Saturday, 26 December 2009

Purley Café

The Purley Café is right next door to Purley Swimming Pool and I'll be back for one of its Workmen's Breakfasts. Good caff as tea, in a mug, is only 60p.

An interesting caff if ever there was one, the Purley Café is definitely going to get a return visit from yours truly. Why? Well, it has an interesting selection of breakfasts including one called a Workmen's Breakfast (basically a huge, 'two of everything' on a plate: sausages, bacon, black pudding, beans, the works) and all for under a fiver.

I only had time for a cup of tea – make that a mug – and it set me back just 60p. I was considering a slice of toast but had the car in the multi-storey and time was running out on my ticket.

The Purley Café seemed like a friendly and busy place even if it did have those awful 'screwed-to-the-floor tables and chairs found in fast food restaurants (I use the word 'restaurant' advisedly).

Anyway, it was good and will get a return visit as it's right next door to Purley Swimming Pool.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Caffe Gusto, Pallisades, Birmingham



The Caffe Gusto unit in the Pallisades shopping centre in Birmingham. Notice the excellent mug of tea that only cost £1.20!

Wandering around Birmingham in early December, the Christmas markets in full swing and I'm feeling a little weary after a late night at a club in King's Heath. A good cure for weariness is a decent caff and I found one in a shopping centre on top of New Street railway station. Not that I wasn't spoilt for choice: there was a Starbuck's just opposite.

I chose Caffe Gusto for a number of reasons. One, it was small and cosy; two there were some great meal deals (Cheese & Bacon Toastie plus coffee for £2.50); three, because it offered free wi-fi; and four because it was billed as the British Sandwich Association's Coffee and Sandwich Bar Retailer of the Year 2009. I had images of a stage and the managing director of the chain, in a dress suit, collecting his trophy from some sponsor or other at a 'gala dinner' in London.

There were decent breakfast offers too so I opted for scrambled eggs on toast with the option of either beans (which I chose), mushroom or bacon (£3.95). That and a large mug of tea (£1.20) and I was sorted for the day. It was Saturday December 6th, the day after the world cup draw – the reason why I was in the club the night before. I'd spent the night in a dreary Travelodge in a place called Maypole where, at around 4am, I was awoken by the shouts of drunken revellers in the corridor outside my room. There was no decent breakfast offer at the Travelodge, hence my quest to find a decent caff.

Caffe Gusto was packed for early Saturday morning. I love shopping centre caffs with 'alfresco eating areas', ie not really al fresco because they're in a shopping centre, but there you have it, I still had that feeling that I was sitting outside.

The Wi-Fi didn't work for some reason. I think it clashed with the nearby Starbuck's, which I think offered Wi-Fi but not for free. Why the hell would anybody visit a Starbuck's when there's a Caffe Gusto nearby?

Bristol-based Caffe Gusto has 11 outlets there, two in Birmingham and one in Staines, Middlesex, in London (which is a franchised store).

For more information on Caffe Gusto, click here.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The OK Cafe, 77 Piccadilly, Manchester City Centre


"I know you're not going to do a runner," said the man behind the counter as I paid my £4.64 for cottage pie, boiled potatoes, greens and peas. The comment said a lot for the OK Café's clientele, most of whom, it had to be said, sported shell suits, tattoos and an unshaven complexion – and that was just the women!

I liked the idea that I didn't look like the sort of person that 'did a runner' although secretly it has been an ambition of mine for some time. A few years ago I used to be the editor of a magazine in the hotels and fine dining industry and I remember reading a review of one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants in the Saturday Times magazine (penned by Giles Coren) where the bill for his meal was something like £383. Now that's a lot of money and I have often questioned whether such an amount is right, in an ethical and moral sense, when I consider that the OK Café would have cost me under a tenner for two. Alright, I'm sure that Restaurant Gordon Ramsay is not the sort of place that attracts those who like to do runners, but when a restaurant meal for two costs nearly £400 – the price of desirable 'consumer durables' like washing machines and DVD players – one has to question what kind of security measures are in place to prevent people from doing a runner.

It's been a while since I was the editor of that magazine, but I remember that Locanda Locatelli, an excellent restaurant run by an excellent chef (down-to-earth and not pretentious) was located inside a hotel. On one visit I asked where I might find the restrooms and I was directed through a door and found myself in the middle of a bustling hotel reception area. Had I finished my meal I could have just walked out of the hotel front entrance never to be seen again; and this got me thinking. Perhaps we should run a feature where we try to 'do runners' from expensive restaurants just to see how protected they are. The idea was, of course, ruled out by the publisher (far too exciting, far too good, far too controversial and we don't want people actually READING the magazine, do we?) but there were issues surrounding breaking the law that I hadn't really considered.

Having said that, my plan was to work out a 'winning point', a place where we could say we had successfully achieved 'doing a runner' from the restaurants in question. It might have been a distance of 500 yards from the table at which we had been sitting; there were various ideas on the table about that. Anyway, the plan was to reach the winning point and then return and pay the bill – assuming we hadn't already been stopped and carted off to the local nick.

I knew that I couldn't operate alone and would need an accomplice and chose as my partner in crime a PR girl, who will remain nameless. She was definitely up for it (doing a runner!) and we worked out that we would need props – a fake mobile phone and a replica Fendi handbag, perhaps, to leave on the table and give the waiting staff the impression that we had to come back when, in reality, we had scarpered.

With meals costing so much, ie the price of a DVD player – the sort of thing burglars nick from houses – I felt, somewhere deep down that there was almost a moral obligation to have a go at 'doing a runner'. Food should never cost £400, that's plain greed on the part of the restaurateur, no matter what their excuse might be – food is never THAT good – and I should know as I have eaten in some of the best and most expensive restaurants in the UK and the world (but never paid for it, journalists tend not to). In fact if I had to pay for it, I wouldn't, in the same way that I would never buy a Bugatti Veyron, even if I had the money: at the end of the day it's only a car and I'm not going to pay the best part of a million quid just to pose and be poncy.

