Paul Welburn is bursting with his usual energy and enthusiasm when we meet to discuss his imminent departure from 215 in Summertown, where he gained a Michelin star, 3AA rosettes and won our Best Chef award at the Ox In A Box Food Awards.
And while the 40 year-old doesn’t have a bad word to say about 215 and his time there, it’s clear that he’s keen to move on, start afresh and take on a new challenge.
And while Paul’s phone won’t stop ringing over the next few months, the good thing is he doesn’t want to leave Oxfordshire. “I know I’m not originally from here but Oxford is home now,” the Yorkshireman tells me. “People have really supported me here and I want to stay and keep that momentum going.”
“I need a change of scenery and something to sink my teeth into – a blank canvas if you like, but it has to be the right thing”
So why is he leaving when things were going so well and 215 is full every night? “I’ve been getting frustrated for a while now. I just need a change of scenery and something to sink my teeth into – a blank canvas if you like,” he explains, ” but it has to be the right thing.”
And the time couldn’t be more right for him, as restaurants and pubs vie for chefs during the current hospitality staffing crisis.
“Yes but that’s not why I’m doing it. I just always need a new challenge, something to aim for, and we’d achieved that at 215. I just want to keep pushing forward instead of resting on my laurels.”
A victim of his own success then for the man who arrived in Oxford in 2018 and set our culinary scene on fire, winning his first, and Oxford’s only, Michelin star within nine months of setting up shop.
So one can understand that someone with so much passion, drive and ambition needs a new start after four years at 215. “I wanted to bring something different to Oxford, to tap into this great city and bring it something unique and we did. That four years has just flown by.
So did he peak too early? Paul laughs: “We made a statement early on, and he we have survived so many roller-coasters since then – the change of name (it used to be Oxford Kitchen), the pandemic and all its challenges, so this decision is personal. It’s just time to move on and the restaurant is in a good place.
So what is he looking for? “Something that ticks all the boxes. It doesn’t need to be the finished item, somewhere I can have carte blanche and surprise people again, somewhere I can put my stamp on, somewhere a bit different. I’m open to ideas but I’m looking forward to building something again.”
“I’ve got three months to see what’s out there, what comes up and make an informed decision. But I’m open to offers”
A big move then? “I just want to take a step back and see what’s around, so yes I’m putting myself out there and will see what happens, but I’m so excited about the future. I’m just going to go for it and see what happens. “I don’t want to be detrimental to 215 but for me it’s always about ‘what’s next.”
So come December 31, where will he go? “I don’t know yet,” he grins, “and that’s the beauty of it because I’ve got three months to see what’s out there, what comes up and make an informed decision. But I’m open to offers,” he laughs again.
“Of course I’d like to open my own place through an investor – that would be incredible – but ultimately I want somewhere I can put roots down and bring some positivity back into the industry.
“it’s still the best industry in the world. We just have to make hospitality a more attractive place to work in”
“Because it’s still the best industry in the world. We just have to make hospitality a more attractive place to work in and build it up again so that people want to be chefs in the future.
In the meantime, Paul will be hard at work at 215 until December 31 and aims to make his last few months as memorable for his customers and fans as possible. So if you haven’t been and tried Paul’s amazing food at 215 yet I’d get in quick.
215 is on Banbury Road, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7HQ. Go to https://www.twoonefive.co.uk to book or for more information.