Will Pouget, who owns and runs the Vaults, is a unique character: fast thinking, fast moving like quicksilver, his long hair pushed off his face with shades. He is representative of the younger generation of entrepreneurs who have injected enthusiasm and clubbability into eateries and managed to create a devoted client base.
A few years ago when I was living in the Pyrenees I got a breezy call from Will. “Hi, can I came and see you? I’m on my bike.” He was about 80 miles away over a steep mountain pass, cycling in the Corbieres. He pedalled down to Catllar, stayed a couple of days, then cycled back. His energy is phenomenal, otherwise he couldn’t run his four high- maintenance businesses: three cafes and outside catering
I love the Vaults and would go there over and over again. It’s not just for the food and excellent coffee and teas, but for the assurance of tables cleaned nightly with linseed oil, grime-free trays, the buzz (the clamour is agreeable and even tourists take on a harmless patina), the friendly service and the presence of Will, darting from coffee machine to pantry, to greet customers old and new and the general air of welcome.
Menus are robustly wholesome, fusion-y, locally sourced and often very tasty. Half of the produce comes from David Blake’s organic farm shop at Worton, and 30% is non-organic but seasonal and fresh.
Will has a well-defined philosophy. “I train my staff to think of each day as a dinner party where they have to look after friends of friends and to deal with situations in a natural way- not that the customer is always right, because that’s such an artificial approach- so everyone feels it’s been a good experience. Teamwork is most important. I try and be caring, both maternal and paternal with the people who work here.” The larger percentage of staff is from abroad. He shakes his head. “Much better work ethic. Foreign recruits are grateful to earn. It’s getting harder and harder to get decent people from this country- far too often they turn out to be bordering on ‘Special Needs’: marginals from dysfunctional backgrounds and it’s getting worse and worse.”
A door keeps banging in the wind. Will jumps up, grabs hold of a young waiter and explains what needs to be done to fix the door-stop.
“What I want to do next is build up good contacts with food sources (coffee producers for example in Mexico) in the developing world so we can be a kind of portal for their goods.”
He’s always trying out something new. Next week he’s invited Satish Kumar of Resurgence magazine to come and give a talk.Go and enjoy breakfast with newspapers on the house, a filling lunch or tea and cake. It’s one of Oxford’s best experiences and very good value. Afterwards climb up the many hundred steps to the tower of the University Church of St Mary for the spectacular view of the dreaming spires of our beautiful city.