Anyway, back to doing a runner: it never happened. I even put the idea to the features editor of a well-known lads' mag – they think they're hard, or so I thought: they never returned my call, the cowards. So it never happened and probably never will. I did, however, case a few joints and can offer this advice to anybody who wants to have a go: hotel-based restaurants are the best bet, especially if they don't have their own dedicated entrance. Remember the fake mobile phone and the imitation Fendi bag, go there well turned out with a beautiful woman on your arm, order the lot: starter, main course, a good bottle of wine, dessert and then ask for directions to the restrooms. You can't both get up at the same time, that might arouse suspicions, but then I never got as far as actually organising a caper – just eating one!

Now that was an almighty digression, let's get back to the OK Café in Manchester – it was your typical caff – a mixture of Formica and plastic Gingham tablecloths, there were many copies of The Sun there for customers to read for free and the food was plain and honest. My cottage pie was one of the chef's specials and it only cost £4.65 with a mug of tea thrown in. As I left, leaving the change from a fiver as a tip, I started to wonder how desperate you would have to be to do a runner from the OK Café. According to the chef, it happens a lot.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Sunday roast in a bap at Arrosto's, Cannon Street



My Sunday roast in a bap – it was very tasty! Nearest tube is Monument – look out for Cannon Street when you surface and it's on the left.

Coming up for air at Monument underground station, I wandered around trying to find somewhere decent for a cup of tea and a snack. I stumbled across Arrosto's, billed as a carvery and coffee shop. It's independent, that's one good thing, it's clean, that's another, and it's friendly. The carvery element is small – this isn't a Toby Carvery – but it's all there: chicken, beef, pork and lamb; just on a smaller scale.

I wasn't sure what I was going to get when I ordered the chicken with roast potatoes and stuffing balls. In fact, I was expecting a roast dinner on a plate, but no, once I'd made my order, the friendly girl behind the counter started preparing it for a huge bap. I ate in, but still got the bap wrapped in paper along with a large tea (only £1.40) and took my seat at one of those steel tables. A copy of The Sun made the whole experience just a little better and I ended up ordering another large tea and a Mars bar as dessert.

Arrosto's is a switched on place and it has its own website. Check it out by clicking here.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Peel's Coffee House & Eatery, Tamworth, Staffordshire

Piping hot traditional British food. Look at that steaming Cottage Pie, those skin-on potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and peas! And all for £4.75! This, ladies and gentlemen, was my lunch on Friday 16 October 2009.

Nothing better than a caff over a shop and in this case Peel's Coffee House & Eatery was over a dress hire shop. Having wandered around Tamworth in search of a decent caff, I'd passed many worthy candidates including one offering liver and onions for just £2.50. I settled for Peel's and decided to tuck in to a pot of tea and a toasted teacake.

Peel's had a bluish interior, patterned tablecloths under glass and a pleasant vibe. The teacake was excellent and the tea was good too, although I could barely squeeze a second cup of tea out of my pot – more like a cup with a spout. I ordered another, which was bigger than the first, and then I spied somebody tucking into what looked like an amazing lunch.

Peel's had plenty to offer the hungry traveller and it was all detailed on a laminated menu: jacket potatoes, baguettes, panini breads, salads, omelettes and a range of home-made specials chalked on to blackboards.

There was also a proper cook making the food, a dinner lady type, which meant that the food had to be good.

Seeing the steaming hot meal arrive at an adjacent table prompted me to make a sideways glance in the opposite direction at the tempting blackboard. I simply had to order the cottage pie with potatoes and vegetables – it was only £4.75 and it was home-made by the dinner lady. What's more, it was lunch time and I didn't fancy the sweaty sandwiches on the train.

It was a worthwhile decision. The food arrived piping hot and set me up for the rest of the day. It was fortuitous that I'd ordered the meal because the train to London was not a Virgin train and it had no buffet or a trolley service. Result!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Coventry University gets a Compass Costa Coffee


According to a news report in the Coventry Telegraph, Compass Group UK & Ireland have been taken on by the University of Coventry as its first out-sourced food and drink contract.

The contract caterer, which runs the Ritazza coffee shop brand internationally as well as many other different foodservice concepts, will be operating a Costa Coffee unit inside the university, according to the newspaper.

The contract between Compass and the university will run for seven years. It will be one of the largest Costa Coffee cafés run by Compass in the UK and should generate around £1 million revenue annually.

New look for Waitrose in-store cafés


Supermarket chain Waitrose has appointed design consultancy Mellor & Scott to look into re-designing the stores' restaurants.  The current Waitrose cafés feature light-coloured wooden tables, chairs and counters.

It is early days yet in terms of knowing what the new-design cafés will look like, but it's worth bearing in mind that Waitrose has some pretty big plans up it's sleeves generally. The John Lewis Partnership supermarket brand is planning to open more convenience stores and is moving into the world of petrol retailing too.
For more details, click here.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Council wants to ban Henley A boards


Lorraine Hillier, a Tory councillor who owns a coffee shop in Henley, is leading a fight against the local council against the banning of A boards. Most of the businesses in downtown Henley use A boards to attract customers, but the Council reckons there are too many of them and that they are making life difficult for the disabled – especially blind people.

Lisa McLaughlin, proprietor of Jam for Tea said that her A board was vital for business and Rafael Fernandez, owner of The Henley Tea Rooms, said that his business wouldn't survive without its A board.
For further details, click here.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Aussie town bans bottled water


If there are any environmentally conscious café proprietors out there, perhaps they might look at their supplies of bottled mineral waters differently now that a small town two hours south of Sydney in Australia – called Bundanoon – has decided to ban the stuff from the entire town and rely upon tap water fountains instead.

It's all because a bottled water company tapped into a local acquifer in order to retrieve and bottle water – and that's just a bridge too far for Bundanoon residents.

