Where to eat in the UK’s top university towns

shutterstock_144582065As the start of the first university term rolls around parents across the country will be packing their genius offspring off to the hallowed halls of some of the country’s best academic institutions. So parents if you’re planning to take your future graduates out for a ‘last supper’ before you drop them at the varsity, or students, if you’re looking for cheap dining suggestions, look no further. Here’s a selection of restaurants in the UK’s top university towns outside of London (according to the university league table for 2017)…



For a special occasion try…

cottoCotto, Cambridge 

“The location leaves much to be desired” (an “out-of-the-way” spot, on a busy road near the Grafton Centre) but all reporters are mightily impressed by Hans Schweitzer’s brave and experimental dining room. His “distinctive and imaginative” cuisine is “meticulous in its presentation and the ingredients used”, and – “it shows that he’s a pâtissier by trade” – his “wonderfully complicated” puddings are “the beautifully presented pièce de résistance”.


To truly push the boat out try…

Your students-to-be will need to have acquired at least four A* at A-level (and possibly a scholarship to boot!) but if they’ve been really good then this is the place to take them.

midsummer houseMidsummer House, Cambridge

“An ideal location next to the River Cam adjacent to Midsummer Common” provides a glorious setting for this fine Victorian riverside villa, where “Daniel Clifford is pushing on to new levels” – reporters rated it No. 2 in our Top-100 UK Restaurants this year, and some would argue that Michelin should bestow it that third star. “The level of detail is second-to-none” and the “spectacular and surprising food combinations” create “complex” and “exciting” dishes, delivered by “attentive but un-cloying” staff. Even many fans though feel it’s “too expensive”..


Students looking for cheap eats try…

steak and honourSteak & Honour, Cambridge

“Everything a burger should be” (“great ingredients, no messing about”) and “delivered from a very funky van!” – the formula behind this winning outfit.


coast fish and chip cambridgeSea Tree, Cambridge

“A welcome option amongst the Mill Road eateries” offering “high quality and reliable fish ’n’ chips”“great crispy calamari” and “even a wet fish counter”; given all this, it’s “worth the price compared to its competitors”.



For a special occasion try…

cherwell boathouseCherwell Boathouse, Oxford

“The location by the Cherwell helps” – it adds to the “lovely” ambience (especially on a warm day) of this well-known riverside venue, where “you can watch the punters trying to control their boats!” It is known in foodie circles for its formidable wine list, but these days the “light and elegant” cuisine is less of a total sideshow as once was the case.

My Sichuan, Oxford

“For taste, wow… just wow!” – “amazing” dishes “with lots of exotic items like frogs’ legs and ducks’ tongues” are all part of the “unabashedly in-yer-face” culinary style (“some stuff you’ll need to pluck up courage for”) of this centrally located, former school house, next to the bus station. “It’s not a good option if you don’t appreciate chilli heat”, but “it’s the closest thing to Chinese food, outside of China” and “the clientele are nearly always over 50% Chinese”. Top Menu Tip – “the cumin ribs are really, really good”.


Students looking for cheap eats try…

vaults and gardenThe Vaults & Garden Café

“In the old chapter house of a 14th-century university church” with outside tables on Radcliffe Square, this “idyllic” self-service spot offers “delicious and inexpensive” food (“especially vegetarian”); “don’t go on a Saturday if you’re in a hurry, as queues are long”.


oli's thaiOli’s Thai, Oxford

“This is proper Thai food – the very best you could eat”; it may be “tiny”, but this “basic” café “has achieved cult status” locally owing to its “incredibly flavoursome” food; “you have to be very organised to get a table”, though… “the waiting time is 6-8 weeks”!



For a special occasion try…

Vine Leaf, St Andrews

A perennial favourite with a hard-to-find location down a close off the Main Street; there’s a “good range of dishes” to say the least (including seafood and vegetarian menus) and the locally sourced cooking represents “excellent value” for money.


To really push the boat out try…

seafood st andrewsSeafood Restaurant, St Andrews

A glass box-style affair on the seaside that pleases all who comment on it thanks to its “very good fish” and “stunning views” (“best to visit on summer evenings”).


Students looking for cheap eats try…

dolls houseThe Doll’s House, St Andrews

St Andrews is not really a town known for its cheap eats, but the light lunches of sandwiches and baked potatoes at the Doll’s House offer good bang for buck, and their Sunday roast is just £10.




