Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Muffin Break, Belfry Centre, Redhill, Surrey – it's okay...

I've paid about four visits to Muffin Break in Redhill since it arrived a year or so ago, probably longer, not exactly sure. Four visits. It's not a regular haunt, put it that way, as there are plenty of other offerings in Redhill, such as the M&S Café, which is always a safe bet, or Café Piazza at the opposite end of the centre on the first floor level. There's also a coffee shop on ground floor level opposite Waterstone's, Ho Sete, which is fine if you don't mind being 'exposed' to passing shoppers.

But let's get back to Muffin Break, so-called because it sells, among other things, muffins. You could say that muffins are the 'signature dish' of the place. Which is fine if you like muffins, but I don't. I hate them with a vengeance. They're too doughy for my liking and no amount of convincing me otherwise will change my mind. I have a similar aversion to scones, but I'd eat one if the only other choice was a muffin. If muffins were the only choice, I'd starve.
Muffin Break, Belfry Centre, Redhill, Surrey

I was in Muffin Break this week. It's a bright place with a fast foody air to it; there's a counter with a menu on the wall behind it and, in essence, the range of food on offer includes various filled ciabatta breads, toasted sandwiches, and a few other hot snacks plus the aforementioned muffins and a few cakes. There's the usual array of hot and cold drinks (tea, coffee, hot chocolate etc) and that's about it.

My companions chose a cheese and pickle sandwich each plus hot chocolate and a mug of tea and I chose a cheese and jalapeno ciabatta sandwich with a medium-sized black coffee (that's an Americano in pretentious speak).

The cheese sandwiches were fine, the tea was good, the hot chocolate fine and the Americano was good too, and so was the jalapeno and cheese ciabatta There's nothing wrong with the cuisine, the service is pretty good (although the man forgot my ciabatta and I had to get up and ask for it again) but other than that it was fine. But it's a little pricey for what it is, I find. Some might beg to differ, but my bill hovered around the £20 mark and while that's probably the norm these days, there's something lacking for me that means I'm not a regular customer at Muffin Break. Perhaps the reason I think it's not good value for money is simply that I can't seem to relax there, it's not cosy, and while one could argue that the M&S café isn't cosy either (it's also a brightly lit cafeteria style operation with the menu displayed behind the counter like a fast food outlet) it has something, possibly the banter with the 'dinner ladies' who run the place. Similarly Café Piazza, although I would argue that the Piazza is cosy because it's darker and the food is more hearty, even the 'meal deals' which include a drink.

Out of 10 I'd give Muffin Break a five and I would rate the M&S café and Café Piazza both around seven.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

EAT, Finsbury Pavement, London, UK

Sometimes, very rarely, good things happen. In amongst all the rubbish and attitude you get on the streets and anywhere, there's something decent. For me it just happened. That's often the way in life. Things happen. Good things happen when you least expect it and for me it was because I found myself with a choice.

I could have gone into the Starbucks and had the usual huge cup of tea and an almond croissant, but no, I'd already been to this particular outlet so I opted instead for the EAT outlet next door. It was easily the best decision I'd made in a long time. Alright, I still opted for the large tea and an almond croissant, but this place had something that the Starbucks was clearly lacking.

Eat on Finsbury Pavement, London, near Moorgate
First the service was top notch, there wasn't a big queue, but there was a sense of efficiency, which I like; I knew I was going to get served and quick and that the end result would be good, and it was.

Card in machine, 'remove card', take large tea and almond croissant to a table. And guess what? Decent power points meant I could charge my phone and free WiFi meant I could write this. Yes, I'm writing a review on EAT while in the establishment and I'm well-positioned to give you a good run down on what's on offer.

But let's first look around. There's a mix of wooden floors (it might be laminate, it might be linoleum, it might be real wood, but I'm not going to ask as I reckon they wouldn't know). There are round tables, square tables, high tables by the wall, a large table near the front, on which I can be found typing this review while sipping my large tea. There are angle poise lamps, bright yellow, meaning that this place is all set up for people to just come in, grab a tea or a coffee and a snack and do a bit of work if the fancy takes them. After my meeting I might come back here and write some more.

There's music playing and I'm so glad I found this place, peppered as it is with power points. I'm even charging my phone as I pen this review. There's a man opposite me with a Samsung lap top and a sweat shirt with the word 'animal' printed on the front.

Behind the counter there's a couple of people, busy serving people. Over their heads is a light box display, like you get in fast food outlets, offering the breakfast menu. You can get porridge here in small and regular sizes, classic jumbo oats for £1.49 (small) or £1.99 (Big); there's quinoa and buckwheat with banana, honey and seeds for £2.29 (small) and £2.69 (big) and there are extra toppings available too.

