Icon of the Week: The White Rabbit

by Harry Buller | April 28, 2024


Open the door of The White Rabbit on a Friday night, and you’re dropped straight into the action: the bar is packed, the beer is flowing, and the pizza smells utterly divine. At times you can barely hear yourself between the people and the funky playlist on blast. It’s not always like this though: in the afternoon, its calm, laid-back and hip. Appropriate enough to bring your parents and yet fashionable enough to run into your mates. It’s a space that can do it all, pulling in a broad clientele from all across Oxford that is bound to come back for seconds.    


The White Rabbit has become an Oxford staple since taking over from The Gloucester Arms in 2012. Drawing large crowds, you’ll be relieved to hear that customers can now order from their table, avoiding the perilous trek to the bar. It’s a venue with all the right buzzwords attached: independent, net-zero and cheap. Given its stellar reputation, it was only a matter of time before a Features Writer interrupted its director’s lunch for an interview.  


I should start with an apology to Edward, The White Rabbit’s director and general manager. It was almost criminal to distract him from what looked like a quality Romanstyle pepperoni pizza with pestering questions. I soon find out, however, that the pub is not named after Alice in Wonderlands own, but instead in honour of a beloved pet rabbit: Mr. Snacks. At its heart, The White Rabbit is a familyrun pub. Edward owns part of it, and he tells me the rest is owned “mostly between my stepmother, Philippa, and with a couple of my siblings. It was in fact his younger brother who first came up with the concept of a pizza pub, a vision that was certain to be a hit in a university town.  


The familyrun atmosphere is palpable the moment you get in the door. The staff seem happy to be on shift, and having worked in service, I can attest genuinely happy bar staff are rarer than flying pigs. When I asked Edward about how they cultivated such an upbeat atmosphere he explained his thoughts on recruiting: “I’ll take someone who was really, really lovely, and not actually that efficient over the opposite.” Positive attitude over efficiency, if only I could convince my tutor of that thesis. Edward added that happy staff “sets the tone,” and it can really be felt. It’s somewhere you can chat to the bartender without feeling like that overly friendly barfly. It’s the little things that make a place comfortable and easy, friendly conversation being chief among them.  


The chef definitely seems to be flexing his creative muscles; the mad hatter pizza is a favourite amongst my friends. It hands total control of the pizza toppings over to the kitchen, leaving the customer in suspense until the moment it’s in front of them. Creative expression put aside; The White Rabbit runs an employeedriven business. Edward was keen to tell me that they’re a living wage employer, offering staff discounts and perhaps the best thing for morale, a free pint at night’s end. 


Pints, the bread and butter of a good pub, are sourced locally and rotated regularly. The beers range from light to dark, with a centre line which they buy in bulk to pass that saving onto us, the poorpub going population of Oxford. In fact, the White Rabbit is able to secure a discounted price and serve us £3 pints by buying ten casks at a time. The breweries they work with are never more than 25 miles from the pub: in an industry dominated by big breweries, it is refreshing to find local business supporting local business. This ethos is not limited to beer either, the pub’s veg only taking a five-minute walk down from The Covered Market before it makes its way onto pizzas. The kitchen of the White Rabbit has played host to pizza history. It’s the birthplace of the multi-million-pound White Rabbit Pizza Company which can be found stocked in Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.  


Like everything in The White Rabbit, it started with family: “to begin with the chefs were all friends and family, just to get us off the ground,” Edward told me with a hint of pride. The spirit of innovation and hard work has clearly found its home in their kitchen. Pizza is a precision practice at the White Rabbit, Edward explaining that “we train everyone in house, because everyone makes their pizzas differently. And so, what we don’t want is someone to come in and make their pizzas, we want to teach them how to make our pizzas.” This ethos plays out in their tidy Romanstyle pizzas, Edward pointing out “we’d like them to be very neat and to look really beautiful rather than Neapolitan, which is sort of misshapen.” Whilst slightly harsh on the Neapolitan, which is beautiful in its own way, I can see the vision. Especially once we started chatting about ingredients. 


Ingredients is where pragmatism must champion love for the local, I come to believe as Edward insists to me that they “never compromise on the quality of what we get.” So, they source their ingredients from the home of pizza itself: Italy. By his own admission, they are “obsessive about the flour.It is then no wonder that the search for quality extends into Europe. Edward looks visibly satisfied as he tells me: “We spend a long time just trying to get a margarita pizza absolutely perfect.” Whilst their margarita pizza is an undeniably well-honed classic, it is such a waste to only order the reliable option; for me, the unsung hero of pizza overall, and at The White Rabbit in particular, is the humble calzone. Topped with tomato sauce, packed with piping hot fillings of ham and mushroom, complete with a satisfying cheese pull, you simply cannot go wrong ordering it.  


It might seem like this is just an elaborate ploy to get some free pizza and beer. Whilst I shamelessly welcome it, I have not, yet, been bribed. It’s the pub I choose to show my parents in Oxford, knowing the pizza will never disappoint and atmosphere is appropriately relaxed for paternal reunions. It’s the perfect venue to start a night out. It captures the best of who you are with your parents and with your friends. A comfortable blend of maturity and debauchery... An establishment I am sure would make Mr. Snacks very proud! 


Words by Harry Buller. Graphic courtesy of Natalie Hytiroglou.