Tucked away in the deceptively unappealing Friars Entry, the White Rabbit is something of a poorly-kept secret in the heart of Oxford. With a combination of great food and drink, friendly staff and smart aesthetic, it is no surprise that this pub is favoured by students and visiting celebrities alike.
I went along on a quiet Saturday lunchtime when I was a bit poorly and therefore not drinking, though I did check out the drinks menu. There were a wide range of very reasonably priced wines and beers, and the menu is supplemented by handwritten chalkboards adorning the bar, with details of house cocktails. The variety of soft drinks available, combined with everything else the pub has to offer, means that tee-totallers can still enjoy themselves.
The aesthetic was ‘smart rustic’: wooden furniture finished with condiments in emptied glass spirit bottles, all set against tiled floor and trendy light green paintwork. Elements of quirk and personality were scattered among the decoration, but not in a way that felt busy or too deliberate. The overall impression was a bit like the cosy living room of your coolest friend, with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere to match, complete with chilled music that was not too loud.
We were greeted warmly by the barman, who remained friendly and helpful throughout our visit - always a good sign! This helpfulness was summed up when my friend attempted to order a coffee. Although hot drinks are not on the menu (a shame), the barman explained that there is a machine out back, primarily for staff, which meant that the desired espresso could be obtained - so they’ll go out of their way to be accommodating to even the most needy (caffeine-deprived) of diners. Queries and minor tweaks to our orders were met with no quibbles at all, with the food arriving pleasingly quickly.
The food itself hit the spot beautifully. I opted for the calabrese: a pizza without the tomato base, mainly out of curiosity. It is a credit to the chef that the cheese (mozzarella and parmesan) maintained a silky harmony with the base that I had worried would be missing without the marinara, while the Nduja sausage provided a hearty kick. All this cheesy glory rested on dough that was soft, chewy, crispy and floury in all the right proportions, and was complemented by the most enormous side salad I have ever seen. After all that, I somehow managed a dessert: a deeply indulgent chocolate brownie laced with just the right amount of salted caramel.
My vegan friend reported that her fresh and colourful vegan pizza (with vegan cheese removed, on request!) was also mouthwatering. She did, however, feel mildly disappointed that there was only one vegan option on the menu, given how celebrated the pub is as a vegan-friendly venue. Ultimately we agreed that the food is brilliant for those who want to soak up their drinking with good-quality food, if not necessarily for those seeking an authentic Italian dining experience.That said, it served as a wonderful spot for lunch, and the off-peak hours allowed us to avoid the (justifiably) heaving crowds.
It isn’t difficult to see how this pub enjoys an enduring popularity as it gets so much right: fantastic value (especially given the central location), great grub, friendly and well run - a combination that will ensure that every visit is enjoyable.