Then there's an Egg Pot (£3.89) which consists of egg, avocado and beans with feta (if you're vegetarian) or ham hock if you're not.

Sourdough toast is on offer ranging from just 99p for sourdough toast with butter, then avocado sourdough for £3.49 and the same with feta or the ham hock for £3.99. Great.
Inside Eat – what a great place...

There are rolls ranging from £2.95 for egg, avocado and chipotle ketchup, British back baco for £2.95, the same bacon with a poached egg for £3.50 and a roll containing the whole lot for £4.50.

Chilled and hot drinks are offered (a small tea is £1.55) and I think a large is £1.65 (I just got up and checked). Then there's a cold display unit offering packaged stuff like fruit juices, sandwiches and salads and, well, this is a class act I can tell. I'll definitely be coming back here and that's a fact.

EAT is a chain operation, but sometimes it's good to recognise excellence when you experience it, and that's what happened this morning when I bowled into the Finsbury Pavement outlet in London.

Top marks.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Steyning Tearooms, Steyning, West Sussex, UK

You can tell a decent tearoom when you see one. Normally, it's busy. So busy you can't get a seat. When I stumbled across the Steyning Tearooms that's how it was. There was one table vacant close to the cash register and the espresso machine. It was cramped, but it was a seat and we were luckier than a woman who turned up after us only to be told she'd have to see if anybody wanted to share.

"Would you mind if I shared your table?" the woman asked two women.
"I'm sorry, but we're having a private conversation about work," said the younger of the two women dismissively.
Ham and cheese sandwich with salad....

I felt like getting involved, but decided to keep out of it. The rejected woman stood around for a few awkward minutes and then left the tearooms and stood outside cooling off. Now, I know one thing. Had I been asked the same question by the same woman I would have welcomed her with open arms, but my table only just seated two.

My lunch companion ordered a savoury scone with cheese and onion marmalade. I ordered a cheese and ham sandwich on brown bread, served with a richly colourful salad. We ordered a pot of tea for two and when it all arrived it was wonderful. The cheese and ham sandwich was perfect and the scone, I was told, was also pretty damn good. And let's not forget the tea. It was perfect too.

The Steyning Tearooms offer a wide variety of different foodstuffs, but it's not cheap. A ploughman's lunch would set you back £8.10 and if you wanted one with cheese and ham, it would cost you £9.10. A warm local bacon and goat's cheese salad was £8.10, a smoked salmon and crayfish salad was the same price and a wide range of sandwiches, like mine, would cost anything between £5.10 and £6.95 (for crayfish mayonnaise, mature Cheddar and bacon). My cheese and ham sandwich was £5.65.

Scone with cheese and onion marmalade...
There's other stuff too. Crumpets are £2.55 for two, a toasted teacake with butter is the same and if you want a slice of toast it'll cost you £2.00. Then there's a Sussex rarebit – Sussex Cheddar and mustard served on toasted local 'chewy' brown bread with a side salad (£7.45) or a children's special Teddy-Bears Picnic – a basket of home-made teddy-bear cheese biscuits, a little cup cake, grapes and juice served in a teapot (£5.95 or £6.25 if you add a ham, Cheddar or tuna mayo sandwich).

Famous scones!
The Steyning Tearooms, however, is famed for its 'famous scones'. Despite their fame, they're not pricey in the slightest, the most expensive being the one ordered by my wife  – cheese and apple served warm with butter, cream cheese and onion marmalade (£3.80). The second most expensive scone was a plain or fruit version served warm with jam and Roddas Cornish clotted cream (£3.60).

Afternoon tea with a scone or cake is £10.95 or £11.95 if you want both a scone AND a cake.

Daily blackboard lunch specials are also available – and looked very tasty, I can tell you.

Our bill was just over £13 and it's worth remembering that credit and debit cards are NOT accepted here. Not that it presents too many problems as there's a cashpoint machine a short walk from the teashop.

This is a great place and we will return – but only if we get a seat.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Tiffins, Petworth, West Sussex, United Kingdom

Tiffins, Petworth – a brilliant teashop and caff
Petworth in West Sussex is one of those towns where one can wander around, looking at antiques and admiring (during the summer months) the splendid hanging baskets that seem to be everywhere. 

There's a fair smattering of eateries here too in the shape of pubs and cafés and tearooms, everything you might expect, and let's not forget Petworth House, a stately home the town can be proud of; and while I haven't been there for some time, I expect that it too has a café and a gift shop – for me the highlight of any stately home visit. Let's be honest, if it wasn't for the tearoom and the gift shop, it would be incredibly boring.

