Chestnuts sit in a wicker basket ready for roasting next to a sack of French walnuts jostling for space, huge yellow knobbly quinces, baby cucumbers, black potatoes, purple cauliflower, small round aubergines, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, banana shallots, tiny pickling onions, damsons for jam, Kentish cobnuts, Medjool dates and passion fruit.
The list goes on and on, wonderful to behold as the rare and exotic fruit, vegetables and produce currently on display at Oxford’s newest greengrocer – Pickle and Lime – stretch back into the shop as far as the eye can see.
“Our customers perspectives have changed. They like the face-to-face service and to stop and have a chat while they are here.”
“We’ve completely sold out of padron peppers from The Oxfordshire Chilli Garden,” owner Joe Devlin tells me. “We literally can’t buy them fast enough. They just disappear as soon as we get them in.”
Yes Pickle and Lime on Oxford’s Botley Road is putting sexy back into fruit and veg and it couldn’t come at a more timely moment.
Because with provenance being enormously important at the moment, our insatiable appetite for ever more experimental food and ingredients showing no signs of abating, and the Covid induced ‘shop local’ knock on effect, it couldn’t have opened at a better time.
Situated in the old Eggs Etcetera premises where Joe and his partner Teresa ran a very successful deli cum sandwich shop/general store which closed down almost overnight when Waitrose opened up on the other side of the road.
Introducing a new sandwich shop Country Grains next door, Joe then pondered what to do with his large empty shop on the busy Botley Road, until he realised it would make the perfect spot for a new greengrocers.
one senses this is just the beginning for what could become a real emporium for local, independent food producers
Opening up in August, the shop has been an instant success with people flocking from miles away just to experience some of Joe and general manager Ian’s good old fashioned service and the wonderful produce available, all served in a safe, stylish, independent environment.
Joe sets off at midnight to get to London’s Covent Garden to buy the best produce available, but also sources it from local companies such as Millets Farm. “I still find it really exciting going to Covent Garden. I know what I’m looking for,” he says.
Delivering to the likes of The Horse and Groom in Caulcott, The Punter (Oxford’s new vegan and veggie pub https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/exclusive-the-punter-in-oxford-has-reopened-as-a-new-veggie-vegan-gastropub/, Oxford’s Lamb and Flag, Three Greens salad bar, Gatineau, Lula’s Ethiopian and Eritrean Cuisine Catering Company and Lady Lasagna, Pickle and Lime is already much in demand.
And Joe and Ian couldn’t be more delighted. The shelves are also bursting with local produce from The Cotswold Honey Company, The Oxfordshire Chilli Garden, Cranston Pickles, Mei’s Sauces, Ogglio’s olive oil, and Well Preserved, and one senses that this is just the beginning for what could become a real emporium for local, independent food producers.
Joe inherited the business from his mother, who began selling local produce there back in 1974, and is delighted to see the locals returning after such a devastating downturn in business.
“It was very demoralising. We had various plans for the space over the years, from a cafe to a Thai takeaway, but when lockdown happened and the way that people shopped began changing, it seemed like the right time to take the plunge,” he says. “So we have brought back a traditional greengrocers and given it a modern twist.”
So why has it been so successful? “People want to shop locally again and don’t necessarily want to go to a supermarket. They also want a safe environment. Our customers perspectives have changed. They like the face-to-face service they get here and to be able to stop and have a chat while they are here.”
This is very much in evidence when I visit, Ian chatting to a regular customer about her holiday and her mother’s health as he packs her produce into brown paper bags and carries it out to her car for her afterwards. The personal touch is back it would seem.
“People want taste and quality and they are willing to spend a bit more to get it”
With a new website being constructed and plans for a chilled counter of cheese and cold meats, Christmas produce and trees, everything is going in the right direction.
It means that Pickle and Lime’s clientele is a wonderful mix of students, the elderly and families, although Joe says the challenge is still getting people through the door.
And while Joe says he still can’t compete with the bulk buying capacity of supermarkets, he is confident that his produce is fresh, tasty and delicious.
“People want taste and quality and they are willing to spend a bit more to get it,” Joe adds. “And we are open seven days a week, with a roast slot on Sunday.”
All you have to do is get down there and see this new greengrocer for yourself!
Pickle and Lime is at 67 Botley Rd, Oxford OX2 0BS