Indie Oxford Interview: The Handle Bar at 39 Magdalen Road
This week we chat to Cesar, manager of Handle Bar at 39 Magdalen Road, about sustainability, sourcing local produce and literally being born into hospitality! >>
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Cesar, I’m 34 years old, born in Marseille and raised in Brixton, south London. I was pretty much born in the industry, my dad was a very talented head chef and one of the pioneers of “nouvelle cuisine” in the south of France in the early 80’s, and my mum was a restaurant general manager. She was still running the restaurant whilst heavily pregnant, one of the busiest nights of the year being New Year’s Eve and in the middle of service I decided now was a great time to come into this world. My parents moved to London with me in 1989 as french personnel were very sought after especially for top restaurant jobs, I did the classic school thing, my parents never wanted me to pursue a career in this industry so I naturally decided to not listen and ended up going to catering college in France for a bit, came back to London and I’ve been working all over London ever since and here I am now in Oxford.
Tell me about the philosophy behind Handle Bar at 39 Magdalen Road.
The philosophy is the same across all Handle Bar sites, sustainability in the produce we work with, high welfare meat, the fish we use is always line caught for example, our eggs taste so good because we use Mayfield Farm where the hens and chickens run free, I’ll get into more detail on all of that later on down the line. We also operate a zero palm oil philosophy as much as we can as the devastating effects it has on the environment in terms of deforestation amongst other things is something we should all be held accountable for. We believe in tasty and simple ingredients, always seasonal and as local as possible, think of it as like eating at home, made with love and attention and always from scratch.
What is your favourite dish on the menu at the moment?
That’s a very hard question, Dorota our head chef is amazing! We have the same menu as the other Handle Bar site, the mothership as I like to call it, just a reduced version where we offer our famous breakfast and brunch with the addition of lunch specials which change daily. At the moment it has to be between a brunch special consisting of pan fried chicken livers on a bed of mixed leaves, cucumber and tomato, with home made potato crisps and a poached egg on top, drizzled with a beautiful vinaigrette, and the classic Goodie Veggie breakfast, still haven’t tasted a better brekkie yet! They’re both absolutely divine!
How important is sourcing locally and sustainably to the café?
I’d say it’s beyond important but fundamental, it’s part of our ethos and philosophy. We only source the best ingredients from suppliers we actually know, so we know they’re sustainable, they have to be otherwise we wouldn’t do business with them. Our sausages and bacon for example are from award winning butcher Patrick Strainge in Bampton, his sausages that we use recently won an award for best traditional sausages in south east England, it’s high welfare, all our meat is, which basically means the animals are treated very well and are happy and healthy. Avocados are usually a thing you can’t get away with in terms of sustainability, but our avo’s are from Peru which is one of the only countries that don’t deforest to increase their crop as they have had a lot of plants for generations and our supplier of avos knows this and always checks that they are always sustainable. Apart from the avocados, all our produce is very local, we like to support local business and also it keeps our carbon footprint down as much as possible, I mean our coffee is roasted just across the road at The Missing Bean who roast our very own Handle Bar house roast just for us!
What should we expect from Handlebar at 39?
You can always expect great service with a smile and always with that infectious south London energy that I try and instill to the staff and locals. We operate in such an iconic location on Magdalen road, the cafe is such a charming little gem you will always feel cosy and welcome and more importantly you will always feel at home here. It’s a cafe for the whole community, we are in a very local area with a great sense of community within a great community in itself, it’s so important to have these local cafs at the middle of it, and I’m not saying that because it’s our own, but because it’s a place where you can come and catch up with a friend, have coffee with a neighbour or just come and have a natter with one of us. We know many customers by their names, their kids, their dogs, the lot, it’s great and there’s always a vibe in here.
What are your opening hours, and tell me about your upcoming events.
We are open 7 days a week, Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 4 ish and Sunday 9 am to 4 ish, the kitchen closes everyday at 3 pm. Event wise we just had a very successful street party that I decided to throw to say thank you to the locals for such a warm welcome since we opened, and also because I love a party so why not? We also just had our first supper club which was in the theme of “farm to table” with line caught sea bream ceviche and beef from our very own cow, that’s how sustainable we are trying to be. We are doing a Handle Bar hangover club every Tuesday and Thursday in conjunction with Oxford Events for all Brookes students who have the HB hangover card for special all day deals to come and nurse their hangovers. We will be starting a boozy brunch in January that we will be running at weekends because I believe every local community deserves one! Also look out for more supper clubs coming next year with a Paella night and a cheap “bring your own” night!
How have you welcomed the local community?
Everyone in the local community have been amazing and so warm to us in their welcome! We know just how loyal they are around here and it’s nice to see they trust us and what we are trying to bring to East Oxford and this iconic venue. It kind of feels a bit like some residential parts of London which is important to a sometimes homesick Londoner like me.
Finally, which are your favourite indies in OX4?
That is such a tough questions as there are so many great indies around here! Annie Sloan on Cowley Road is amazing, we love her brand and her loads! All our ventures are coated in her amazing chalk paint, they are super friendly and helpful! Fellows Barber Shop also on Cowley Road, they always keep me looking sharp for cheap and the level of banter is on a another level, really good hair cuts! Food wise I’m a massive fan of Arbequina once again on Cowley Road, the food there is insane, the atmosphere always transports me out of Oxford for a few hours and the service is amazing!
You can’t beat a Handle Bar brunch, and I’m so excited to have this fantastic indie business in our neighbourhood. Keep your eyes peeled for more community focussed events in 2019.