For a special occasion try…

The Thai Terrace, Guildford

The “wonderful roof-top setting”, with “fantastic panoramic views over the town”, can come as a surprise at this “big and buzzing” (“loud”) venue, given its “inauspicious location in a concrete, multi-storey car park”. So can the quality of the Thai cooking, which on practically all accounts is “excellent” too (though its ratings dipped a little compared with last year).


Students looking for cheap eats try…

Our pricing system is based on a starter, main course, dessert, half a bottle of wine, coffee and service, so Rumwong is better value for students than is perhaps apparent at first. You can get a hearty noodle bowl or curry for around £10.

Rumwong, Guildford

“superb” Thai veteran (est. 1978) offering “rich and decadent cooking allied with fabulously slick and professional service”… no wonder it’s so “busy”.



For a special occasion try…

hammer and pincersThe Hammer & Pincers, Loughborough

This “delightful”, beamed village restaurant “has always been a popular place to eat, but is now one of the best for miles around”; its charms include increasingly “interesting” cuisine plus an “extensive gin menu”.

Students looking for cheap eats try…

hog stopThe Hog Stop, Loughborough

The chaps behind the town’s Mexican cantina, the Cactus Cafe, and Australian restaurant Moomba (also worth checking out) have introduced a new street food venture. Locals seem to love their slow-cooked (overnight) pork and choice buns.



For good wines and dependable food try…

The Crown at Mickleton, Durham

“great country village pub” offering solid food options and a good range of wines, and where the open kitchen adds a touch of drama.


Students looking for cheap eats try…

zen durhamZen, Durham

Not a restaurant that has ever come across our books before but Durham foodies assure us it has long been a firm student favourite; serving ‘daredevil’ Thai curries and pan-Asian street food at very decent prices. Durham Uni-goers get 10% discount too.



Head out of town to…

The Midland Hotel, Morecambe

A setting “overlooking Morecambe Bay with the lakes in the background takes some beating” at this “lovely” Art Deco hotel-restaurant. The cooking has traditionally played something of a supporting role, but some reporters are “surprised how good it is”.

The Bay Horse, Ellel

“A minor refurb has done a remarkable world of good to the Wilkinson family’s pub, handy for the M6”, making it “better suited to the excellent and precise food from son-of-the-family Craig Wilkinson”. It can be “a bit inconsistent” though.


Students looking for cheap eats try…

The Whale Tail Cafe, Lancaster

For a decent breakfast or wholesome lunch this fairly central vegetarian and vegan cafe is a safe bet according to students.



For a special occasion try…

tailorsTailors, Warwick

“Ambitious, competent cooking”“first-rate presentation” and an “excellent wine list” combine to make this “small” venture, in a former tailoring shop in the town centre, the “best Warwick restaurant”; accordingly, “booking is essential”.


Also worth checking out…

Rose and Crown, Warwick

“fabulous country pub overlooking Warwick square”, praised by a good-sized fan club for its “cheerful and obliging staff”“great vibe” and “super-reliable” grub.

Micatto, Warwick

“fantastic” town-centre Italian with open kitchen, where there’s “always something novel and interesting from the regions” to try from the monthly changing menu; it’s a real hit locally “so you need to book”.

Students looking for cheap eats try…

Jin’s Cafe, Warwick

According to Warwick students this is THE place to go if you’re tired of the on-campus offering; just a stone’s throw from the university buildings this cafe is cheap as chips for breakfast, lunch or dinner.



For a special occasion try…

menu gordon jonesMenu Gordon Jones, Bath

“Off-beat, irreverent, and exciting!” – the “experimental” cuisine is “really surprising” at this “progressive” but “no-frills” and “cramped”gourmet experience to the south of the city centre. When it comes to the tasting menu, “it’s so much fun, as you don’t know what you’re going to get”, but “the flavours are always firing on all cylinders”, and there’s “a very original wine flight accompaniment”.


To truly push the boat out try…

Bath Priory Hotel, Bath

Amidst “beautiful grounds”, this “very smart”property (a Brownsword Hotel) at best offers “precise” cooking, and “impeccable” service in “a lovely and formal” setting. Prices remain “eye-watering” though, and its ratings slipped a notch this year.

Students looking for cheap eats and a caffeine injection try…

Colonna & Smalls, Bath

“The best coffee in Bath, made and served by experts” – the unanimous verdict on this attractively minimal café, by Queen Square, which also does great cakes.



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