'The site of the first coffee house in England (according to Samuel Pepy's Diary, 1650)'. Small, posh café by day (high and champagne teas, etc.), cocktails by night (happy hour 7-11pm Mon- Sat). Interesting décor, especially the door-closure device. Very crowded on May morning and at exam time. No bookings taken. Private hire available.
Cuisine: French & English/French 'high tea' style nosh.
There are sofas & Cocktails
84 High Street
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Impressive exterior but grubby interior, with delapidated chairs and wobbly tables. The walls haven't had any attention since before smoking was banned, as you can tell from the ingrained yellowy brown staining. Shabby chic or fading splendour would be acceptable, but this is neither. It's down-at-heel. The cups were dirty, even the replacement I asked for, which was also chipped. The waitress seemed not to be acquainted with the menu, and at the end of the meal she stacked all of the crockery from two cream teas into a single wobbly column and promptly dropped them all. The coffee was weak, but the tea was good. The scones were large and delicious, but they were accompanied by tiny volumes of cream and jam. I thought this was a mistake and that she had brought us enough for only one serving instead of two, but as you can tell by reading other reviews here and on Trip Advisor and elsewhere, they always dispense exactly the same inadequate amount of cream/jam no matter how many cream teas you order. Bizarre! I can only conclude that this place continues to trade because it is mainly patronised by tourists who visit only once. Oxford, do you really want visitors to carry away this experience as an enduring bad memory? Close it down immmediately, and don't re-open it until it has been re-furbished, staff have been trained properly, and some semblence of rational portion control has been imposed.
Visitor from Cornwall (Unverified), 12/04/13
I don’t know whether it’s the sudden drop in temperature, or the moody grey skies, but yesterday lunchtime I had a bizarre craving for a cooked breakfast. I considered the options I had within walking distance and decided to give The Grand Café a go. Having eaten there before, but not for some time, I was expecting the rather rickety small tables they have – presumably to maximise the rather limited floor space – however, I think they would do well to replace the uncomfortable garden-style chairs they insist on using. That aside, the atmosphere is pleasant with warmly coloured walls and a huge mirror on the back wall that keeps the place looking bright and bigger than it actually is.
My nice waitress took my order quickly: their full English and a bottle of Peroni. I was asked whether I would like rye toast or white, and opted for white. The food arrived fairly quickly, though like other reviewers, I was slightly disconcerted to hear the pinging of a microwave shortly before my food arrived at my table. I have to confess that if they had used a microwave, I couldn’t tell, and everything on my plate looked freshly cooked. Personally, on the rare occasions in the past that I have used a microwave for speedy scrambled eggs they have always come out rubbery and completely inedible. There was no evidence of this in the large (well-seasoned with black pepper and herbs) portion of scrambled eggs on my plate! I estimated that I had at least five egg’s worth of scramble in front of me and I couldn’t finish it all… Both pieces of bacon were thick and crispy (again difficult to achieve in a microwave, no?), the solitary sausage portly enough to satisfy even the largest of carnivorous appetites and the balsamic tomatoes a welcome addition, their tangy flavour complementing the salty, meaty components of the plate perfectly. I wondered if perhaps the tomatoes were the one ingredient they had zapped in the microwave..?
As below, for some reason I had an accompanying green salad on the side of my plate which I thought unnecessary and a bit of a shame as some of my toast, which had been perched on top, had turned soggy as a result.
Overall I was impressed with the effort and, thinking back to the size and quality of some breakfasts I have paid for in Oxford, I was more than happy to pay £7.25 for what arrived. Total cost £10.05 for a very pleasant lunch indeed.
Dr Mukti (DI User), 28/09/10
I visited recently with friends and definitely will not be going back. I had been really looking forward to visiting but was so disappointed.
The food is nowhere near the standard which I would expect for the price you pay. I watched as the food was being prepared and was astonished to see that it all appears to be pre-cooked and then heated up in microwaves! That would explain why they refused to fry my eggs instead of scrambling them, as I requested... Most of the plate was taken up by salad (on a full english?!)
To top things off we had to wait for a LONG time for the food to arrive. There was only one waitress, the poor thing was rushing around like a headless chicken, so unfortunately could not give us the attention we would expect from such an establishment.
There is nothing grand about that place, if you want a nice treat then don't bother. No wonder the majority of customers seemed to be tourists, all of the locals must know to stay away!
