme. A tortilla just as a tortilla should be, with its bronzed exterior and its oozing, collapsing interior, with that depth of flavour only achieved when proper time and attention is paid. A pile of gloriously charred cauliflower, sharp with lemon and jewelled with pomegranate seeds, atop ethereally smooth and rich puree. Chicken, crisp on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. A salad that was so much more than a token or an afterthought, with crispy chickpeas as addictive and delicious as anything I’ve eaten, piled high with bright fresh vegetables, creamy yoghurt, the finishing flavour of Nigella seeds. Meatballs, plump and juicy, finished with a crisp hazelnut crumb.

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And the desserts: the rich, clean flan with the burnish of perfect caramel; the exquisite scoop of chocolate mousse; the final satisfaction of the chocolate salami. All washed down with an excellent Moscatel and a perfect espresso.

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And, joy of joys, they take bookings. You can call them! You can email them! Even chat to them on Twitter! I long ago gave up trying to get a table at Oli’s Thai (it’s not literally impossible, but it’s very difficult, and they make it very difficult in a way that annoys me because it seems unnecessary, so I stopped trying). But you can reserve a table easily at Arbequina, and if you walk in without a booking they’ll usually find you a corner anyway. or you can sit at the bar, which is actually a delight because you get to watch the chefs working their magic.

I have recommended Arbequina to many people over the last year, and no one has been less than delighted at what they found when they visited. Yes, it’s true it’s not entirely unique, and yes, there are restaurants like this in London. But that doesn’t make Arbequina any less than wonderful, and there’s certainly nowhere else like it in Oxford. I hope to be celebrating anniversaries with them for years to come.


Review: Big Ron’s Burrito Shack (Oxford)

As reviews go, this will not be the most comprehensive, detailed, or useful one you’ve ever seen. That’s because, when I stumbled upon Big Ron’s Burrito Shack, I wasn’t planning on doing a review at all.

I’d had a really long day which had involved driving a hyperactive puppy to Swindon and back, and I was running late for Catweazle. Dashing down Cowley Road on the hunt for some quick takeaway food to grab for dinner, I saw that Big Ron’s Burrito Shack had opened, at the original Atomic Burger site, and that people were heading in.


I love burritos. Quite an indecent amount, actually. Until now, the only real burrito destination in Oxford has been Mission, and I used to go past it on my lunch breaks when I worked in an office. It took the restraining influence of James to ensure that I didn’t eat all the burritos, all the time. They’re just such a great meal. All the food groups in a conveniently portable wrap, completely customisable and totally delicious.

I walked in, and was greeted by a very friendly guy on the door.

‘Do you do takeaway?’ I asked, hopefully.

‘Ooh… Sorry, we’re not really doing takeaway tonight,’ he said.

‘Oh, no problem!’ I replied. ‘I’ll go and find something else.’

‘Actually, hang on,’ he said, ‘I’m sure we can sort something out. Go and talk to the woman in blue behind the counter and tell her I said it was okay for you to get a takeaway.’

‘Really!? Fantastic! Thank you!’

I went up to the counter, where I was greeted by another incredibly friendly person, and set about perusing the menu. Normally I wouldn’t go for chicken in a burrito – just because other options seem more interesting – but it was tequila and lime chicken. That sounded pretty delicious, so I went with that plus, um, all the available extras. Just, you know, a bit of shredded lettuce, black beans, pico do gallo, sour cream, guacamole, Monterey Jack cheese, and salsa. I was hungry, okay?

I got out my wallet to pay.

‘Oh no,’ protested the friendly woman at the counter, ‘You don’t pay! Everything’s free tonight.’

‘Wait, what? Why?!’

‘Oh, it’s a private party,’ she explained, ‘For the launch.’

Oh. Right. I had accidentally walked into a private launch party that I wasn’t invited to, asked for takeaway that they weren’t offering, and gotten free food that I wasn’t entitled to. Well done Hannah.

I was sort of mortified, and kept apologising and offering to pay, but all the staff were incredibly kind and understanding and insisted on giving me my massive free burrito.

So, I can testify that not only are the people working at Big Ron’s Burrito Shack very lovely, but that their burritos are delicious. I haven’t got a very good picture, because I was walking and eating at the same time and only had my phone on me – plus burritos are hard to photograph well at the best of times – but trust me, it was great. The tortilla was soft, yet robust enough to contain all of the fillings, which were fresh, full of flavour, and well-balanced. The chicken had a strong punch of tequila and a kick of lime, which ran through the burrito and married perfectly with the softer accompaniments of the cheese, sour cream, and guacamole.


We will definitely be going back to sample the other filling options – I was also very tempted by the Texas pork – and the various degrees of spicy salsa. I should also point out that normally they will be offering a full takeaway service; they just hadn’t been planning on doing so on launch night when I stumbled upon them. Also, they probably won’t give you your food for free. But I’m sure the service will be just as charming all the same.