In 2006 a New South Wales study found that the bottled water industry was responsible for releasing 60,000 tonnes of harmful gases into the atmosphere? It's true and it's all to do with the use of plastics in the bottling process and the fuel burned to transport the bottles.

Should similar action be taken in the UK?



Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Museum teashop plan worries local traders


A scene from Hawes in Yorkshire.

The Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes, Yorkshire, is considering the addition of a teashop on its premises, but local traders in town fear it will keep tourists away from the rest of the town and are opposing plans by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA). The teashop is being considered by the YDNPA as a means of celebrating the museum's 30th birthday.

Hockney blasts smoking ban after visit to local caff


David Hockney, the artist, (pictured above) has said how much he loathes the Labour Government for introducing the smoking ban and effectively interfering with his life. He was appalled, recently, when he went to his local caff in East Yorkshire and was told that he couldn't even smoke outside because the management feared that smoke would waft inside the café and breach the law.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Starbucks ruffles the cushions


Starbucks UK, it seems, has finally woken up to the fact that 'globalisation' might be something detrimental to its future success. It seems as if stores that look exactly the same whether they are in Aberdeen or Barnstaple is kind of grating with the coffee-drinking public. In short, people don't like uniformity these days and they don't want to enjoy a coffee or tea or millionaire's shortbread in an environment that screams 'corporate identity'. And why should they?

McDonald's sort of wised up to this a few years ago and started toning down the fact that it was McDonald's, the biggest hamburger chain in the world – only a small, golden arches logo lets you in on the secret. Now, Starbuck's has realised that uniformity and sameyness is not the way ahead, thanks to Mr Darcy. "Ooh! Mr Darcy!" Well, Mr Darcy Willson-Rymer to be precise, Starbucks' UK and Ireland managing director. He probably leaves his riding boots and breeches at home.

Willson-Rymer has admitted that the company had put too much 'process' in its stores and has now set about changing things, toning down that Starbucks logo and, I guess, trying to give customers the impression that they are sitting in an independent coffee shop. There, of course, is the big paradox of branding. Sometimes brand reassurance gets a bit too much. How many times have you travelled to the other side of the world only to find the same high street brands. How many times have you heard somebody say, "Ooh, they've got a Claire's Accessories!" As if having a Claire's Accessories in, say, North Western Canada is a cause to be proud. Familiarity breeds contempt.

The quality of the products sold in Starbucks will not change, which means that the whole 'brand reassurance' thing – the backbone of branding as a philosophy – remains intact. What will change is the interior: mis-matched and possibly secondhand furniture, perhaps, and local artefacts to make the stores more 'local'.

Teashopandcaff welcomes the idea of less homogenous Starbucks. As Willson-Rymer points out, the homogenisation thing was merely 'setting a standard'. Fairplay, but now we all get the picture, ruffle the cushions a bit, Darcy.

For the full story, click here.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Urban Pie – what a great idea!


If ever you find yourself, like I did, on Birmingham Moor Street station with an hour to kill, go take a walk. Cross the road directly opposite the station and then follow the walkway across the street up towards the rather swish pedestrianised area where all the big brand name shops are located. There you will find not only an impressive-looking church but also a range of eateries.

Virtually directly across the street from a Café Rouge is an amazing place called Urban Pie. What a place! It sells a range of deep-filled, hand-made pies and it sells them with accompaniments like mushy peas and mashed potato. Fantastic! It's licensed too, meaning you can wash the lot down with a bottle of Stella or Peroni.

There are no plates, everything's disposable, the vibe is good, the name is amazing and the pies, well, they're the tops. I went for a minced beef and new potatoes pie and had mushy peas, mash and gravy and a bottle of Stella, although, to be honest, I didn't really need the Stella. I'd been drinking real ale at a club in Halesowen during the afternoon so lager was a bit superfluous.

But let's talk about Urban Pie. There's an outside seating area, it's licensed, it sells pies (all for £3.95), there are junior pies for £2.95 (ideal if you've got kids or people who are not big eaters), there are sweet pies (try apple and cinnamon or cherry and apple for just £2.65), there's wine, beer, soft drinks, milkshakes – Urban Pie has it all!

Back to those classic pies: there's steak & kidney, steak & mushroom, steak & Stilton, chicken and gammon, chicken and asparagus, chicken balti (well, this is Birmingham!), and a Halal chicken and mushroom pie. Hold on, there's more. How about Thai green chicken, lamb and rosemary, lamb, potato and fresh mint, wild mushroom and asparagus, mature Cheddar and red onion, seasonal vegetable, a breakfast pie or even a Sunday dinner pie.

"At Urban Pie our passion is to create gourmet, handmade pies, deep filled with the finest ingredients."What a statement!

They bake throughout the day, there are no additives, the recipes are simple and the pies can be eaten in or taken out.

Judging by the menu I have there are two Urban Pies in existence: one in Birmingham (0121-643 0040) and one at Highcross in Leicester, call 0116 262 2572. And if you're out there wondering what to do with your life, how about being an Urban Pie franchisee? Interested? Then call on 0870 334 4910 or email info@urbanpie.co.uk

You might like to take a look at the company's website, which is www.urbanpie.co.uk

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Microwaveable fish fingers! A giant step for caffkind...

Actually, the fish finger sandwich above looks a bit problematic when it comes to tucking in. That toasted bread looks hard, those beans look as if they'll fall all over your lap and I bet you'll need a knife and fork. You don't need to toast the bread and surely baked beans are a bridge too far.

We've managed to get a man on the moon, there are various cures for major diseases, we can travel at twice the speed of sound but guess what? When it comes to fish fingers, the food manufacturing industry has only just announced, ie this week, that it can now make microwaveable fish fingers that won't go soggy.

Up until this week, the culinary wisdom on fish fingers was that they could only be baked or fried. But now, thanks to Young's, there are Micro Fish Fingers. What does this mean for fish fingers? Well, according to Young's marketing controller, Charlotte Broughton, it means they can compete in the quick snack market.

