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.

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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).

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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.

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Did you know that the TSK building was once the home of the Taj Mahal, Oxford’s first Indian restaurant? Long gone, but a marvellous venue in its day.   Adrian Bullock

We *did* know this remarkable fact. In fact we have reason to believe it may have been the second oldest Indian restaurant in the whole of the UK. The source for this is none other than Aruna Mathur whose father set it up, and who turns out to be a subscriber to Morris Oxford!
On this subject, we can’t resist a reference to Kenneth Tynan’s Diary (p.316). For it turns out that the eminent theatre critic was a frequent diner there. Apparently the Taj had a particularly ornate lavatory which once featured in his dreams:
14 April 1976
Dream about Antonia and Harold Pinter, in which they are living in Sam Spiegel’s New York penthouse, a garish leather padded pleasure-dome full of marble grilles and priceless artwork. (I went to Sam’s housewarming party there and when he asked me what I thought of the place, I said: ‘It looks like the men’s room at the Taj Mahal.’)
In my dream, Pinter and Antonia hold a press conference:
Q: Lady Antonia, can you confirm that you are a convert to Judaism?
Antonia: Yes. But as Dr Jonathan Miller once said, ‘I’m not a Jew. I’m Jew-ish.’
Q: Mr Pinter, are you aware that this apartment was once likened to the men’s room at the Taj Mahal?
Pinter: Yes. But it’s not a lav. It’s lav-ish

We received this from Stephen Foote, professional photographer and long-time citizen of this parish.

Mention of the Taj Mahal in the Turl took me back. As a child I used to go there regularly with my dad …

I was a day boy at the Dragon school. Wednesday and Saturdays were short days, so I would go into town and meet my pa at Queens, where he was a Fellow. His room was in the rear quad. Every other Wednesday it would be a haircut at the barbers next to Queens, on the High Street. It’s still there. A treat would be to have a squirt of Brylcreem! Then lunch. Either at the Taj – curry and popadums – or Fullers, upstairs, in Cornmarket (roughly where Burger King is now): breaded plaice, chips and peas. And sometimes we’d go to the Cadena café, also in Cornmarket.

The Cadena was an Oxford institution, which sadly closed in 1970. I found this article about it, which Morris Oxford readers may find of interest.

Cadena Cafe, Oxford