Various images of meals and food Madeline Bryant has had.
Image credit: Madeline Bryant

In Conversation with Madeline Bryant

After getting doughnuts from Barefoot Bakery, I sat down with Madeline Bryant, Oxford’s no.1 food reviewer on Beli, to discuss the app, the best food places to visit in Oxford and how to start eating at restaurants by yourself.

Johannah Mathew: What is Beli?

Madeline Bryant: An app founded by Judy and Elliott based out of New York. Its premise is that each person’s taste in food is different, and people value different things. The way it works is, once you start rating spots, it creates a personal taste profile, and it calculates your average score of all these different cuisines. I’m pescatarian, so seafood, for instance, is one of my top cuisines and it’s great because, if the app knows that I like seafood and vegetarian and vegan places, it creates an algorithm based on that. Every other user has this too, so it matches you with similar places that other people, who have a similar taste to you, have liked. You can also get recommendations from your friends through the app and have a look at local restaurant lists based on different cuisines.

JM: You’re the no.1 Beli user in Oxford – how did you get there?

MB: Just by eating my way through the city, really. So far, I’ve ranked 110 dining establishments! Because I’m at Hugh’s, oftentimes I’ll go into town for lectures or something, so it’s quite easy for me to eat out because it’s too much of a schlep to go all the way back to Hugh’s.

JM: What are your favourite spots in Oxford?

MB: I have a few! My no.1 spot on the app is Arbequina, it’s in Cowley, oh my God! Oftentimes, because I’m such a big foodie, I have friends who’ll be like, ‘my parents are coming to town’ or ‘I have this very specific situation, where do you think I should go?’ so I’ll give you a couple scenarios. If your parents are coming to town and they’re willing to splash out, I’d recommend Arbequina. It’s Spanish food, quite hard to get reservation, and even harder to get a sitting table, but for a good reason – the food is incredible. If that’s not really your thing, in Summertown, Pompette is another one of my top choices. It’s French and specialises in vegetarian cuisine. They also serve meat, but I would say the vegetarian stuff is fantastic.

For an afternoon snack, but you don’t want like a sweet treat, I’d recommend The Hayfield Deli, it’s near Port Meadow and seriously underrated. My family, before they came to the US, were from Turkey and although I am very much American, I do have a thing for very good baraka. They also have spanakopitas, cheese tarts and a bunch of pasties and Spanish pastries. Everything there is also around £4.50, so affordable for a pretty substantial snack (it’s basically a meal)!

For snacks, the Yellow Submarine Charity is also really nice. They serve sandwiches, and cookies and pastries and stuff. The coffee is quite nice, they do cute latte art and it’s all for a great cause. The best bakery, by far, is Hamblin Bakery. There are two locations in Oxford and if you want anything, you need to reserve it in advance, that’s how good it is, I’m a huge fan. Also, my favourite café is Opera Café, they sell great Moroccan wraps.

It creates a personal taste profile

JM: What’s one food you wish Oxford had?

MB: Bagels.

JM: How do you go about reviewing a food spot?

MB: I just write whatever I’m thinking – I’m not like a professional, it’s really just for fun! Overwhelmingly, I tend to write positive reviews. I’m not that picky, and I also tend to not go to restaurants I think I won’t like.

JM: What are your thoughts on Oxford as a food spot?

MB: It could be better, but for the size of the city it’s pretty good, you just need to know where to look. I’d recommend trying places off the High Street. The more local businesses you try, the better your opinion will be on cuisine options, especially in Cowley. There’s lots of places that are quite inexpensive, are locally run and are 10 times better than anything you’ll get on the High Street.

JM: Did you grow up in a foodie family and do you cook?

MB: Yes! I definitely cook a lot more when I’m at home. My dad is a pretty big cook, so he has all these cool gadgets and weird ingredients. When I’m here, I don’t really have the time to cook, so I tend to eat in hall and also because I don’t really have a lot of space for storage over the vacation.  I often cook if my friends and I have a dinner party and we all made different dishes – I also have a lot of foodie friends: we find each other.

JM: When you review places, are they places you visit by yourself or with friends?

MB: It depends. Oftentimes, I go to places like Arbequina for the first time with friends. Arbequina is a tapas restaurant and it’s easier to try more things with a group of people. But I think oftentimes I end up going to places by myself. I recently went to Singapore, which was really exciting, and it was my first time travelling anywhere by myself, especially to somewhere further away in Asia. I was there by myself, and I was really nervous about sitting in restaurants alone, but I wanted to try all of these places and I thought it would be so awkward. But you know what? I really enjoyed just sitting at the counter, eating the food, and enjoying my own company. I feel like it’s quite common to sit in a café by yourself with a laptop and if you can do that, you can try all of Oxford’s restaurants (obviously within your own budget) by yourself!

Image credit: Madeline Bryant

Image description: Various images of meals and food Madeline Bryant has had.