But this review is not about stately homes, it's all about Tiffin's Tea Room, a place I stumbled upon a year or two ago and one I keep coming back to with my family as it's perfect in every sense and never, ever disappoints. There's a touch of Miss Marple too, a key ingredient of any self-respecting tearoom thanks to its mis-matching cups and saucers – a touch of the Margaret Rutherfords, perhaps – it's all here, but couched in a bright and breezy environment with friendly staff and pleasant customers.

Four cheese ciabatta with onion marmalade...tops!
Tiffins' key attribute is the friendly staff. All the best tearooms and caffs have a 'larger-than-life lady and Tiffins is no exception. I don't mean 'large' in the physical sense, but in presence and while I don't know the name of the woman at Tiffins, I get the impression that she's in charge. What I like about her is she knows what she's doing, she knows the menu, she knows everything and she takes control, which is great. It's important to have somebody there, guiding you through the menu, helping you make that all-important choice and backing up whatever decision you make. It's part of the experience.

I was at Tiffins yesterday (Saturday). We had decided to drive to Petworth and a trip there isn't complete without a visit to this great tearoom. The larger-than-life-lady greeted us like old friends, which was great, we took a seat, a waitress approached and we ordered. I had a three-cheese ciabatta with onion marmalade plus a pot of tea, we ordered two carrot and coriander soups, which always includes a slice of crusty bread and butter, and a jacket potato with tuna and beans, plus another tea. In fact, it was tea all round and a hot chocolate for my daughter.
A bright and breezy interior at Tiffins...
The food here is wonderful. The soups are flavoursome, the ciabatta was just what the doctor ordered and the jacket potato an ample size, but not over the top (as they can be in some establishments). The tea was pleasant too, it always is, and the other clientele quiet and well-behaved – no babies having their nappies changed in here – although I don't want to give the impression that Tiffins is in any way 'stuffy', it isn't. Quite the contrary – it's a bright and breezy place with specials advertised on a colourful wall on the left as you walk in; they sell their own jams, chutney and honey for £3.50 a jar, there are home-made cakes.

We ordered a Victoria sponge and a rhubarb and ginger sponge. The latter was iced. Both were perfect! 

Off the top of my head, I can't remember the final price, but it would have been reasonable – it must have hovered around the £18 to £25 mark as we were a party of four and I don't begrudge paying that sort of money if the food is good and the service impeccable.

It goes without saying that whenever we're in Petworth we find our way to Tiffins for one simple reason: it's perfect in every way. Service with a smile always, decent food and beverages, reasonable prices and a pleasant, bright and breezy atmosphere. It's what a British tearoom is all about after all.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Robertsons Coffee Shop, Oxted, Surrey, UK

There's nothing worse than the smell of babies, if you get my drift, with your cherry Bakewell – or any other cake for that matter. There's nowt worse than the smell of babies answering the call of nature, full stop, especially when you've ordered a toasted teacake with cinnamon honey and a pot of tea, and there's nothing worse than a running commentary from the baby's mother as she goes through the process of changing her baby's nappy. Actually, there's more. There's nothing worse than the sound a baby makes prior to having its nappy changed – especially if you're eating.

I was in Robertsons Coffee Shop in Oxted, Surrey, on a Saturday afternoon. I'd nipped in for a quick cuppa and something to eat, having enjoyed a cheese and pickle sandwich and a bowl of soup in the same establishment the previous Saturday. I've been here before, a few years ago, and there's now a sign outside exclaiming 'under new management'. Look, it's quite simple, I don't have a problem with women breast-feeding in public, but when it comes to changing a baby's nappy, surely that's why they invented baby changing facilities in the restrooms.

It's a good place, but we happened to experience a nappy changing moment.
My companions and I ordered two teas, a hot chocolate, two toasted teacakes with cinnamon honey and two scones – very dry scones – and, all-in-all, we weren't over the moon. Cue a nasty aroma drifiting in from the other corner of the room where a baby was enjoying answering the call of nature, twice, in the space of about 10 minutes, accompanied by some stunningly realistic sound effects – realistic because they were real, not fake. The sounds certainly affected my attitude towards the food I had ordered. And let's not overlook the running commentary from the mum, something like, "Ooh! Look at that!" as she admired the contents of the baby's nappy, which, like a museum, had opened to the public, in this case the clientele of Robertsons Coffee Shop.

There was an awning outside, it wasn't cold, but the weather was changeable: one minute sunshine, the next rain. Why didn't the manager point the woman in the direction of the fresh air, thereby allowing the aroma, if that's the word, to travel the length of Oxted's quaint high street and disappear into the atmosphere rather than mix with the more pleasing aroma of freshly ground coffee?

Robertsons is one of those quaint places that sells teapots and biscuits and different teas, not forgetting chocolates and cups and saucers and coffee beans. The teashop or 'caff' element of the business is through some doors at the back of the shop. It's an enclosed space, not ideal if you're baby's in the mood to pick up the phone to Mother Nature. Windows were good and it wasn't good for the nostrils, put it that way – or the appetite.

