It’s Tuesday lunchtime as I pull up on my bicycle outside Modern Art Oxford, on Pembroke Street. I’m not here to look at anything remotely artistic however; I’m here to review some food. It is actually quite difficult to locate the cafe I have come to eat at, St Ebbe’s Kitchen, as it is wholly consumed by the gallery it is attached to, and only has very subtle signposting outside. Regardless, I enter.
Ascending stairs open onto a wide space, which is monochrome and simple. It feels quite industrial, with what seems to be a concrete floor, a low ceiling and several bar lights illuminating the space – perhaps a given for what is essentially an entrance to an art gallery. This is offset, however, by an exposed brick wall and a rustic chalkboard delicatessen at the back of the room. The atmosphere is calm and quiet, with a few disparate people eating on laptops, or gathered for what look like casual meetings. Despite being very close to both Christ Church and Pembroke, one thing that really strikes me is the lack of students who seem to be about – especially in an environment which seems so conducive to work (and edgy aestheticism).
Upon entrance, I am greeted by a Scottish woman called Fiona, who I have been in email correspondence with. She is very friendly, and takes me through the menu, which is very simple (to aid quick decision making, I am told): a salad, tart, and toastie option, on top of normal cafe drinks. Although it’s not sunny, it’s a hot day, so the soup option which is normally promised has been temporarily retracted. It seems the cafe caters to vegetarians mostly, vegans sometimes, but does do sausage baps on the weekend. I am given an Asparagus, pea and Fennel pie with side salad, and a roast beetroot, green bean, dukkah, tahini, wholewheat fregola and mint salad to go alongside (whew).
St Ebbe’s is a much overlooked study spot which students of central Oxford colleges would do well to make use of
The meal Fiona recommends for me is extremely delicious, and generous. My favourite piece has to be the tart; it is creamy, eggy, and sweet, with undertones of cheese. The pastry is perfectly flakey and compliments its creamy innards well. It was nicely offset by a tangy plain house salad, and locally sourced sourdough bread.
The chickpea salad was similarly aesthetically pleasing; it was colourful, and the soft chickpeas combined well with the grilled vegetables. It is light, yet filling, and the perfect meal for a hot day.
Fiona gives me some food to go – a vegan cookie and a Rhubarb and almond cake. The cookie was very good – big chunks with salty flakes on top to exacerbate the chocolatey flavour – but the cake really stood out for me; the cake itself had a very subtle flavour, but was punctuated by the sweetness of the rhubarb which ran through the middle like a filling.
Overall, I’m impressed by St Ebbe’s Kitchen’s unique combination of flavours delivered freshly every day. Your average meal is slightly more expensive than the norm, at a £7.50 rate, but you do get a lot for your money, and the drinks are priced as expected. It is not a cafe that should be considered supplementary to an art gallery; but a destination in itself, and a much overlooked study spot which students of central Oxford colleges would do well to make use of.