A restaurant to Thai for

Food Student Life

Cocka-what? Where? I was certainly surprised to learn of the existence of Cockadoo, an oriental eatery that seems to have slipped under many people’s radars. But, sure enough, materialising out of the fog of a dark November night, the place stood before us, with our taxi parked outside.

PHOTOS/ James McKean

There’s the first problem. The taxi. I’m sure most of you will switch off at this point. Why fork out for a cab when you can just walk to so many other places? The answer is simple. Firstly, because the choice of food in central Oxford is limited, and overly-dominated by generic chains. And secondly, because Cockadoo is simply magnificent.

Now, OxStu Features has reviewed some quality establishments this term, and we’ve done our best to show that you don’t have to settle for a KFC, or Domino’s; Oxford might not be a renowned culinary centre, but it has its gems, if you know where to look. And few of those gems shine brighter than Cockadoo.

Located in sleepy little Nuneham Courtney, a village you’ve almost certainly never heard of, but is only a short cab drive or bus ride down the A4074, Cockadoo’s exterior might be mistaken for any pub. But inside you find an exquisite bar-lounge-restaurant combo, in a building that looks like the lovechild of an old barn and an exotic bar. The owner’s background in interior design really shows, but you go for the food, not for the rugs (striking though they are undoubtedly are), so let’s get to it.

We shared a mixed starter, a veritable platter of spring rolls, salad, braised ribs, fish cakes, chicken, and sauces, which was rather delicious. The menu is so vast, containing a great breadth of Chinese and Thai food, including some more unusual options – such as pan-fried ostrich steak – that a mixed starter is the best way to get a sense of it.

For the main, we opted for the char-grilled sirloin steak with tamarind sauce and vegetables, and the Thai green curry, both with rice, and red and white wine respectively. The wine was fair, whilst each meal was a glorious symphony of flavour and texture; carefully presented and exquisitely cooked.

Finally, our desserts were composed of that oriental classic: ice cream. You can’t really go wrong with it, and, as the pictures will attest, serious effort had gone into its arrangement, but I suspect most people will finish with the main course, or perhaps a cocktail at the bar.

So, then, how to sum up this self-proclaimed ‘modern oriental dining experience’? I shall resist the temptation to heap adjectives of approbation upon it, and say only that Cockadoo is the finest Thai food I have ever had in Britain by a country mile. There are few restaurants that put such care, imagination, and personality into each dish, and it’s a delight to stumble upon one. Apparently Sir Ian Botham is a regular; it would appear his palate is a little more refined than his commentary.

But, sadly, we don’t all have the resources of celebrity test cricketers, so is Cockadoo worth the effort? Had it been located on the High Street, the place would undoubtedly be a student favourite. But it’s not, which leaves two problems. The first is the hassle and expense of the drive (circa ten minutes from the city centre). The second is the cost of the food, which is pretty steep. An average starter will set you back £6, and most mains are over double that. Add in transport and drinks, and you’ll easily be spending over £25 each, although the 20 per cent student discount from Sunday to Thursday should take the edge off it.

Now, for normal, employed adults, that would be a bargain. But we’re students. Clearly, you won’t be eating at Cockadoo every night. But if, every now and again, you fancy something special – a gorgeous meal from a unique menu in beautiful surroundings – I know where I’d go.