There’s been a lot of coverage recently about Westgate Social, the indoor food court at Westgate Oxford – it being dark and unwelcoming, lack of signage and the abrupt closing of one of the original traders. For me, it has some good points and some bad but I don’t actually mind it. It lacks a little in choice and it could be a great alternative to the slightly more upmarket dining on the roof terrace but it definitely ticks a few boxes for me and my family.
So when the Westgate PR team asked us to try food from each of the various vendors and write our opinions, knowing how we can sometimes voice those opinions, we were up for that.
We started off at Shawa, Comptoir Libanais’ little brother, with their Lebanese village food. A chicken shawa platter, £13.50 consisted of an entire tray of food. Chicken schwarma, village bread wrap, hommos, tabbouleh, vine leaves, fries, pickles and a side of Lebanese spiced rice as well as a glass of their mint, lemon and lime lemonade!
Schwarma was quite dry so the hommos and two dips were needed to moisten the meat, especially as the bread is also a dry dough. Tabbouleh was good, more parsley than cracked wheat but with finely chopped onion and lemon acidity. Lebanese spiced fries are good and the lemonade is also eminently quaffable.
Previous visits have taught us that it’s a much better idea flavour wise and budget wise to go for their family offer of a whole chicken with fries, rice, four drinks and sides for twenty quid.
Next up and nicely alliterative is Ned’s Noodle Bar. Occupying the prime spot right slap bang in the middle, Ned’s do Chinese boxes where you build your base, sauce and filling for around £8 a box. For example, you could select egg noodles, rice noodles, or steamed rice, sauce it with Chinese BBQ, sweet and sour or Thai green curry then add chicken, beef, vegetables or tofu. We went for beef yakisoba with udon noodles and pickled ginger with a side of spring rolls.
Nothing groundbreaking here but nothing bad either, everything was fresh, hot and well flavoured. It’s essentially eating out at your favourite generic takeaway.
Then there’s Tommi’s burgers – one of our favourites and what keeps us going back to the Social. Really good burgers and now one of the best in town. In fact, we frequently have debates about whether we prefer Five Guys or Tommi’s and we still can’t decide!
Five Guys is that proper dirty burger whereas Tommi’s is what I’d call a clean dirty burger. Great quality, well-seasoned meat in a decent bun with really good fries and a great selection of sauces for you to flavour as you like. For twelve quid you can get a classic burger, fries and a soda but be warned, adding extras can really bump up the price! Youngest child always insists on a Tommi’s – plain with just cheese and bacon.
Salt ‘n’ Sauce is an old-style fish n chip shop but with modern flavours. Sometimes it’s excellent and they can absolutely nail their chips, other times it’s just not so good. By the time we got to them we’d totally blown the budget provided by the Westgate’s PR and whilst chatting to the guys in Salt ‘n’ Sauce, they quite literally gave us one of everything on the menu.
One fish fillet burger…
One buttermilk fried chicken burger with kimchi mayo, Asian slaw, coriander and red onion…
And one vegan, gluten-free, beer battered tofu with seaweed…
I should point out that there was four of us dining that evening and we pretty much rolled each other to the car park. Anyway, Salt ‘n’ Sauce do a main, side and soft drink for a tenner or with beer/wine for £12.
The fish has always been good when we’ve been, steaming hot, crispy batter and succulent flaky white fish crying out to be liberally doused in lemon juice and/or vinegar with a total disregard for your salt intake. As mentioned before the triple cooked, beef dripping chunky chips can be a bit hit and miss but on this occasion, they were crunchy and soft in the middle.
The fish fillet burger is good, a buttery brioche bun with a good punchy tartare sauce. I preferred this to the buttermilk chicken which was a little too salty for me and also just a bit much overall. I was intrigued enough to try the seaweed tofu and although I have no idea if it would satisfy a vegan, I was impressed by both the sea fishy flavour and the texture. It was WAY better than I anticipated.
Overall, Westgate Social is worth a visit. It’s not fast food prices and it’s not quite restaurant quality but if you’re that side of town and starving it works. It remains to be seen how it’s new rebranding as Street Food goes and obviously we’ll be keeping a close eye – there’s a bit of a gap in the market now!