Not many loos these days are spanned by vaulted ceilings built of centuries-old stone and brick. Even rarer is it, on a call of nature, to encounter blackened mediaeval timbers and joists, let alone to discover a lavatory with a collection of logs outside, chopped and ready to take their place on an open fire.
Situated on the corner of the Turl and Market Street, Turl Street Kitchen enjoys interesting views in both directions, especially out of the large picture window facing Blackwell’s Art and Poster shop. If you get the angle right you can look up at Antony Gormley’s mysterious rooftop Ironman staring out forlornly across the Broad.
Inside, the scrubbed wooden tables are set out spaciously, leaving enough corners in which to nestle in discreet comfort. The most exciting of these corners hosts a self-administered pop-up toaster, situated next to a tray of spreads which includes Marmite, peanut butter, Brightwell Bees Oxfordshire Honey, and Nutella.
An interesting mix of people come here: students of course, but also sophisticated shoppers and the occasional minor celebrity. There are fresh flowers on the tables. The atmosphere is warm without being fuggy. The wall colour is eau de nil, the art cheery (Josh Rose’s ‘Log Stack’ being perhaps a homage to the loos in the style of Hockney) and the music is coolly non-invasive.
In previous incarnations the building was home to the QI Club, and it would seem that abbreviation is written into the DNA of the place, for TSK is how it is referred to by locals. Before that it had an even more interesting history. For this was the site of the Taj Mahal, Britain’s second oldest Indian restaurant, opened in 1937 (its exotically ‘lavish’ decor recalled with fondness in Kenneth Tynan’s Diaries).
Back to the present. Profits from the Kitchen’s activities go to support its ‘sister charity, the Oxford Hub’ located in the rooms above the restaurant, which provides a centre for student welfare and a gathering point for those who seek to volunteer in the community.* The internet password is goodfooddoinggood.
The restaurant critic Tracy McLeod reviewed it as ‘the gemütlich little restaurant putting the heart back into Oxford city centre’. She found herself particularly moved by the ‘big, silky hunks of beetroot walloped by salty slabs of Westcombe Cheddar and the mineral tang of watercress’. We can’t vouch for that, but the (locally sourced) coffee is certainly good, and the fact that TSK does what it does and is where it is makes it even better.
* Update: The Hub recently relocated to 36 Little Clarendon Street.