Now this is GOOD news? Why? Well, a few years ago I spent the day on the road with a Unilever rep in the UK and he introduced me to the wonders of a fish finger and Hellmann's Mayonnaise sandwich. It's simple: three fish fingers laid on a slice of bread, the mayonnaise liberally applied on top, followed by another slice of bread and hey presto!

Once the microwaveable fish fingers are launched, look out for a fish finger and Hellmann's mayonnaise sandwich on caff menus.

Captain Birdseye is a bit cheesed off that he didn't get in on the act, but hey ho, you can't win 'em all.

Saturday, 12 September 2009


Boston Tea Party, a small chain of seven family run cafés based in the West Country, will shortly be opening a unit in Worcester, much to the delight of residents, according to a report in Berrow's Worcester Journal.

The chain prides itself on its freshly roasted, 100 per cent Arabica beans, which are never more than 10 days old and its teas, which are all loose leaf and chosen by locally based tea tasting specialists.

Around 80 per cent of the chain's suppliers are based in the West Country and there's a strong ethical bias to the company's procurement policy.

Most Boston Tea Party units are in Bristol but there are stores in Honiton and Exeter and the Worcester store, earmarked for 18 Broad Street, will open in November.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Central Perk? In Manchester? It's true!


Top shot shows the interior of Manchester's Central Perk. Shot above is my breakfast. Those sausages might look alright, but they were rubbish, and that tea cup could have held a little more tea.

Here is teashopandcaff doing the closest it can, under the circumstances, to a live broadcast. Okay, it could be a little bit more live if we were on-line and writing direct on to the blog, but there’s no WiFi so sitting in the caff, this one being Central Perk in Manchester, writing on a laptop, is the closest we’re going to get on this occasion.

I was attracted by the name, of course; my daughter is an avid fan of Friends so when I passed the sign on the window, I had to take a peek inside. Where, I wondered, was the juice bar operation that used to occupy this site? Apparently, it left some time ago and then somebody else came along and now it’s a young couple running the place. Out front handling the till is Sarah and the chef – her other half – is behind the scenes making the food.

Central Perk is one of those schizoid places that doesn’t quite add up: is it a trendy coffee bar, as its name suggests, or is it a ‘caff’ as the illuminated menu behind the counter indicates? Who knows and, quite frankly, who cares? All I cared about was something to eat and at 11.30am in the morning I was told that breakfast was still an option.

I had noticed the credit card sign on the door but sadly the card reader wasn’t working so I would have to walk to the nearest cashpoint, down the road at the Co-op, draw out £20 and pay with cash. Not a problem.

I ordered the Full Monty, a full English breakfast consisting of two slices of toast, two sub-standard (in my opinion) sausages, two fried eggs, two rashers of bacon, a grilled tomato, baked beans and mushrooms (£6). It came with a cup of tea too.

The sausages let the meal down and I was not alone in thinking this; Sarah said that the chef had tried them and found them wanting. She offered me two higher spec products but I had already eaten one of the original sausages and half of the other one. Four sausages would have been greedy. I did order another tea and was given it on the house because of those awful sausages. Fair play, I thought.

I got chatting with Sarah, as you do when you’re up north; people talk, and it turns out she has two young kids, one at nursery, the other just starting school this week. Her other half is the chef by trade and they both used to run a bar in the Algarve. Nice work. Anyway, it’s a harder slog than you think, running a caff like this one, but they both intend to persevere. They have an excellent location, on the road leading up to Manchester’s Piccadilly station. I like this place, but I wish I hadn’t ordered that full English breakfast – it was too much when a bagel would have been sufficient.

Central Perk Manchester is nice caff but it needs to sort out better suppliers in my opinion. If I was running this place, I’d source my sausages from a decent butcher, possibly even offer customers a choice of different varieties, speciality sausages even, but I wouldn’t go for the typical ‘caff’ sausage that you see quite often in British caffs.

Coming out of Central Perk and heading up towards the station, I noticed that next door there was a very similar sort of caff. This got me thinking. If Central Perk is going to make any serious money it can’t afford to have a similar style of operation next door, it needs to differentiate itself. I would get rid of the illuminated menu behind the counter and replace it with a blackboard and produce a smaller menu based on locally sourced ingredients. By all means offer hearty breakfasts, but go for decent ingredients, limit the menu and go for quality. That would give the place a USP (Unique Selling Point) and hopefully make some money for Sarah and her family.

 

The Deli Café, Sheen Road, Richmond, London – one of the best caffs in the world!




Pictured above is my breast of chicken with fresh tomatoes and green pesto, not forgetting a mug of tea and a white chocolate slice – the perfect lunch! The shot at the top is of the Deli Café's exterior looking down the Sheen Road. Just out of shot to the right is the Red Cow, a decent Young's pub.


