Should you crave a plate of something delicious: mushroom stroganoff, broccoli, spinach and pea soup, chickpea, spinach and tomato curry, sweet potato, kale and quinoa cakes with a small crisp salad (my favourite) then seek out the modest little community cafe off the Botley Road. It lies at the back of a functional looking building opposite the squat towered St Frideswide Church, and cheek-by-jowl with my adored allotment, which is still nursing its winter sulks.
Proper leaf tea in pots, the murmur of a radio in the kitchen and you can enjoy your own company whilst wool gathering and gazing on to the greenery of the recreation grounds. Admittedly not a picture-postcard view, but soothing. Beyond the hedge and behind the allotments is the oldest wild bathing place in Oxford, Tumbling Bay, from where you hear the shrieks of teenagers on hot summer afternoons. A lovely unpretentious cafe, welcoming mums and babes as well as singles or laptoppers lost to the world, it derives its attraction from the easygoing partnership of Vladimira and Tom who recently took over an incredibly dull and failing business.
Tom grew up with food cooked from scratch- his father was a master butcher in Zvolen, in the centre of Slovakia, a spa town of medieval castles and encircled by Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. The region just a little south to his home town became a Turkish principality in the 16th century. Vladimira’s parents ran a pub in Piestany, in the west, which is famous for the mammoth ivory prehistoric Venus of Moravany.
Tom can still taste his grandmother’s Knodel with braised cabbage and roasted pork loin, chicken consomme with liver dumplings and Sagedinsky gulasch with partenou knedlou (knodel). From her he learned to make a very good beef goulash.
He is a terrific cook, the sort that comes from a tradition of peasant food where good quality ingredients form the basis of every day eating and a family’s appetite is only satisfied by strong tastes and hearty menus. His dishes can also be taken home and as you can see the prices are very affordable for food of this quality.
After studying economics at Brookes, he trained at the Dragon School, worked at the Cherwell Boathouse for several years and ran his own stall at the Oxford Food Market in Gloucester Green. When the rather hopeless former leasee of the community cafe threw in the towel, the couple grabbed the chance to show what a community cafe can become.
The shutters go up at 9 a.m. and they pack up at 6 in the evening and are open seven days a week. The cafe is spotless, still a little bare (but will soon be hosting art exhibitions) and a peaceful haven for mothers and children or anyone wanting to stare out of the window at the green recreation ground without horrible muzak attacking their eardrums.
Vladimira is an accomplished cake maker (she learned from her mother) and her cinnamon buns are gone before you can blink . The couple have plans to extend their hours and get a licence, an ice-cream making machine, do some bartering with the neighbouring allotment growers and continue to become indispensable members of the community.