Another eatery in Oxford taking exceptional strides towards becoming more eco-conscious is The Handle Bar.
Celine, the owner, has worked in the hospitality industry for upwards of twenty years. She was helping start and manage other restaurants before she was approached to do some pop-up food in what was previously Zaplins. These went down a storm, and not long after, Celine bought the place and made it her own (The Handle Bar) with sustainability and the environment being an element of development.
As we chat I sip on a delicious cup of coffee with beans directly from The Missing Bean. It is slightly bitter, but not overwhelmingly so, and very smooth. A few years ago, Celine realised she was going through a staggering 60 litres of milk every week. After looking at the environmental impact of this, she decided to make the change to serving non-dairy milk as their house milk instead.
The Handle Bar ran a campaign called ‘Alternative Milk Week’. They tried and tested various different plant milks and sought out their customers’ favourite. Overall, oat milk was the winner. You can have dairy milk if you really want it for an additional 30p. Celine says this is because she’s trying to change the narrative and encourage others to try something different. Any dairy you do choose comes from Braids Farm in Lancashire. Celine has visited herself to ensure the farm has a great ethos, is carbon neutral and the cows are well looked after.
After 20 years of working in the hospitality industry, Celine’s been able to build up solid and trusted relationships with her suppliers. She ensures me that the produce served is both seasonal, fresh and grown in the best way possible. Their pork comes from a butcher in Bampton, and any fish from New Waves Seafood, which delivers superb quality and responsibly sourced seafood direct from the coast to their suppliers.
The Handle Bar buy directly from small boats and fish auctions in order to minimise the impact on marine-environment. Although fish isn’t a regular feature on the menu, The Handle Bar tries to cater to all tastes. It is reassuring to know that issues such as over-fishing and the increasing pollution of our oceans with plastics and chemicals is taken into consideration when the menu is put together.
Eggs are featured a lot on the menu. You’ll find them alongside Provençale tomatoes and garlicky mushrooms in the typical British HB Full House. They’re also found on top of smashed fava on toast, and poached alongside a bowl laden with tangy kimchi and Korean flavours. These come from Mayfield Eggs in Witney, a farm I’ve visited myself and even donated my pumpkins to after Halloween (used to feed the chickens; apparently it’s good for them, who knew?).
Once again keeping it local, The Handle Bar get all their produce from Bonners in Oxford’s Covered Market.
Fruit and veg are used as much as possible on the core menu, with tweaks being made seasonally throughout the year. The specials menu will always change and feature what’s thriving at the time. Right now they’re offering a warming, spiced parsnip soup, goats cheese croquettes and a turkey pie, all wholesome options for what is a gloomy and wet winter’s day.
Back in November, The Handle Bar made a massive change and removed avocado completely from their menu.
Celine was concerned with how many avocados the restaurant was using up and was aware of both the environmental impact of the popular fruit as well as the socio-economical complications that are linked with increasing criminal activity in places like Mexico. No longer wishing to fund these practises, The Handle Bar bid farewell to their beloved avo on toast, and replaced it with vibrant fava beans and pea smash, better on the budget, better for the planet and even more delicious than the typical baby food you usually find shmeared on just about anything these days.
From where I’m sat, I can see that The Handle Bar operates like a close-knit family.
This is reaffirmed when I’m told that the staff turnover is minimal and everyone genuinely seems happy to be part of a team that provides great service and tasty food. With hospitality being on the rocks these past few years, and many places struggling with staffing issues, the dynamic that has been set up here is enabling The Handle Bar to thrive during what are still temperamental times.
During lockdown, the team were getting together over Zoom for group activities. Things like the art of fermentation, making coffee liquor and sugar syrups from scratch. This very Kimchi you’ll find on their menu. The syrups were used as part of their wonderful cocktails which you can sip alongside Tapas in the evenings. Try a gin sour with homemade basil and elderflower cordial alongside homemade gnocchi and chargrilled vegetables, or a beer from Tap Social and Oxford Brewery alongside roasted figs, which are so juicy and delectable at this time of year.
Whether you’re looking for a quick coffee break amongst the hustle and bustle of busy life, meeting friends for brunch or wanting the perfect spot for a cosy date night -The Handle Bar is the ideal spot for you. What makes it even better is that you can feel good when you’re dining out knowing that this place is continuously trying to do their bit to be kinder to our planet.
The Handle Bar Cafe
28-32, St Michael’s St, Oxford OX1 2EB