I feel a bit sorry for the people running the all new St Giles' Café. An internet search for their establishment produces numerous references to its former incarnation as an old-fashioned greasy spoon: only at the bottom of the page does the new owner's website appear. Well, here's one more hit.
There's also a good review here, which has photos (that I omitted to take) of the freshly-painted interior and philosophical place mats. Despite this very twenty-first-century touch there is a pleasing air of the nineteen fifties about the place, with those plain walls and functional chairs and tables. It feels very calm, and the waitresses are friendly and eloquent without being effusive. I'm glad they've decided on their own atmosphere without trying to create another identikit coffee shop with latte art and wifi.
The café has only been open a few weeks and I sense they're still working on some things: service has been slightly slow on the couple of occasions I've been. The fry-up they do is good, if not stunningly so: we found the Oxford sausage a bit over-seasoned, though perhaps we're just philistines, and my egg came thickly dusted with black pepper, which I could have done without (also, £5 for a decently sized full English is good value; I'm not so sure about £9 for the same thing with an extra egg and sausage). Still, the bacon was good, not too fatty or crisp, and the lightly toasted sourdough on the side excellent.
On another occasion I sampled the lunch menu. Grilled asparagus with Oxford pancetta and more sourdough (£6, I think) was an simple but satisfying meal, the spears contrasting nicely with the salty bacon, although it would have been better if some of the oil had been drained off before serving. I then had to try the coffee and walnut cake, a perennial favourite of mine: it was dense and moist and rather delicious; the icing was pleasantly rather than excessively sweet.
I expect I'll be back at some point. As I said, there may still be some room for improvement, but the St Giles' Café is clearly trying hard, and it deserves to do well.
St Giles' Café
52 St Giles'