Review: The Handle Bar Cafe & Kitchen

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So breakfast club is officially a thing, which I’m very happy about. This is the second month I’ve visited a local independent café with some girls from work for breakfast, an event which I love having in the calendar to look forward to. This time we decided to visit The Handle Bar Cafe in the city centre. Above the Bike Zone on St Michael’s Street, we were seated at a lovely spot by the window, and got to enjoy the morning sun as we ate (this does mean that my photos have a few more unfortunate shadows than usual, but hopefully you get the idea).

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Coconut pancakes with berries

Although the café opened at 8am and we arrived pretty much dead on, we weren’t the only ones with a table, and it got progressively busier as the hour went on, which I was surprised about (why aren’t all these students still in bed?!). Anna also mentioned that whenever she’s tried to come here for lunch, it has been hard to get a table, so the fact that it’s so popular can only be testament to the food. There were multiple vegan breakfast options on the menu, including the obligatory smashed avocado on toast, pancakes, and a chia overnight oats pot. I noticed that the latter was labelled vegan on the menu, but the description said it was served with honey, which is not SFV. I looked at the menu on their website however and the honey was omitted from the description, so perhaps they just haven’t updated their printed copies yet. Certainly worth checking with the waiter either way if you’re planning on ordering this.

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Pancakes with banana

We all ended up going for the vegan coconut pancakes which came with maple syrup and either banana or berries. I was really impressed by the size of this pancake stack – I’ve previously quite often found that ordering pancakes out can leave you feeling a bit hungry, but these were really substantial. There was a very decent amount of fruit, easily three quarters of a banana with mine, and with a generous drizzle of maple syrup, this was a really delicious start to the day. I didn’t need to snack the whole morning. I’d be keen to know how these pancakes were made so I could recreate them at home. Very coconutty and no doubt very calorific, but every bite was totally worth it.

I ordered a pot of breakfast tea to go along with my food, and there was a choice of various different dairy free milks for a 50p supplement. I got about three cups out of my pot so can’t complain about that at all. In total my meal came to £10, and I think that was very reasonably for the tasty food and friendly service provided. I’ll be coming back!

And in case you’re waiting for a reason/excuse to go out for a pancake breakfast, may I introduce the new breakfast club motto…

“You don’t need a reason to celebrate, just celebrate life!” – Rebecca Parker

Review: Brunch at GAF

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Going out for a proper brunch was a new experience for me. I love to cook and enjoy taking the time on a weekend to create something like waffles or pancakes at home, which I just don’t have the time to make during the week. I’m also a big fan of having (at least) three meals a day. Who are these crazy people who are choosing to forego a precious meal?! So I may have snuck in a small breakfast before going to meet my friend Lucy in East Oxford at 11.30 which, let’s face it, is almost lunch time anyway…

I’d thought about going to GAF since it opened, but was a little put off by a couple of reviews I’d read which suggested the place tries to be a bit upmarket and subsequently the portion sizes are quite small. However, the menu certainly looked pretty vegan friendly, so we decided to meet there. Lucy arrived before me and got us a table at the back; it was pretty busy when we arrived, and only seemed to get busier while we ate. The staff were very friendly and attentive. Our drinks order was taken as soon as I sat down, and literally seconds later, a second waitress came to ask if we’d like any drinks, and we explained we’d just ordered. When we finished our meal, the exact same thing happened again! It was kind of funny, but you can’t really fault them for making sure we had everything we needed 🙂

“Clearly it’s really important to them that we stay hydrated” – Lucy

I really liked the sound of a few things on their menu, particularly the porridge, smashed avocado on toast, and the GAF breakfast. Ultimately I decided that it would be a bit much to dedicate a whole blog post to reviewing a bowl of oatmeal, however nice that oatmeal might be, and I was feeling something hearty so I went for the vegan GAF breakfast, at £9. It was labelled ‘vegetarian with a vegan alternative’ on the menu, as it came with an egg. I suggested to Lucy (rather hopefully) that maybe they would put a bit of avocado on my plate instead. Alas, when I ordered the breakfast, the waitress confirmed my suspicions: “so you want the vegan breakfast – with no egg, yes?” Ah, that well-known ‘vegan alternative’ of paying the same price for less food on the plate.

img_4065When the food arrived, the initial sight of lots of white space on my plate kind of played up to my assumptions that this was the sort of place where you pay a lot for a little, but actually it was a really nice amount of food. Let’s actually get to it: I loved it. I will definitely go back here again, the food was delicious and well worth spending a little more than I usually would for lunch. The juicy field mushroom and diced tomatoes were cooked exactly how I would have them. There was a mound of rocket on top of the dish which wasn’t mentioned on the menu description, which was a welcome addition for me, but I know not everyone is a fan of its strong flavour. I didn’t miss the greasy hash brown that usually comes with an English breakfast at all and only wished there could’ve been a few more of the gorgeous caramelised sweet potato chunks this came with, but that’s just me being greedy I think. I could really tell that the smokey baked beans were homemade, and the flavour pulled the dish together. I saved the compote which came with the toast, incredibly sweet and aromatic (kind of reminded me of a Christmas candle…), for once I was done with everything else, and it was actually a very nice way to finish off the meal, kind of like having a pudding!

I would recommend GAF for a great vegan brunch. The menu is labelled really clearly and caters for different diets, making it a good choice for those with vegans, veggies, and meat-eaters in their group (sadly they had steak on the brunch menu, which seems bizarre to me). The cafe is open for dinner too and Lucy mentioned that they change up their evening menu every month or so as they like to use seasonal produce, so I definitely plan on paying another visit in the near future! Watch this space…