Oxford's 4 Best Kebab Spots
Author & Photographer: Hsin Min Zee
If you think Oxford is “posh,” you probably haven’t taken a stroll around city centre past twelve on a Wednesday night. You probably haven’t witnessed the packs of drunken undergraduates, stumbling over cobblestone, huddling in packs, on the ritual march to post-clubbing/post-entz* supper. This common-type variety of Oxford student can often be sighted waiting outside the many kebab vans around the town center. The meal is a serious matter. People notice if the vans don’t come for even just one day, and they despair. Those are dark times. The meal is probably more important (and in many cases more enjoyable) than the party that happens before it.
*Entz = Entertainment
Students debate passionately on who makes the best kebabs in Oxford. There are even competitions to decide who makes the best kebab in all of Britain. In an attempt to find the best kebab shop in Oxford, I took home chicken kebabs from four of the most popular places in the city, and tried them against each other. In the spirit of experimental rigour, I tested the food blindly (or as blindly as possible) and brought an Oxford man along for a second opinion. (Thanks Peter!) Here are our thoughts.
Hassan’s Street Kitchen
23 Broad Street
Price: £6 (Large)
Ah yes, Hassan’s. The Oxford classic. It will not take very long for the name to come up in conversation. Hassan’s is hugely famous, and is often believed to be the best kebab van in Oxford. This year, they were finalists at the British Kebab Awards. So you can imagine my excitement trying their food for the first time.
The first thing that struck me about the dish was the punch of the seasoning on the meat. It is spicy, but not so numbing that you can’t taste its lovely curried flavour. The chicken cubes are big, juicy, and portioned generously. They sit on a lightly grilled and beautifully buttered piece of naan with some fresh, deliciously crispy cabbage. In sum, it’s fair to say that Hassan’s lives up to all the hype.
Meat (white): #2
Vegetables: #2 (tie)
Ahmed’s Bar B-Q
Location: 90 High Street
Price: £5 (large)
Located just five minutes away, Ahmed’s is a natural close competitor to Hassan’s. Their fans fiercely fight for one against the other. Today we aim to settle the popular question: Hassan’s or Ahmed’s? It seems to me that the answer is not so obvious.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of this gastronomical experiment is that I allowed myself to accept an offering of free chips with my kebab at Ahmed’s. Because damn, these were some good chips. There are probably many nights where I would pick Ahmed’s just to get some of them on the side. They were freshly fried, crispy, and actually tasted of potatoes in the way that wedges often do. The kebab was just as good, and is virtually indistinguishable from Hassan’s in terms of quality. In terms of taste, the two are quite distinct. Ahmed’s makes their kebabs spicier, and with less of Hassan’s curried flavours. The chicken was a tad more tender than Hassan’s, proving a little easier to tear apart with just a fork. The only significant way in which Ahmed’s comes short is with their bread, which did not seem to be grilled, and was generally not as flavourful as the bread at Hassan’s.
Meat (white): #1
Vegetables: #2 (tie)
146 Cowey Road
Price: £6.50 (large)
Kebab Kid -- my first love! There is always something special about your first time. I still remember mine. I had just gotten out of a 2-hour bus ride from the airport, after a 12-hour flight from home. I needed to be fed not simply to satiate my hunger, but to revive my soul after it had been crippled by hours of motion sickness and claustrophobia. Kebab Kid did just that.
My favourite thing about Kebab Kid’s chicken donner kebab is the bread they use. Heated over the grill, their naan is delightfully chewy, making it the perfect food for stress eating. The chicken has got a similarly interesting texture. Having been cooked on a rotisserie, every bit of meat is charred a little bit differently. Since Kebab Kid uses dark meat, the taste of chicken is strong, and far more overwhelming than that of the sauces and seasoning. In this way, it’s very different from the high-on-spice, white meat kebabs served at Hassan’s and Ahmed’s. On the point of meat quality, it is hard to say which is objectively better. It depends on how you like your kebab.
Meat (red): #2
242 Cowley Road
Price: £6.50 (large)
A few blocks deeper into Cowey Road is Bodrum Restaurant. Cowley might be a little out of the way for most students, but it is without a doubt the best place to visit for quality Middle Eastern food. Although this means that Bodrum sits amongst some of the best restaurants in Oxford, I still find myself going back there most often whenever I am in the area.
Bodrum’s kebab is probably the most beautiful of the four. It’s topped with red and green cabbage, bringing freshness and vibrancy in both taste and appearance. Although the chicken is quite oily, the red cabbage introduces a good amount of sourness to balance the richness. Drizzled over the chicken is an amazing chili sauce that feels a lot more home-made than the ones you find elsewhere. In fact, it appears more like salsa than a fully liquid sauce. Apart from bringing lots of crisp flavour, the dish is also very successful in introducing a beautiful variety of textures, so that every bite you take is a little different from the others -- some with thicker crunches of cabbage, some with meat more stiffened by the char from the rotisserie. In short, the kebab was lots of fun to eat.
Meat (red): #1
So, who makes the best kebabs in Oxford? Well, that depends entirely on how you like your food, and which parts of it you’re pickiest about. If the bread is an important part of the experience for you, pick Hassan’s. If it is the vegetables, pick Bodrum. If you prefer big, juicy pieces of white chicken meat in your kebab, you’ll probably like Hassan’s or Ahmed’s. But if you want to get that gamey taste of chicken and more interesting textures in your meat, try either Kebab Kid or Bodrum. But choosing between the two pairs more generally is not easy. My advice? Try them all.