ClareBear (Unverified), 27/07/09
I also got the cream team for £7.50 last week and was astonished by how stale the scones were! I pointed it out to the waitress who was nice enough, but didn't really know what to do beyond heating them up. They still tasted old when warm and I felt somewhat ripped-off!
Holly Richards (Unverified), 05/12/08
My friend and I had the cream tea (7.50 per head). The tea was fine. The coffee ("Dark Colombian") was light brown in colour and tasteless; I asked for a replacement with a proper amount of coffee in it---but that was no better. The tiny pot of Coopers strawberry jam was bland and failed to do more than lightly cover two of the four half-scones. The cream was fine. I won't bother to return.
Roy Dyckhoff (Unverified), 26/10/08
In desperate search of a more "mature" place to have a drink on a Saturday night, we chose the Grand-Café. Visually it does look the business, like a Parisian café transported to Oxford. Inside what we found was what sounded to our slightly more mature ears like a disco. Loud, unpleasant thumping noises rendering a perfect setting for a lovely coffee a bit of an unpleasant experience.
Oddly it felt a bit seedy for some reason I have not quite yet figured out, despite a rather grand environment. My freshly squeezed orange juice was thin and watery and bitter and the coffee pretty basic. Quite frankly as somebody who has grown up with cafés and brasseries I was distincly unimpressed. Once again I felt that style had won over substance and it offered very little apart from a headache inducing sound-track.
I am only 40 but I just wish some places would realise that my generation also needs places to go, have a relaxing drink and that not all establishments should be catering to 18 year olds. We too have money to spend and would prefer to spend in places where talking to one's companion is actually possible and where we actually feel welcome.
The staff looked rather bored and complacent and was definitely on the "cool" side and I don't think we will be in a hurry to come back. What a shame: the Grand Café, had it fulfilled its promises of a continental style café, would really be an excellent place to spend a pleasant chatty evening.
As it is, not a place to linger and the prices are a bit steep for the quality too.
Pamplemousse (Unverified), 15/07/08
Not impressed; went for brunch with friends. Took 45 minutes + for food to come and there was only one other table occupied when we arrived.
Scrambled eggs were rubbery. Toast was cold and buttered (thus providing no choice about whether you wanted it or not). Service was appalling - sent cold/rubberised food back once. Had second lot plonked in front of me without a word. Suddenly when it came to paying waitress became rather more friendly (I overheard her asking others if their food was OK - not us). When we failed to leave a tip whispers were exchanged with her colleague and dirty glances thrown in our direction before we were even out of the door. Very disppointing.
SLF (Unverified), 05/04/08
I visited the Grand Cafe only last week. We had the high tea. Food was well presented and the staff were very polite.
Rhi (Unverified), 29/12/07
I was here twice with two different small groups of friends over summer. On both occasions, the high tea - with crustless salmon and cucumber sandwiches, scones, jam and cream and petit fours (plus tea or coffee, of course) - arrived, beautifully arranged, on a silver tea stand, the scones delicately dusted with icing sugar, the cream REAL (ie. clotted, and probably from Devon). A supplementary glass of fizz was a few quid more and it was no problem to order it separately; service was polite, accurate and non-invasive. The cafe is at the upper end of the scale price-wise, but you get what you pay for - the food is delicious and the surroundings are exquisite, and it is purportedly the oldest coffee house in Europe, after all. It gets very busy at peak times (Christmas, University occasions, etc.) so you may have to wait for a table, but if it's a luxurious treat you're after, you will find the wait worthwhile (and it's just as well, as you can't book in advance, so there's no avoiding it!). Even better, go with your best vintage frock on and pretend you've slid into a parallel dimension where a Victor Horta Art Nouveau Belgian coffee house has been transplanted into a Brideshead-era Oxford - and all that's missing is the pianist.
Roo (DI Reviewer), 15/11/07
Quite the place to go if you are (1)feeling like you need cheering up (2)want to celebrate something wonderful (3)on your own and want to meet someone (4)partying with friends - otherwise I can't think of any reason to be there!
The decor has just the touch of outrageousness I like (who wants postmodern?)and the staff are well-spoken and polite (did they all go to Benenden or Cheltenham Ladies' College?) The cakes and sandwiches of the afternoon tea are just mouth watering and for a couple of pounds extra you can have a glass of champagne.
Why bother with Paris or Vienna? Heaven is in "the High".