The Deli Café on the Sheen Road in Richmond is up there with the super caffs. Why? Quite simply it has everything. There are, or rather were, two excellent women working there. They were both very friendly and welcoming and always put themselves out to make you feel at home and give you the best possible service. Today, one has gone but the woman who runs the place remains.
The café is located opposite a Young’s pub called the Red Cow and is one of a row of shops that includes another café, a tobacconist, hairdresser, chemist, dry cleaner and an antique shop, plus others I cannot recall from memory. Further down the Sheen Road, there is another row of shops including a decent bike shop, an off licence and a Chinese restaurant, not forgetting a chiropractor.
The other café I mentioned earlier is virtually next door to the Deli Café, but the reason I stumbled upon the Deli Café was because I didn’t go in the other place, the Nano Café. People have told me that the Nano is quite good and that it has a downstairs eating area; it’s slightly bigger than the Deli Café but, to be honest, for me to go in there now would be tantamount to blasphemy as I’ve got to know the people in the Deli Café and, for some reason, I wouldn’t want them thinking I’d chosen another café over theirs.
And why visit the Nano when the food at the Deli Café is so fantastic? There is a range of baguettes, sandwiches and Panini breads, and even hot meals cooked by ‘the ladies’, as I often refered to them both, and put on as specials. Dishes like homemade lasagne, roast chicken with roasted potatoes and salad and, I have to say, all extremely tasty. There are home-baked cookies, fresh fruit, caramel squares, chocolate bars, pastries, cakes, breakfast items, soft drinks and an espresso machine offering a range of decent hot beverages. This, is the bee’s knees, the dog’s bollocks, the cat’s pyjamas: it’s brilliant.
Whenever I go there I always engage in a friendly chit chat with the ‘Brazilian ladies’, as I call them and then await my order, which they bring over automatically. They now know my order. I don’t even have to say anything. I always have the breast of chicken with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, a cup of tea (it’s PG Tips, but for some reason it’s one of the best cuppas ever) and a ‘slice’. I put the word ‘slice’ in inverted commas for good reason. Why? Because while I started off with a caramel slice (the usual milk chocolate affair you associate with caffs and teashops) I moved on to a white chocolate version with nuts and the same biscuit base. My baguette has changed a bit too as I’ve substituted the sun-dried tomatoes with real tomatoes.
I love the Deli Café and it was made even more appealing recently when I noticed that Jarvis Cocker was there (apparently there’s a recording studio a short walk away). Jarvis being there was a little spooky as, weeks leading up to spotting him, I had been enjoying the Pulp track and video for Babies. For years I had a bass line in my head but I had no idea where it came from other than it accompanied sketches on a television comedy show. Then I heard a track on the radio and had to know what it was: “It’s Babies by Pulp,” said a work colleague, so I found it on YouTube and haven't stopped listening to it. Fantastic. One of those pieces of music that is so inspiring it almost brings a tear to my eye whenever I hear it.
Imagine, therefore, how strange it was to see the great man himself in the Deli Café ordering a sandwich. I was tempted to go over and shake his hand and tell him how much I liked Babies (and his other work), but somehow that was just too naff for words. It’s not the first time I’ve seen Jarvis Cocker out and about. Perhaps he’s following me around. Once, while in Noble Rot, a restaurant in London, I spied him walking past, his lanky form disappearing into the crowded streets. Cocker is tall, probably 6’4” and nowadays he sports a full beard, giving him a distinguished, university lecturer appearance.
That bass line from Babies has inspired me to take up the bass guitar, it’s that good – although I’ve yet to get around to buying a guitar! If you go on YouTube and key in Babies by Pulp you can scroll down and find a live version from Glastonbury in 1994. You can hear the crowds screaming “Babies!!!!” and Jarvis teasing the audience a little before launching into the track to rapturous applause and cheering. Brilliant.
I’m a regular at the Deli Café. I try and sit by the window where I can watch the world go by while I enjoy my food and read the Sun. There’s nothing better. A takeaway menu is available too, but where’s the fun in that? The Deli Café should be enjoyed there and then, on the premises.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Caff guide for Americans visiting London


Texans considering a trip to the UK would be well advised to check out the Dallas Morning News website this morning as there is a helpful guide to some excellent caffs.

Maria's Market Café in Borough Market, the River Café near Putney railway station (1a Station Approach Road), the Med Kitchen near Gloucester Road underground station (23-25 Gloucester Road), Tom's Café (27 Cale Street near Sloane Square tube), El Vergel (8 Lant Street near Borough underground station) and Brick Lane Bagel Bake (159 Brick Lane, near Aldgate tube station) are all given a mention and can all expect obese Americans in shorts to trundle into their establishments shortly.

For more details on what these caffs are offering, click here.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Hard Boiled Egg Café in Bristol aims for Irish brekkie world record!!!


Photograph, courtesy of The Anglo-Celt, shows local businessman Farrell Grogan attempting the Full Irish at the Hard Boiled Egg Café – and what a great name for a caff!

How do you fancy a Full Irish Breakfast? Well, why not nip down to the Hard Boiled Egg Café in Cavan town in Bristol where a breakfast costing 19.95 Euros is looking to break a Guinness world record for being the largest Irish breakfast in the world. If you eat the whole thing in half an hour you get it for free.

Some have called the breakfast a 'heart attack on a plate' but teashopandcaff reckons it's not impossible to get the meal for free. Now there's a challenge!

What constitutes a record-breaking Irish breakfast? Ten of everything by the looks of it. Ten rashers of bacon, ten sausages, ten eggs, five pieces of pudding, five hash browns, chips, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans, ten slices of toast and loads of tea. 

"It's a huge, huge breakfast," said Hard Boiled Egg Café owner John Gaughan.

For the full story, click here!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Forget the latte, it's the Flat White that is making waves

Photograph of a flat white coffee courtesy of www.make-studio.co.uk

Established coffee retailers, like Starbucks, have had their day, according to media reports. With Coffee Republic no more and consumers feeling a little jaded about Costa and Caffé Nero and other big chain operators, it looks as if Australians and New Zealanders are set to make a fast buck as antipodean coffee bars selling a new hot beverage – the Flat White – steam into view.

Flat Whites are sold in 5oz or 6oz cups and are claimed to be more powerful, stronger and creamier than a poncy latte.

For full details, click here.

At last a touch of theatre for tea

Photo shows Carl Pretorius (left) and Pete Ethelston.

Coffee has it all when it comes to 'theatre'. Espresso coffee machines have made a song and dance about producing a cup of espresso or cappuccino ever since the milk bars of the 1950s. While there might have been a blip back in the 1960s, when instant coffee took over for a while, roast and ground coffee is now back with a vengeance and chain operators like Costa, Caffé Nero and Starbucks, to name but three, are all offering their customers a touch of theatre everytime a cup of coffee is ordered.

Sadly, if you're a tea drinker, there's little in the way of theatre when you order your cuppa, apart from being asked in Starbucks whether you want one or two teabags. 

