Step inside the Oxford Exchange, located across the street from the University of Tampa, and behold a world of literary and culinary enlightenment and English charm.
Here, you can curiously peruse the fascinating shelves of the bookstore, curl up in leather armchairs with a book and a cup of tea, and enjoy afternoon tea and sandwiches in the restaurant.
The bookstore is located at the front of the building, and it feels like the beating heart of the Oxford Exchange. Hardcover, vintage and unique books are all organized on different shelves according to categories with clever names like “swashbuckling.” There’s even a whole shelf dedicated to food literature.
The only way you’ll get through the bookstore in under a half an hour is if you have a reservation at the restaurant, situated just down the hall past the cozy lounge area.
Half of the dining room is indoors, with old-fashioned paintings and illustrations adorning the walls. The other half of the dining room is a sun-roofed courtyard with black-and-white tiled marble floors.
The English have it right when it comes to enjoying a hot (or iced, as it may be) cup of tea with a salad or sandwich. Oxford Exchange offers 35 specialty loose-leaf teas from local Florida TeBella Tea Company, including white, green, oolong, rooibos, black chai and darjeeling teas. There’s also Buddy Brew Coffee, matcha lemonade and hot chocolate.
The white coconut dulce was smooth and aromatic; the blueberry pomegranate green tea was juicy and bittersweet; and the oolong nirvana with lemon myrtle and vanilla was buttery and refreshing.
It’s not a bad idea to start with a small plate as you finish your tea while it’s still hot. The kale chips were flaky and brittle to the touch, satisfyingly crunchy and earthy in flavor with a sweet-spicy vinegar and paprika aioli on the side.
Out of tea and moving on to the main course; the hummus wrap was yummus. Roasted peppers, crunchy pumpkin seeds, sprouts and cucumber slices were cushioned by a thick layer of creamy hummus, all wrapped up in a soft spinach tortilla. The wrap was served at room temp, but the sweet potato fries on the side were the perfect temperature and flavor complement. It was love at first bite.
The chopped Greek salad started out on a good note with spinach, bibb lettuce, olives and crispy potatoes. But there weren’t any cucumbers, red onions or tomatoes, and the herb vinaigrette wasn’t nearly herby enough to be noticeable, which was a problem for a salad composed mainly of greens. A little boring, but I did like the little crispy potatoes sprinkled on top.
It seems that a page-turner might be just a little less engrossing when paired with the perfect cup of tea and a bite of something just right at the Oxford Exchange.