This article was originally published on Bitten Oxford.
Lula’s Ethiopian and Eritrean Cuisine has been my go-to lunch at the Gloucester Green market since I first discovered it several years ago.
The well-spiced dishes and Lula’s smile have been consistently welcoming, hearty, and delicious. So I was eager, and a tiny bit nervous, to see how her new restaurant on Frideswide Square would shape up.
Lula has found a home in the Community Works on Park End Street, just across from the Said Business School. Community Works is a Makespace Oxford hub designed to build community by providing affordable spaces for local organisations. The casual, friendly venue is a good fit for Lula’s family-style dining. Lula’s has a laid-back table service where you’re seated to read the menu at your leisure, and then order at the counter. The selection includes 8-10 traditional Ethiopian and Eritrean dishes (depending on the specials), with a focus on authentic, healthy food. There are plenty of veggie and vegan options. If you have questions, Lula or one of her staff will be on hand to explain the food, how it will be served, and even the traditional style of eating.
How was dinner? In one word: wonderful.
We ordered the Gold Plate Special: a large sharing platter that reflects a long tradition of communal eating. It came with a selection of dishes from the main menu, served on a wide metal plate lined with injera. This is the Ethiopian flatbread with a distinctive tangy taste and spongy texture resembling a thick bubbly pancake. It’s a staple of Ethiopian cuisine, and absolutely delicious. I urge you to try it if you have the chance.
Lula makes her own and was busy producing a fresh batch while we were there. They ferment the dough using teff flour and it’s naturally gluten-free. To eat, you simply tear off chunks to scoop up mouthfuls of food. You get rolls of injera on the side to start with, and by the end you’re left with a base layer that has soaked up the extra sauce. A heavenly amalgamation of flavour. I loved the tactile element of using bread as a utensil. Of course, forks are provided if you want them.
The six delicious dishes at Lula’s were all well-cooked, hearty, and vibrant with spices.
My two absolute favourites featured berbere. Berbere is an essential Ethiopian spice mix that adds a kick of heat and an intensely more-ish depth of flavour. Lula has her blend made for her in Ethiopia, with the exact ingredients her secret. You can buy ready-made berbere mixes here in the UK or even make your own, but nothing I’ve tried has come close to Lula’s. The first dish was Zigni: tender little chunks of lamb in a dark, fiery berbere sauce mellowed by rich notes of sweetness. Perfect for mopping up with injera.
The other was a scoop of slow-cooked red lentils with caramelised onions, garlic, and berbere that brought just as much umami to the table as the meat. Mushroom Tibs seemed to use a different spice blend to add heat to the mushrooms cooked with onion, peppers and garlic, but with equally delightful results.
I also liked the milder veggie options. The yellow split peas were perfectly cooked – they still had some bite – in a rich broth with onions and spices. Fosolia was a comforting dish of sautéed green beans, carrots and onions, flavoured with the earthiness of turmeric. In Gomen, turmeric added warmth to the aromatic mix of braised cabbage, potatoes, and carrots.
No room for pudding
The portions were generous and I couldn’t have eaten dessert even if they were available – which they aren’t. Instead, our final treat was one last sip of Eritrean spiced tea with a little added sugar. The Earl Grey with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves helped us end a very pleasant meal in a warm glow of spice and conviviality.
Overall, Lula’s is a one of a kind in Oxford and a real gem. It’s the type of casual dining that favours taste over elegance, and where you’ll find full-flavoured food at a reasonable price. The Gold Plate Special is £12 per person; three vegetable dishes with injera cost £10; Zigni with one vegetable dish costs £13.
Go with a group of friends, try something new, and enjoy a communal eating experience. Bon appetit!
Opening hours are Wednesday to Saturday 1-3pm and 6-10pm
21 Park End St, Oxford OX1 1HU
We dined as guests of Lula’s, all views remain our own.