the ingestigator: Al Andalus Little Clarendon St

So last week we had a bit of an anti-chain moment when it comes to restaurants; eating out in Oxford whilst avoiding some ubiquitous Italian seems to get harder and harder these days. This week? We stick to it. Independent hero number two: Al-Andalus.

Little Clarendon Street is a perennial favourite, and it’s true there are a couple of good eateries here to choose from. That said, Al Andalus stands out for its sheer character: from the beautiful tiles and rustic feel that could place you somewhere right in the backstreets of Seville, to the real flamenco dancing you’ll be treated to on certain nights, this place is the real deal. The only downside I can think of? The menu: it’s so good, and the tapas format so alluring, it’ll have you ordering more and more as the night goes on… “oh, just one more then”!

So what to have? The choice here is huge, so the best thing to do is to take a horde, get as many dishes between you as you can, and try them all; it’s the perfect excuse! Start with some old classics like calamares, deep fried squid, and the albóndigas, meatballs in a rich, juicy tomato sauce; neither will disappoint. Real treats you’re less likely to have heard of include the dátiles con bacon, succulent dates stuffed-to-oozing with blue cheese and bursting with flavour; espinacas a la catalana, spinach sautéed with garlic, paprika and tomato (Hispanic Popeye anyone?); and the pinchos de cordero al limón: lamb marinated in lemon juice and cumin, cooked and served on a skewer. Exquisite. Oh, and back to the classics: pass on the gambas al ajillo, prawns sizzling in garlic, and you’ll really miss out. Finally, why not round off with the arroz con leche- rice pudding the Spanish way.

Prices here are reasonable, and if you do share (which really is the best way), they get even better. Dishes are about a fiver each, so throw in four for a table of two, with a glass of sangria each, and this place definitely fits the student budget. The buzzing atmosphere on a Saturday night owes as much to the crowds of returning eaters as that flamenco, and unlike elsewhere, you won’t find yourself lowering the average age by a decade or two.

I’ve always said there’s a world in Oxford, and Al Andalus definitely fits the bill this side of the channel, they make some of the best Spanish food I’ve ever had. So whether it’s pure eats or greater escapes you’re looking for, give this a try.

Price: far from a stretch

Atmosphere: Mediterranean

Food: a taste of the exotic

Richard North