The newest addition to the bustle that is Little Clarendon Street is The Steamhouse, which offers a trendy aesthetic, bouncy, fast-paced atmosphere and well-executed American cuisine, focusing on bagels. In the vein of the much-loved Oxford mainstay, The Missing Bean, The Steamhouse’s interior is open-plan, giving the customer a clear view of the assembly line and drawing the eye towards an entire wall of merchandise, reflecting a turn in food culture towards commoditising food clout.
The staff are friendly and exist within the brisk atmosphere of a rambunctious manager, who hand-delivers orders to waiting customers and is happy to answer intolerance questions. Limited as the space is in terms of eating-in, The Steamhouse is wheelchair accessible and makes it easy to wait for takeaway, with a wall of comfortable seats ready for you to relax upon. Not that you have to wait long, as the turnaround time is around five minutes when the eatery is moderately busy.
You can expect to choose from a diverse menu of bagel combinations encompassing classic, breakfast, and vegan combos. There are no gluten-free bagels available, and the coffee is bitterly average, though everyone’s differing preferences makes coffee quality hard to quantify. Either way, think of the lingering bitterness a cup from Columbia Coffee Roasters gives you if you don’t specify your blend. There is a guest blend available at The Steamhouse upon request, but the tasting notes are displayed by the till, ensuring you don’t have long enough to decide whether you’d like to try it or not.
Bagels themselves are not unusual in Oxford, with the Jericho Café making a particularly mean New Yorker. What sets The Steamhouse apart is its expansive but speciality menu and interesting sides - not even at Rick’s Diner can you get hash brown tots with chilli cheese sauce. The Modest bagel, which I sampled, was averagely good – it did not disappoint, nor did it particularly impress. The bagels themselves are dense but springy, well-packed to prevent greasy fingers and halved to ensure easy eating.
If it was something sweet you were craving, a selection of custard donuts (which now seems to be a standard in every Oxford eatery) is available for purchase. Yet there are some less frequently seen bakes on display, such as vanilla plaits and pecan cookies, ensuring that The Steamhouse offers something different than other establishments. Prices are average for coffees but on the higher end for bagels, costing £11 for both. The sides, however, are very reasonably priced, not exceeding £5 for a portion.
That The Steamhouse has been packed every day since it opened a few months ago is testament to the consistency and tastiness of its food. It fits perfectly into the busy, social atmosphere of Little Clarendon Street, adding to the buzz with its efficient cheerfulness. Grab something to go as you make your way to a park, or try and snag a table in the shade to take a break from the sun – The Steamhouse is an enjoyable and fresh culinary addition to Oxford’s food scene.