Proverbial wisdom is a funny thing – for all its hackneyed unoriginality, it has that je ne sais quoi to incentivise behaviour from even the most headstrong teenager. Rather than screeching “wakey wakey” at a non-human decibel, you sometimes wonder if a pointed, albeit nonchalantly-delivered, “the early bird catches the worm” wouldn’t help mom do a better job at de-glueing that lazy ass from your snuggly sheets. Yet now that we are all university students free from the bondage of parental oversight and condoned by the optionality of lecture attendance, alarm clocks are no longer integral to our existence, while ‘rise and shine’ ceases altogether to be a relevant imperative. Let no woe betide you, however, as I am here to remedy your sloth with gluttony; sin begetting sin to concoct the ultimate formula for waking up even the most bed-attached soul in Oxford. After all, if the sheer awesomeness of baked beans or bacon fails to summon you back to the realm of consciousness, then perhaps you’re better of dozing anyway (#adhominem #englishbreakfastfan). From bargain to bourgeois to the big bucks, the following guide is guaranteed to have you brunch your way through Oxford like a boss, and before I go overboard with my alliterative penchant for the plosive, here’s a caveat to heed: as a struggling student (actual or affected alike) who should skimp and save whenever possible, college catering and dorm cooking are almost always bound to be more economical than eating out. As for those unfortunate souls for whom both options are unavailable, fear not, and keep an eye out for little discount perks that your JCR or even websites like NUS and UNIDAYS offer. If you can deign to suspense that sense of college fealty (sans St. Johnians) for this odd instance of pecuniary self-interest, then apply for the St. John’s discount card to enjoy deals and steals galore at multiple restaurants. But putting stingy student concerns aside, let’s just dive straight into our brekkie guide and get those scrumptious grumbles tumbling!
First, to those blessed with kitchen amenities, here’s my advice: capitalise on them. First-hand anecdotal experience tells me that a self-assembled full English ensemble should not cost more than 2.5 quid unless you shop at M&S, and trust me when I say that ‘home-cooked goodness’ is both a feeling and a taste. There is really no better way to bond with your house mates than taking/sharing the reins on the domestic front once a week – nothing like a bit of bribing friendships with bacon-bantering, eh? If this is not an option, however, then start your deal-scavenging excursion by paying The Oxford Café at the Covered Market a visit, where they offer a generous 20% student discount upon the presentation of that sacred Bod Card, and this in fact reduces the price of some breakfast options to as low as a reasonable 3 quid. While their wooden panels and squishy sofas make for a nice ambiance, the wide-ranging choices they have on offer are sure to tickle even the most finicky fancy. What’s even better is that you can actually customise your own brekkie options; adding, substituting or deleting components at will simply by giving the servers a little heads-up. Alternatively, if you happen to be a fan of waffles, then you’re in for a proper treat: Head over to Combibos Café at Gloucester Green and enjoy a 10% student discount to get an amazing 2.7 waffle deal, or present your SJC Discount Card at our resident favourite G&Ds for a 2.5 quid hearty waffle, maple syrup and bacon combo that should fill you up till dinner. Such are only some of the culinary perks that an Oxonian is entitled to, so by all means use the student prerogative and explore the range of brekkie bargains that abound in town!
Moving a step further up the brunching hierarchy, one ventures into the ‘bourgeois’ stratum where the price ranges from 4 to 6 pounds. The best contenders where you will most likely get your bang for your buck include (but are definitely not limited to) Heroes Café on Ship Street, The Big Bang at the Oxford Castle and Maison Blanc in Little Clarendon Street, incrementally arranged in terms of pricing. Tucked away in quiet alley, Heroes is a cosy place ideal for coterie morning gatherings and people who find Pret too mainstream and commercialised. Decked with bright canary-coloured walls that should dispel any lingering trace of morning grumpiness, the coffee shop wins hands down by virtue of its warm décor, and add to that their signature salmon and eggs on toast, then you should be pretty much set for a nice start to any day, all under a max of 5 quid. Say you’re in the mood to put sausages in the limelight of your breakfast, then head over to The Big Bang for some proper Brit Bangers. Unless you’re feeling especially ravenous, then the 4.95-quid Baby Bangers option of fried egg, Cumberland sausage, a rasher of bacon, tomato and toast should suffice to fill an average sized stomach up. In any case, their classic Big Bangers cost an extra 2 quid, for which you get one more sausage, baked beans, mushrooms and fruit juice – a fair deal if indulged in occasionally.
For a classier option, try Maison Blanc on Little Clarendon Street, and if you can get past their cotton candy pink exterior with no gender-related inhibitions (‘macho’ males here’s to looking at you), then perhaps you’ll find your new brunch favourite in the ironically francophied ‘Break a l’Anglaise’, which consists of two Toulouse sausages, free-range scrambled egg, dry cured bacon and roasted tomato halves on their house bread. Even better, flash out that discount card and get a 15% off of 6.95 quid, and you’ll have yourself a nice meal for just over a fiver.
For those after the regal breakfast experience, the ‘splurge’ category should be right up your loaded alley. There is the notoriously swanky Quod Brasserie at The Old Bank Hotel on High Street, where they charge one a whopping 14.50 for their classic ‘English’, if not also for their immaculately suited maître d’s and perennially gleaming windowpanes so that everyone from the outside can see that you’ve got the cash (or credit…) While the joys of fine dining are indisputable, perhaps this is a place where the layman student would only come once in a blue moon, when of course who else but mom and dad foot the bill (Gotta keep that for the ball/bop/booze, wink wink student solidarity). For more understated splurge options that are likely to incur less sense of guilt in the reader who nonetheless wants a taste of morning opulence, then perhaps the Rose Café or the Grand Café would fit the ‘splurge-but-just-a-bit’ criterion nicely, as both places offer breakfast at around 8 quid, which despite being expensive from a relative point of view, is still a far cry from Quod’s astronomical demands on the diner’s wallet.
So traverse the brekkie hierarchy from bargain to bourgeois to big bucks, and if that absolute mouthful does not already stoke you up enough to get out there and claim the title of Oxford Breakfast Epicurean, then just hit the snooze button and go back to bed. Work can wait, but food can’t.