Professional service and fabulous food convince Katherine MacAlister that Yellow Submarine can do the business

There is a Bob Marley quote above the counter at Yellow Submarine, Oxford’s brilliant new cafe in Park End Street, which says: ‘Even if you win the rat race you are still a rat’, which I love.

It should also erect one that says: ‘If you can’t beat them join them’, because although the idea behind the cafe may be well intentioned, to survive in the real world its business model needs to work, and it does.

So if there is a whiff of Pret or M&S about it, it’s to be applauded, because the Yellow Submarine will only work if the food is up to scratch.

And instead of trading on the British cafe staples of egg sandwiches or cheese and tomato toasties, Yellow Submarine has grabbed the bull by the horns and is challenging the chains head on.

What is different is that this independent cafe reminds you of everything that’s good in the world, rather than corporate banality, and I was utterly charmed from the moment I set foot in the door. My only regret was that it had taken me a year to get round to it.

The Yellow Submarine is not only winning on the food front but its staff and their personal touches make this place stand out from the crowd. The sandwiches for example all have labels written on them by the apprentices and say things like Have A Lovely Day and Follow Your Dreams which sets you up for the day.

The food is fresh, delicious and personal. There is a special sandwich of the day – on the day we visited, a New Yorker with pastrami, emmenthal, French mustard, tomatoes, rocket and gherkins (£4.20 to eat in) – which was instantly nabbed by my friend from the DIY counter. I had my hands on the mozarella with green pesto and sundried tomatoes and rocket (£3.80), having lost out on my first choice – a tuna mix with capers and spring onion (£3.20) – when someone else changed their mind and put hers back. Either way I would have been happy. We put a Greek salad (£2.50) on the tray as well for good measure, ordered a couple of homemade smoothies, a mango crush made with ice and pure strawberries picked that day. Some crisps.

And we sat in the sunny window next to a family with a baby, grandparents out with their grandchildren, a couple of teens, a great mix of people, all smiling and gunning for the Yellow Submarine to work.

It’s worth mentioning that the Yellow Submarine was set up to help and train people with learning difficulties who struggle in everyday society. Anthony and Hannah served us very enthusiastically and professionally under the watchful eye of their mentor manager Paul Stanton-Humphreys, all hell bent on getting it right and delivering a quality product and service.

There are leaflets scattered around explaining their work and the stories speak for themselves. I hope Anthony won’t mind me focusing on his. Socially inept, intensely shy, he summoned up the nerve to join the volunteer programme, soon learnt the ropes and after six months had learnt to serve customers at the till and deliver sandwiches to local businesses. He is now mentoring new trainees, (there are four apprentices and four trainees working there).

So while the Yellow Submarine’s ethos is the right one, I don’t want to detract from their achievements by making it some sort of sob story.

The staff there only want to be respected for their work and judging by my experience it couldn’t have gone any better.

The sandwiches were filling, juicy and delicious, generous in filling, great bread.

The Greek salad needed dressing, but otherwise the meal was flawless, although The Yellow Submarine doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not.

So I know where to get my sandwiches from now on, and if, in so doing, I’m helping people like Anthony find his feet, then so be it. A fabulous new addition to Oxford’s lunchtime trade, or if you’d rather – breakfast or even afternoon tea. That’s next on my list.

Yellow Submarine is at 12 Park End Street, Oxford OX1 1HH 01865 236119.  
Open every day from 8am-4pm

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