Pop-Up Restaurants in Oxford

What's a pop-up restaurant? Read on to find out...

April 13, 2018
A round up of the pop-ups - Spring 2018

It is, of course, in the nature of pop-ups to come and go. The best ventures may morph into more permanent set-ups with venues of their own (like Tacobandits), or the chefs may get bewitched by another idea and head off following a dream. If you know that something has changed and you'd like to let us know then please get in touch! Email [email protected] and put us right. Meanwhile here's a snapshot of the pop-up scene early in 2018.

Pop-ups and Supper Clubs

Secret Supper Club
Home restaurant in Somerton, near Bicester. Jules cooks, and her husband heads the service team, every Friday night. Or you can book a group of 12 or more at other times. This is a venerable supper club - it's been going since 2010. Dinners comprise five courses.

Pop-up Seasonal Supper Club at Sandy Lane
Sandy Lane Farm showcase the best and freshest seasonal veg at these suppers hosted in their ancient and atmospheric threshing barn, which doubles as a farm shop on Thursdays. Sandy Lane is an ethical and friendly family-run farm, supplying veg for Farmers' Markets and a veg box scheme locally.

Smoke and Thyme
After four years as a pop-up, Smoke and Thyme is now alternating being a home restaurant in Marston, and a pop-up in larger venues. Chef Jack Greenall particularly favours Cajun, Middle Eastern, Indian and modern British cuisines. At the home restaurant you choose what to pay for your food, and Jack describes himself as a chef researcher, so diners become part of the research process, and feedback on dishes is welcome. 3+ courses.

Knife and Fork, Deddington
A home restaurant serving seasonal food, run by trained and very experienced chef Tanya, on Friday and Saturday nights. She picks what to cook by what she feels like serving, and which available ingredients are at their best. Her restaurant is gluten-free, as she is Coeliac and needs to taste everything, so her website also features some gluten-free recipes. £50 gets you a five course meal in beautiful surroundings. As Tanya has lived in France and Singapore, these cuisines feature regularly on the menu.

Dinner at the Shed, Charlbury
The most secretive of pop-ups - who only really inhabit instagram (dinnerattheshed). If you want to know what's going on and be in with a chance of booking a slot then get on the maiing list.

Oxford Field Kitchen
Based in a field, this is a very seasonal offering and only comes out in good weather. It's run by Rupert Whitaker, chef and film-maker, hence the theatrical quality of its setting.

Street Food hotspots

Gloucester Green markets

have a thriving street food scene every Thursday and Saturday. Favourites Taste Tibet pop up all over the place - and they have recently done a stint as the resident pop-up at Silvie's cafe.

Bitten Oxford
organise mini food festivals usually on the first Saturday of every month (except January!)

Farmers Markets
most have cafes or street food stalls to relax and revitalise you after all that shopping. East Oxford FM are currently hosting Kalaca - authentic Mexican food from Florrie Grigson and Samuel Suarez.

Food trucks
The scene on the streets of Oxford includes Pizza Artisan, crepes and kebab vans aplenty. There are rumours of a Fish and Chip van touring villages across rural Oxfordshire.

North Oxford foodies might recall the Big Bang, a restaurant on Walton Street that specialised in (ie. exclusively served) sausage & mash. Unfortunately, it had to close, making way for student accommodation. A single pork-scented tear rolled down the cheek of banger-lovers everywhere.

But of late the Big Bang has been sighted, roaming the Oxford restaurant scene like the restless ghost of an en-sausaged pig. Rising phoenix-like from meaty ashes, it is reincarnated as one of the latest innovations on the Oxford dining scene: the Pop-Up Restaurant.

Supper clubs - where strangers meet for a meal in a private household, like anonymous dinner parties - have long been popular in London. And until recently, a supper club named Oxfork provided paying dinner-party guests with themed dinner parties ranging from Burns Night to Asparagus Night. (More on Oxfork later.)

The pop-up restaurant is less formal than a traditional restaurant, and more open (and legal) than supper clubs, which rely on secret locations discovered via the internet and social media to remain both exclusive and one step ahead of licensing and zoning regulations. Like pop-up galleries, the idea is to make use of otherwise abandoned urban spaces, turning empty buildings into temporary, experimental restaurants.

Oxford Brookes Restaurant is normally a place for catering students to practice their skills during daily lunch service - but the rest of the day, it’s a fully-equipped professional restaurant that happens to have nobody in it. Max Mason, former owner/manager of the Big Bang, saw his chance, and now on Thursday to Saturday evenings from 5pm till 11, you can devour bangers and mash once more.

In these tight-belted times, thrifty (and hungry) customers need an extra reason to head to restaurants. “You have to provide either incredible food, an incredible price, or an incredible experience,” says Max Mason, “and pop-ups give you that experience.” Plus, he adds, savings on short-term leases can be passed on to the customer.

Drew Brammer, manager of Oxfork - now a full-time restaurant with premises on Magadalen Road, East Oxford - agrees. “At Oxfork, we don’t want people to book tables for 2 or 4 people - we’d rather they share one of our big tables. We want people to mingle, to meet new friends - almost like an eating networking event.” It’s that informal experience that draws people in, just as when Oxfork was a simple supper club. “We wanted to keep the relaxed ambience of eating in somebody’s house”, says Drew.

Pop-ups are clearly popular: Oxfork has gone from supper club to pop-up restaurant to full-time eatery on the strength of its clientele. And the Big Bang has also been successful in its new venue, although it’s likely to be a quick bang - Max wants to move to new premises in North Oxford or the city centre soon.

It’s the freedom that pop-up restaurants bring that really excites Max; he says that you can use them as test cases, trying new dishes, new atmospheres in which to dine, and a different style of eating. And both restaurateurs see more exciting possibilities for the Oxford dining scene in the future: “Oxford is becoming a real gastronomic hub”, says Max. Driven by social media, through which restaurants can connect with a loyal, trend-setting clientele, dining out is set to become as relaxed and laid-back as visiting a friend’s house for dinner.

Find out more about The Big Bang at http://www.thebigbangrestaurants.co.uk/ee/index.php/site/.

Find out more about Oxfork at http://www.oxfork.com/.

Running a pop-up restaurant or supper club in Oxford? We'd love to hear from you: [email protected]
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