The Handlebar Cafe and Kitchen on St Michael’s Street in Oxford were one of the first independent cafes in town to open up their doors following the lockdown, which had seen the streets of the city centre absolutely deserted. Many of my friends moved away from Oxford to stay with family during this time, but as life seemed to be slowly starting back up again, I arranged to meet with a friend for brunch.
We were greeted by a flustered waiter who was rushed off his feet, and everything felt a bit chaotic. Although from their website and social media it had looked like we’d be able to get food to takeaway and sit in a park somewhere, the waiter told us (leaning in seemingly millimetres away from my face with no regards for social distancing) that they were unable to do that. Instead, we waited a few minutes for one of the tables on the pavement outside, still not feeling comfortable to eat indoors. St Michael’s Street was already part-pedestrianised and it actually felt really pleasant sitting outside in the sun, and enjoying a bit of outdoor European-style cafe culture, which you couldn’t really experience in Oxford before. We noted that no one wiped down our table after the previous occupants left, but we’d come armed with hand sanitiser and made a note to avoid touching anything apart from our cutlery, which had been brought out fresh.
As I’ve run this blog for a while, I’ve lost any shame I might have felt before about ordering more than one meal. There are a couple of new additions to the menu since I last came here, and although I’d suggested the place so that we could get their delicious coconut pancakes – the best vegan pancakes in Oxford I reckon – I ended up ordering a couple of other tasty sounding dishes. I couldn’t decide whether I was feeling sweet or savoury after all, so why not try both? First was the overnight oats, which came served in a glass. The oats were super creamy and deliciously pudding-like. They had a mild peanut butter flavour, with a generous fresh zingy fruit layer on top. There were some nice textures running throughout, with a sprinkling of crunchy flaked almonds and seeds on top so it wasn’t just a glass of mush. It was a filling ‘bowl; for the price, and felt like a treat meal, tasty as well as nutritious.
Next I was on to the tofu bowl, and I was so intrigued by this, as it sounded similar to something I’d eaten in Amsterdam which I’d loved – but I couldn’t have been more wrong when it came out. In comparison to the oats, it was quite pricey for the size. Although it had mentioned silken tofu on the menu, I believed they’d used firm, but in any case I really liked the texture and the tofu had absorbed so much flavour. It was the perfect protein-packed meal for me, having come straight from a workout. The flavours in the dish were very fresh, summery, and complimented each other well. Mouthfuls peppered with bursts of sweet refreshing pomegranate were met with zingy balsamic and heat from rocket, although sadly some of the leaves had gone a little limp. The whole plate was seasoned with plenty of salt which I appreciated. In the end, I was glad to have ordered two meals post-workout, as on its own I don’t think it’d have filled me up for too long – I know my body likes carbs!
My cup of tea was ludicrously expensive, as I knew it would be here based on previous visits. You have the tiniest cup which you have to keep filling up, which can be a bit annoying. Still, I managed to make it last the whole meal (even if it was cold by the end). If I was just grabbing a cup of tea and cake, I would almost certainly choose somewhere else based on price point, but the atmosphere and the food made for an enjoyable meal. I’d happily come back to order either of my breakfast/brunches again, but you know next time I’ve got my eye on those pancakes!