Bob Jones (Unverified), 01/11/06
I visited The Grand Café and it really is beautifully decorated but more importantly it was incredibly clean and the staff were polite, friendly and helpful. Several of us went and we ordered various dishes all of which were delicious, the orange juice tasted like it was freshly squeezed and the food was well presented. It is not a cheap place but sometimes it's worth paying a little extra for something special. I would definitely go again.
Sian (Unverified), 03/05/06
We visited the Grand Café for lunch with friends one very cold and windy Saturday in February, and had an absolutely wonderful time. Despite arriving at one o’clock we were quickly shown to a fairly small but adequate table, one of about a dozen scattered amongst the enormous potted palms. Huge mirrors on the walls create the illusion that the Grand Café is larger than it really is. They add to the atmosphere and amiable bustle. Columns abound, as do quirky embellishments such as gilt human arms protruding strangely from the walls.
The menu is more sophisticated than the ‘café’ name might suggest, several variations on rare beef, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs or warm goat’s cheese salad. Two of us chose the sausage with lentils; a single sausage each seemed mean but the flavoursome lentils more than made up the nourishing volume.
Desserts were mostly gateaux of several mouth-watering flavours served generously and beautifully with fresh-fruit decoration. The Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee was not as flavoursome as last time I’d tried it but came piping hot in a generous cafetière and gave me a caffeine kick that lasted well into the evening.
The wine list is short but varied and as in the case of the food menu, blackboard specials add significantly to the offering.
We feared we might be hustled through to vacate the table quickly, but not so; we lingered for 3 hours! The service was excellent, the pace and timing perfect and the attitude welcoming, helpful and courteous. The bill came to £26 per head, quite expensive for lunch but good value for the quality of the food and the offbeat opulence of our surroundings. You can sit at the bar if you only want a drink and still enjoy the atmosphere.
Brian (Unverified), 26/02/06
The Grand Cafe's a bit of an institution, and I think it deserves it - sometimes you just want to be a little over the top! Their cakes are fantastic, especially the chocolate-orange, and they've got a nice range of good quality teas. The soup of the day can be a little disappointing, as can the service, but it's always nice and warm in there, so brilliant on a cold day! It's not cheap but definitely worth it when you want to treat yourself or someone you know.
Harriet (DI User), 26/01/06
The Grand Café refuses to become lost in its High Street location, preferring instead to stand proud, and command attention with its ridiculously opulent façade, boasting duck-egg blue pillars and gold ornamentation. Looking like rather a nice place to take your grandmother, it was with some reservation that I entered this odd little place for a lunch date. Inside however, the faux opulence is less of a presence and instead The Grand Café reveals itself as a bustling little place with just the right amount of 1920s inspired glamour.
Serving a wide variety of sexy looking sandwiches (with a particular emphasis on rye bread), and light lunches - the buffalo mozzarella and rocket salad is just gorgeous - this is a very good choice for a tasty little lunch. Better still, to ensure that one doesn't leave feeling too virtuous at having consumed such a dainty snack, the selection of cakes which are available are truly very good indeed. The carrot cake comes particularly highly recommended. Add a coffee, chosen from their wide selection of beans, or perhaps better still, a lovely little copper pot of tea and you're well on your way to a pretty impressive lunch. Price-wise, this place isn't cheap but is, I think, good value for money as many of the dishes (such as the delicious carpaccio of beef, for instance) depend upon fresh, good quality ingredients and these are present in abundance. Sandwiches and light dishes are in the five to seven pounds bracket and coffees are around two pounds each - factor in the gorgeous cups and latte glasses and the takeaway alternatives from Starbucks et al don't look at all appealing in comparison.
The intimate little tables make this place ideal for dates, yet it comes equally recommended as a place to take visiting parents (it claims to be Oxford's oldest café and parents always love that kind of thing, don't they?). It's also an ideal place for a glamorous pre-dinner glass of wine (if you're that sort of person)- maybe just the one though, as alcohol here is distinctly pricey. Perhaps most of all, The Grand Café is the ideal venue for Grand High Tea: a multi-tiered array of sandwiches, scones and handmade chocolates. At £12, including tea or coffee and a ridiculously luxurious seeming glass of champagne, this is what it's all about.
All things considered, The Grand Café is a charming little place in which to enjoy good food and (secretly) pretend that one is quite unspeakably elegant and ladylike.
Victoria Lorne (Unverified), 01/11/03
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