A short while ago there was a glimmer of hope when Unilever Best Foods starting promoting Chai tea and developing interesting looking dispensing equipment for tea that easily rivalled the espresso machines produced by companies such as Brasilia UK. Can't say I've seen a great deal of Unilever's tea machines so I can't vouch for their continued availability.

However, two South Africans claim to have developed the world's first 'tea espresso' based on the South African Rooibos tea. The product has already proved a great success in South Africa, the USA, Canada, parts of Europe and Asia and now it has landed on UK shores. The product is known as Red Espresso and it can be purchased in the UK by clicking here.

For an interview with the two men who have developed and marketed tea espresso – Carl Pretorius and Pete Ethelston – click here.

The Shakers, Praed Street, London W2


After sitting on an InterCity train for two hours, stranded at Slough and not allowed off the train, it was a welcomed relief to arrive at Paddington just in time for lunch.

Praed Street runs parallel to the station and it has some interesting caffs. I found The Shakers where I enjoyed a rather nice slab of lasagne with salad and a mug of tea – all for £6.18, an odd sum, but there you go. The restaurant had a downstairs and an upstairs gallery area affording customers a view of the bustling counter below.

The Shakers offered traditional sandwiches but also a full range of hot meals, which were displayed in a hot servery area at the front of the shop. There was beef and chicken curry, lasagne, you name it, all piping hot and ready to eat.

While the food was good, the restaurant itself was not really that swish in terms of decor. You might be able to see from the photograph above that there's a hole in the window where one of those ventilation thingys should go; that was a bit offputting. Generally, it could have done with a lick of paint to make it more welcoming.

I left satisfied with my lasagne and tea – although I noted that the tea had been made on an espresso machine and the guy making my tea had obviously used hot milk, which lent it a frothy coffee appearance and almost causing me to question whether it was tea. Still, it was okay and I shouldn't grumble.

There appears to be a website address on the shopfront (www.shakers1.com) but it must have been closed down.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Blackheath super caff in Heinz Ketchup TV ad



The Gambardella Cafe in Vanbrugh Park, Blackheath – the oldest café in south London – is hailed as one of the best Formica ‘caffs’ in London. This is the sort of place where you can eat honest food, where you can be anonymous and where you can simply watch the world go round. Ask Jools Holland. He used to live locally and was often known to tuck in to egg on toast.

The Gambardella is also a bit of a movie star having made appearances in The Boat that Rocked (with Bill Nighy and Kenneth Branagh) and the ITV drama, The Fixer.

The café was opened in 1927 by Andrew Gambardella, a former ice cream maker from Naples, Italy. It is now run by James and Alex Petrillo, his grandsons (pictured above).

The caff is also being used in a new television advertisement for Heinz Tomato Ketchup, a key ‘caff’ brand if ever there was one. A caff without Heinz Tomato Ketchup isn’t really a caff.

The ad – which was screened in June and again in August – celebrates the many iconic ways that Heinz Tomato Ketchup is enjoyed and is costing Heinz £2 million. In the ad, people from different generations are seen patting, squeezing and scraping an invisible sauce bottle onto their delicious meals.

It goes without saying that Gambardella has been a staunch fan of Heinz Tomato Ketchup for over 80 years.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Caff that never sleeps – in London EC1


The pic at the top shows the view from the table looking out. The shot above is the exterior of the café. 

Take a stroll up Cowcross Street when you step out of Farringdon tube station in London and, just around the corner, across the road from Smithfield Market and opposite a Barclays Bank, you will find La Forchetta, pronounced La Forketta. Forchetta means fork in Italian, according to the Portugese lady behind the café's counter during my visit.

Having managed to miss lunch, I was starving hungry and decided to order lasagne and salad, this being an Italian café. They put the lasagne on a plate and then microwaved it, which was fair enough, it was nearly 4pm. Naturally I ordered a mug of tea too and then sat down at the back of the caff watching people as they passed by.

What's on offer? Plenty. During teashopandcaff's visit there were some tasty specials like sausage pasta, chicken risotto, chilli con carne and, of course, the lasagne. My order cost me £5.50. There's also a range of pasta dishes, paninis (£3.50), jacket potatoes (£4.00), a full English breakfast for £4.50, sandwiches from £1.80 and a number of different styles of speciality teas courtesy of Twinings.

Newspapers and refrigerated soft drinks round it off but wait, what was that? It stays open all night at the weekends? It's true! The caff opens early and closes late (around 11pm) most days, but on Saturday night it goes through the night, servicing those coming out of the nightclubs and, of course, the market traders. 

After paying for the lasagne and tea, teashopandcaff was tempted to remain in situ, order another tea and try the Millionaire's Shortbread too. Not bad!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

New Mexico Tea Company opens teashop

If ever you wondered what a fruit kabob looked like, wonder no more as this is them. Think kebabs with fruit, not meat.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, the New Mexico Tea Company (a retail tea shop) has opened a teashop. The new foodservice element will operate as an integral but separate business.

The New Mexico Tea Company's 150 varieties of tea are available hot at the teashop, and there are three iced tea products available.

The reason behind the teashop according to the NMTC's owner, David Edwards, is that he wanted to promote his business to a wider audience and that he thinks a teashop has more of a buzz to it than a retail shop.

Scones with clotted cream and jam, muffins and fruit kabobs (see photograph above) are also available.

For the full story, click here.

Café Macchiato, Elland, West Yorkshire



Whether there is any connection between the town of Elland (in West Yorkshire near Huddersfield) and the famous Elland Road (home of Leeds FC) I have no idea, but I do know that Café Macchiato can be found in Elland and very nice it is too.

To be honest, it's not your traditional teashop and caff. It has an Italian flavour to it, which is evident in the name (Café Macchiato) but also in the food on offer, like Bruschetta Macchiato (£3.10) which consists of diced tomato, red onion, garlic, basil and olive oil. Also on offer is a range of cold sandwiches. Paninis range in price from £2.75 to £3.00 and there are specials like meat balls and cheese panini (£3.10).