But let's take a look at the bill. There were four of us and the bill was just short of £18. A pot of tea for one was £2.50 (we had two pots) – more expensive than in a Costa. A hot chocolate was £3.25, those dry scones were £2.25 each and the toasted tea cakes were £2.50 each! The smell of a baby being changed? That was complimentary – on the house!

We left Robertsons Coffee Shop almost £18 lighter and let me make one last observation: the cakes on display were not exactly a welcoming selection. Most had been sold, but not replenished. There were small chunks of three different cakes under one of those clear plastic containers. It could be that the cakes were so good they had all sold out, bar what was left, but when I visit a coffee or teashop and there's a paltry display of cakes, it's always a little bit depressing, even more so if there's the unmistakable smell of babies.

Look, where the baby was concerned, these things happen and I'm sure Robertsons Coffee Shop isn't always choc-a-bloc with babies desperate to lighten their loads by answering the call of nature – twice. For that reason, we won't rule it out in future if ever we're in Oxted – and we will be – but I'll check the price of a cuppa in Costa first, although I'm sure there will be babies misbehaving in there too.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Danny's, Redhill, Surrey, UK – what a caff!

I've been here before, many times, but this is the first time I've put pen to paper. There are a number of caff options in Redhill - Cafe Piazza, the M&S cafe, Mamma Mia, a Subway, which doesn't really count, and a place called Cafe de France, which looks decidedly downmarket and is often full of slightly degenerate-looking people, sitting outside, smoking, even on the coldest of days. 

Cottage pie, vegetables and tea. Top notch.
Today is not cold, but I'm a little fed up with pounding the streets on a 5km yomp around town - or rather the outskirts of town. 

So I resolved to have a well-deserved and much needed hot meal. I'm fed up to the back teeth with egg sandwiches. First, they stink like a fart and second, there's nothing to them; no sooner are they opened, they are gone, and then the hunger sets in and I become prone to eating shit like cookies and cakes. 

I thought I'd give Danny's a go – a good go! This is a busy place with a decent takeaway service and a few tables. There's wooden (or laminate) floors, white and pink walls and, it has to be said, some decent and traditional caff cuisine. Good no-nonsense service too. 

All the old favourites are here: chicken stew, cottage pie, pie of the day, pasta dishes, you name it, and the portion sizes are huge – just what the doctor didn't order, but who cares? The only mildly unhealthy element of my meal was the custard accompanying the apple pie. Again, do I care? No I fucking don't!!!

So I ordered the cottage pie, which was amazing. A whole plate of food arrived: cottage pie, green beans, carrots, gravy – just like school dinners – and then I ordered apple pie with custard, oh, and two mugs of PGTips. Wonderful! In all honesty I could have sat there all afternoon reading Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, but I've got work to do. 

The food quality was good – or good enough for my needs. Alright, the veg was over-cooked, but I'm not going to complain. Why would I?

Clientele wise it's interesting as there's a clear divide between the eat-in and takeaway customers: the former being old people – the Red Hillbillys as they're affectionately known – and the latter being office workers. 

I've got to go, but this place certainly rocks and it gets my vote. I'll be back as this beats most of the similarly-priced establishments into a cocked hat. My bill for cottage pie, apple pie and custard and two mugs of PG was £8.

It's really important to eat a good, hot meal at lunch time. For the past few months, possibly years, I've been relying upon sandwiches. Not a good idea. Now that I've got some fuel on board, I feel almost superhuman. Can't wait for dinner either!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Caffé Della Galleria, Firenze, italy

Inside Caffé Della Galleria
Having arrived by train from Milano, I wandered alone around Florence waiting for my family to arrive and I found myself considering something to eat. Nothing major, just a snack item and a glass of red wine. I really wanted somewhere to chill other than the hotel room, so I headed out into the twilight and stumbled across
Caffé Della Galleria.

There's a huge gallery across the road, but also paintings in the caff, so the name probably relates to the former but is somehow bolstered by the latter.

There's outdoor seating and inside wooden floors and plain, grey tables. In a nutshell, it's a caff that's licensed offering tea, coffee, beers, wines and cocktails along with panini breads.

I ordered a ham and mozzarella panini with a glass of Chianti costing 11 Euros in total. Pasta dishes were also available as well as salads and desserts including pannacota and tiramisu (both 5 Euros). An espresso was 3 Euros, cappuccino 4 Euros and ice cream ranging from 6 to 8 Euros.

There's also a range of Dishes of the Day including Tuscan soups (pappa al pomodoro); Ribollita (bread with vegetables); and pasta al ragu.

It was dark by the time I left and wandered back to the hotel.