Review: Vaults and Garden Café

Mabel Whitchurch enjoys a tasty lunch in a very unusual location

In two years at Oxford I’d never tried what is possibly the most famous café in the city, buried in the edge of St Mary’s Church right next to the Rad Cam. As someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy attempting to eat lunch with the wind blowing my hair in my face and spots of rain diluting my drink, I’d always been put off by the large collection of tables outside. However, I finally tried it out last weekend (sitting inside, of course) and was pleasantly impressed.

I probably made a mistake visiting at the weekend – the queue was long, and full of tourists too. On the plus side, in the entrance there was a menu on a huge blackboard for the queue to survey.

Once I reached the front of the queue, I was greeted by an collection of global lunches – Moroccan Lamb Tagine, Cheese Rarebit, Goats Cheese and Puy Lentil Gratin, and Sri Lankan Chicken Curry. The menu changes daily, and usually offers three or four main options, served from pots on a counter which spans the length of the wall. Afternoon tea and breakfast are offered too – judging from the cakes and scones piled on the counter, the cream tea is certainly something to try.

I’m not going to lie and say the food is the best I’ve ever had, but it’s not meant to be. It’s not supposed to be the same standard as a five-star restaurant; it’s all cooked in large quantities with a focus on healthy, sustainable and fair-trade ingredients. And with this in mind, it certainly surpasses expectations. The Goats Cheese and Puy Lentil Gratin was really delicious; it was wholesome, filling and most importantly full of flavour.

The food is great, but the setting is certainly the selling point here; you sit in an antechamber of the actual church, high stained glass windows surround you, and the beauty of the Rad Cam can be seen through the open door. The decor has been left relatively simple and there’s an authentic feel to the room. Pews and church seats are placed around large brushed down tables, and you help yourself to knives and forks from a wooden dresser.

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If you haven’t ventured into this little gem before, make sure you do before your time here is up – you’ll leave with a stomach full of healthy goodness and a mind full of Rad Cam views. What’s more to like?