But don't be fooled into thinking you're in some kind of trendy 'eaterie'. You're not! Café Macchiato has true 'caff' credentials thanks to a breakfast menu available between 9am and 11am. Bacon, sausage, eggs, beans and toast costs a reasonable £3.95. Where's the teashop element of this amazing caff, I hear you ask. Let me tell you that there are some amazing home-made cakes on offer – even some home-made Millionaire's Shortbread (a caramel slice in caff speak). And talking of 'slices', a lemon slice is £1.20, a caramel slice is £1.30, carrot cake is also £1.30 and muffins cost 95p.

As the comedian Jimmy Cricket said, "There's more." Scones with home-made jam are just £1.30 or £1.45 with added cream and let's not forget chocolate and beetroot cake at £2.30. Apparently it's like carrot cake but with chocolate and (ahem) beetroot.

The staff are friendly too and it is very much a family affair. During my visit it was mother and daughter on duty.

Elland is about 20 minutes by bus out of central Huddersfield. 

Choosy's in Huddersfield – a shop and a teashop!



Huddersfield is a million times better than I expected it to be; probably because the sun was shining and I found myself moseying around West Yorkshire looking for a decent teashop or caff. 

Needless to say, I found one, called Choosy's, one of those places that sell a load of tea and coffee paraphernalia, like mugs and teapots, strainers and a selection of speciality teas and coffees. 

A box of Twinings' Chai tea took my fancy but I decided against buying any, opting instead for a teapot-shaped used teabag holder (£2.75). I like to have permanent mementos.

Walking through the door was fantastic, thanks to the aroma of coffee beans and the general ambience of the place. The shop is downstairs and there's a quaint teashop upstairs where I enjoyed an excellent pot of tea served with fresh milk and all for just £1.30 (much better than that Costa on the M3 last week).

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Homely brands keep Premier's home fires burning



Good, old fashioned, homely brands are clearly the best around – who needs supermarket own-label products? Think back to cosy childhood times and famous names like Birds Instant Custard, Atora Suet and Paxo sage and onion stuffing. The list is endless.

Well, it seems as if homely, established brands, including Mr Kipling cakes, have been exceedingly good for Premier Foods. The company has seen sales of its Branston pickle rise by 41 per cent, Hovis sales are up by 17 per cent, Batchelors soups by 14 per cent and Hartley's jams and spreads by 12 per cent.

Premier's group turnover has risen by 3.5 per cent to £1.24 billion and the company's net debt has fallen from £1.8 billion to £1.48 billion. That's the good news. The bad news is that Premier has reported a pre-tax loss of £30 million in the six months to June 27 2009.

The company ran into financial problems after purchasing its rival, RHM (Rank Hovis McDougall) and parts of Campbells food business.
For full details, click here.

Daylight robbery – £2 for a cup of tea at Costa




Photographs show my bill for a small bottle of mineral water, the Eat & Drink Co and the Costa at a Moto service area on the M3. Let's get one thing straight here: paying £2 for a cuppa is fine if the environment is something really special, but a motorway service area? I don't think so.

I wouldn't call myself a communist or a Marxist, but there are times when capitalism really stinks. Normally, I get a little cheesed off when I discover that to travel by train to, say, Huddersfield, at 9am in the morning, will cost me in excess of £200. Why, when a hour or so later the fare is more than halved? The answer, of course, is exploitation.

Train travel is one thing, but how about a cup of tea for £1.99? That, in teashopandcaff's opinion, is daylight robbery when you consider that a cup of tea costs only pennies to make. I should know. Many moons ago I was the editor of a catering magazine. I was often told by the brand managers for PG Tips or Twinings that tea only cost 3p to make so that selling a cup for 50p was, in itself, a good mark-up.

Fast forward to Sunday August 2nd 2009 and even assuming, hypothetically, that the price of producing the Great British Cuppa has rocketed to, say, 12p, £1.99 is still extortionate. But that is the price of a cup of tea in a Costa Coffee on the M3. Why is it so expensive? Because they have a captive audience and can charge what the hell they like. Disgusting. It's the same price at an Eat & Drink Co outlet in the same Moto motorway service station where, incidentally, a small bottle of mineral water is also £1.99 (normally it's around 60p in shops).

Nobody should be expected to pay £1.99 for a cup of tea. Sort it out, Costa, your tea is not THAT good. For £2, I'd expect free biscuits at the very least.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Buttery at the Brock & Bruin, Brockenhurst, New Forest – a teashop and caff in one building!




A spot of camping in the New Forest makes a teashop or caff a welcomed sight after a night under the stars, and what better than the Brock & Bruin Teashop, a kind of hybrid between a teashop and a caff. Why? Because the place looks and feels like a quaint teashop (and offers some excellent home-made cakes and pastries) but also offers good old caff food, like the Big Brock, a full English breakfast if ever there was one: two of everything – two fried eggs, two sausages, two fried tomatoes, two hash browns, a hearty portion of baked beans and two slices of toast. Fantastic. Wash the lot down with a large white pot of tea and a few extra slices of toast and you're made up for the day.

The Buttery at the Brock & Bruin has a thing about teddy bears. There's a huge one sitting in the window and various others dotted around on shelves inside, plus a few badgers for good measure.

This is a great teashop and caff bang in the middle of Brockenhurst, which is bang in the middle of the New Forest.


Friday, 7 August 2009

Teashop opens inside a windmill!


What sounds like an amazing tearoom has opened inside the Tuxford Windmill (pictured above) in Nottinghamshire.

Local MP Patrick Mercer was on hand to cut the cake, as opposed to the ribbon, and it looks as if the teashop has a bright future.

Most of the food and drink sold at the teashop is locally sourced, including the chocolate cake, which is made using wholemeal flour milled at the windmill.

With regular visits from the Women's Institute, gardening clubs and historical sites, the teashop was crucial to the future success of Tuxford Windmill.

