With less than a month left working in Jericho, I decided I wanted to make the most of being in this vibrant part of Oxford and try as many of the local places to eat as possible. I do tend to spend my lunch times in the gym, but I allowed myself a Friday treat to enjoy some tasty food while I’m still here. My new job is in the Oxford Business Park at the other side of the city, which is certainly lacking in cafe options in comparison!
Initially myself and a colleague planned to go to the Branca Deli, which I’d been told was fairly vegan-friendly, even if their restaurant wasn’t. Sadly on this day they had an array of nice looking salads but all of them were either topped with cheese or had a hidden piece of chorizo or something similar. Luckily there are plenty of other options close by, so I decided to head to Opera Cafe, where I’d seen a sign in the window proudly declaring that they’ve added a handful of Mediterranean salads to their lunchtime menu, two of which are vegan.
When I first entered the cafe, no one really acknowledged that I was there. After a little while of pointedly peering at what they had on offer, a lady behind the counter finally showed me some attention and I was able to ask what their new vegan salads consisted of. She pointed at a bowl of iceberg lettuce with a couple of slices of tomato, cucumber, and olives in, and said that that was it. Besides the fact that I don’t like olives, it was a pretty small bowl and I knew it wouldn’t remotely fill me up. Luckily they’d labelled one of their dishes on the hot counter as vegan (albeit the sign was in front of the wrong thing) so I asked to have that to takeaway instead. All of the other dishes on their menu have different prices for eat in and takeaway, but for some reason these couple of dishes are the same regardless, and I couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t getting the best deal when I saw the size of the plastic tray compared to the plates for eating in. I accepted a side of rice, which the man who appeared from the kitchen to serve me said was also vegan (although for some reason they haven’t labelled it up like the other dishes). I didn’t realise that this was being offered to me in place of the bread and salad that the mousaka is advertised as coming with, so I asked about that, and he explained it was either/or, but that it was no problem to give me a side salad as well on this occasion. He put about three leaves of lettuce in a takeaway cup and drowned it in dressing – I do appreciate the sentiment and don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I felt it wasn’t worth the effort to be honest.
Despite the above, I do have to say that the food that I did eat was really nice. Each element of the mousaka was well-cooked, with the more bitter flavour of the soft green pepper working really well with the sweet tomato sauce, and the aubergines melted in your mouth. The seasoning was spot on, and it was the same for the rice and lentil mixture. The texture of that kind of reminded me of stuffing and it made a nice addition to the softer mousaka. I just felt a bit disappointed at the portion size, because for £7, when we know the ingredients cost pennies compared to with meat dishes, it was quite a small tray of food and I still found myself snacking in the afternoon. So tasty food, but nothing you can’t really do at home fairly easily for less.
From the experience I had, I think Opera Cafe still has a long way to go in terms of its vegan offering. It’s great that they’re aware they should be catering to different diets but if they’re going to use ‘vegan food’ as a marketing ploy to get people inside the cafe, I think they could deliver a bit more. Ultimately the little food they had was tasty, but I wouldn’t choose to go back again and pay that price for what they were serving. You may also know that me and some friends have a monthly ‘breakfast club’ where we meet up for food before work. We’d messaged Opera to see if they had any vegan breakfast options and their response was pretty disappointing – you can ask the server on the day if they are able to make up some porridge with plant milk, and if they have any raisins in stock they can add those. As I don’t like raisins, paying £4-odd for a bowl of plain oatmeal, while my friends tucked into any number of things from the actually rather large breakfast menu, didn’t sound particularly appealing. Even the bog standard avocado on toast is nowhere to be seen. Likewise with sweet options, they don’t have any vegan-friendly cakes or snacks on offer, so unless you’re in the mood for a healthier smoothie or juice which they do serve at Opera, you’d be better off heading down the road to Barefoot.