Visitors to the teashop can enjoy filled rolls, old fashioned hearty soups, jacket potatoes, a selection of cakes, cream teas, toasted teacakes, tea and coffee. There is also a bake-to-order service.

For the full story, click here. For more information on Tuxford Windmill, click here.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Recession forces US caffs to ban laptops


Cafés in the USA are beginning to ban the use of laptops because of the recession. To be fair, they have a point. Somebody using the place like a library is definitely not good for business as the table could be taken by those wanting to use the café for its rightful purpose: eating and drinking.

Some cafés, like Naidre's in Brooklyn, NY, are simply not allowing laptop usage between certain hours of the day. Others are covering up power points to discourage usage.

This new trend seems to be gaining ground in the independent sector. Coffee chains like Starbucks and bookshop Barnes & Noble are not planning to ban laptops. In Barnes & Noble WiFi is free while many Starbucks charge for the service.

The last word, however, must go to chef Ty-Lor Boring who works at Café Grumpy in NY. "You can isolate yourself behind a laptop, but look at this place: Almost everyone is having a conversation."

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Teashops and cafés shortlisted in Coventry & Warwickshire's regional food awards


Photograph shows a Warwickshire breakfast, served up in McKechnies in Stratford.

The Coventry & Warwickshire Food & Drink Awards are well underway and the shortlist of finalists has been announced. It goes without saying that teashops and caffs have a category of their own in the awards (Best Coffee House/Teashop) and that there are three worthy contenders for the title.

The three finalists are Bread & Co in Leamington; McKechnies, an independent tea and coffee bar in Stratford; and the Hatton Locks Café in Hatton.

The main objective of the awards is to recognise and reward quality, and where the coffee house and teashop category is concerned, it's all about those committed to providing their customers with fresh, local produce, a wide range of beverages (hot and cold) and a good range of cakes, biscuits and light snacks.

McKechnies looks like an interesting place. It offers its customers 17 different types of tea for a start, locally sourced food and an award-winning coffee in Formula 6 supplied by James' Gourmet Coffee Company. The food looks amazing too and if you log on to the café's website (www.mckechnies-cafe.co.uk) you'll notice that a Warwickshire breakfast is well worth ordering. It consists of dry cure bacon, Hatton sausage, field mushrooms, fresh beef tomatoes and a free range egg. It can be served with thick-cut granary or white toast, home-made strawberry jam or three-fruit marmalade.

The Hatton Locks Café looks good too, although its website wasn't quite finished when teashopandcaff took a butchers. This canalside restaurant, which used to be a stable for barge horses, must be a hit with those on canalboat holidays. According to owner Lynn Drane it's also a hit with walkers.

Bread & Co in Leamington Spa is a fine foods and bakery shop offering artisan breads, cakes and pastries plus sandwiches, salads, 'delicious' coffee and treats. "A warm welcome awaits you,' claims the company. Bread & Co, incidentally, is also shortlisted in the Champion of Local Produce (retailer) of the awards.

If you want to know more about the awards, click here.

Conveyor toasters. Don't you just want one?

Not sure about you, but whenever I stay in a hotel – especially when I'm on holiday abroad – there's always a conveyor toaster in the breakfast room. I love them and wish I could have one at home. This one (see photograph) is from a company called Hatco and is part of the Toast-Qwik range of conveyor toasters which can toast between 400 and 800 slices of bread per hour. That's a lot of toast!

But have you stopped and wondered just how bad conveyor toasters are for the environment? Think about it: they're on all the time, that conveyor goes round and round for hours, using up unnecessary electricity, it's just not right in these environmentally aware times.

Hatco thinks it has the solution. Hatco’s UK managing director Mark Poultney said: “The new, ‘green’ automatic power-save models will switch the toaster automatically to 'power-save' after 30 minutes of inactivity. There is no additional charge for this option. Models on which power-save can be included are theTQ-405 and TQ-805.”

Nice work, Hatco. You can read more about the company's new range of toasters by clicking here.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Monastic Abbey opens teashop!

Photograph shows Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire, home of monks and a new teashop.

Every year Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire receives 6,000 visitors but has never been able to stretch to a cup of tea for them. Not any more! The once spartan guest refectory is now a stunning teashop offering some amazing home-made cakes and pastries, courtesy of the Benedictine monks who live there.

While the Monks are not charged with the task of running the teashop – that's left to the lay community – they do get involved in the production of the cakes and other goodies on sale. How about a slice of Father Rainer's apple cake. The apples come from the Ampleforth orchard and there's a dash of Father Rainer's cider in there too – and all for just £2.25. Or how about Father Hughes cheesecake, lovingly made using fresh vanilla pods and crumbled fudge for a recession-busting £2.55. Also available, pear and almond tart at £2.65, made to an old Ampleforth recipe, and chocolate fudge cake, a heady mixture of fudge topped with milk and white chocolate flakes for £2.45.

The tearoom is closed on Monday but open between Tuesday and Saturday from 10am to 5.30pm. On Sundays it opens at noon and closes at 5.30pm.

Sounds amazing and you can bet that teashopandcaff will think of some excuse to go there pretty soon.

Check out the full story by clicking here.

Scottish food hamper business moves into caffs!

Photograph: The Edinburgh Festival is held in August and The Foodie Company hopes to capitalise on the fact that a lot of festival activity has moved from The Meadows area of Edinburgh to Holyrood Road where the company will open its first café.

The Foodie Company, launched two years ago as a food hamper business, has announced that it is branching out into the café business.

The company, run by 26-year-old Napier University graduate, Peter McLean, will open its first outlet early in August 2009 on Edinburgh's Holyrood Road, just in time to capture valuable business from Edinbugh festival goers.

It is estimated that the establishment of cafés will boost The Foodie Company's turnover from around £50,000 to £250,000.

In January this year, The Foodie Company bagged the Most Visionary Business Award at the BT Scotland Young Entrepreneur Awards. 

For the full story, click here.