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.

Lipton supports hot teashop Carrom championship in United Arab Emirates

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), there's nothing Asian expats like more than a game of Carrom in the country's popular hot tea shops. Carrom is similar to billiards and is played on a lacquered plywood board.

Hot tea shops offer low-income workers a cheap meal, tea, coffee, soft drinks, ethnic snacks and sandwiches and are good places to meet and chat with friends – so how about a Carrom Championships? Lipton, a premium tea brand from Unilever decided to get behind the idea and came up with the Lipton Carrom Championship.

Seventy six UAE teashops participated covering six Emirates and 6,000 competitors competed in 3,000 matches.

The final was held on 12 June at the Shams Pakistan Restaurant in Sharjah where Anees AK, a taxi driver, beat Naser K, an administration assistant. He took home a trophy and the title of Lipton Carrom Championship Hero.

Now wouldn't it be good if Lipton sponsored something similar over here in the UK.

For the full story, click here.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Dunster Castle teashop not welcomed

Photograph shows Dunster Castle in Somerset.

How can a teashop not be welcomed? Well, in Dunster Village, near the famous Dunster Castle, a row is brewing over plans to set up a teashop inside the castle. While the castle authorities believe that 60 per cent of its visitors will use a teashop if one is provided, local businesses in Dunster High Street believe it will hit their businesses hard.

This presents a dilemma for teashopandcaff as we love to munch on a piece of coffee and walnut cake and sip a decent cuppa after we've tramped around a stately home or a castle. However, being a website that celebrates the Great British Caff and Teashop, we wouldn't want to see any high street operators go out of business.

Over 1,000 signatures have been collected in a petition against the proposed teashop. For the full story, click here.

Starbucks announces further expansion in China...

The American coffee shop chain Starbucks has announced that it intends to expand its presence further in China, but that it won't be entering India for the foreseeable future.

Martin Coles, president of Starbucks Coffee International, speaking in Seoul, said that China was still a major opportunity for the company and that while Starbucks clearly aspired to have operations in India, nothing was in the pipeline at present.

For full story, go to:

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The First Class Café, Chepstow Railway Station

Photography from the top: Outside the First Class Café; my sausage bap and mug of tea; interior view of the café; Becky, maker of fruity bottom cakes and other caff delicacies.

Jumping off the Gloucester to Maesteg train at Chepstow earlier today en route to the Severn Bridge Social Club, I spied what looked like an excellent caff. Oh how right I was! The aptly named First Class Café, ably manned today by a cheery lady called Becky, offers a wide range of home-made food and recently celebrated its second birthday (on 30 May). How do I know that? There is still a birthday card on the mantelpiece next to a framed photography of Telly Savalas with Nicky the owner's mum, and there's an excellent model of a steam engine too.

As for the food, I ordered something quick as I only had 30 minutes before my train (the 1527 to Newport) arrived on the platform over the footbridge. My order consisted of a sausage bap and a mug of tea.

Sadly, I didn't have time to enjoy the café's home-made burger and chips (£4.50) or the home-made beef stew with mash or chips (£4.75) or, for that matter, the best-selling steak and ale pie with mash and peas (£4.95).

I managed a chat with Becky, who makes the caff's fruity bottom cakes, which might be fruity but they don't look like bottoms. She told me that the First Class Café caters for buffets and is open from 7am to 3.30pm weekdays (Monday to Friday) and from 9am to 2pm on Saturdays.

On the last Sunday of every month, the First Class Café organises a bikers' barbeque. Becky told me that non-bikers are welcomed. Did I mention that the caff also caters for buffets? No, well I just did!

Sadly, I never got to meet Nicky, the owner of the café. She used to work for the local social services, said Becky, but must have thought that setting up a café on Chepstow railway station would be more fun – she was probably right. Her change of career certainly brightened up my day.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Lobster Pot – open from 8am to 6pm as a café and now open at night too!

Photographs from the top: the view looking out of the Lobster Pot from where we were seated; table 24 and our Heinz Tomato Ketchup and HP Sauce; the Lobster Pot's ice cream cart (but it wasn't in action); the sign pronouncing 8am to 8pm opening; and an exterior shot of the famous Lobster Pot itself.

Would you drive a round trip of 120 miles to visit a caff? No, nor would I, but, having said that, my favourite all time caff –The Lobster Pot on the beach at Felpham in West Sussex – (a stone's throw from Bognor Regis) is worth the journey if you throw in a walk on the beach.

For me, Felpham holds many tremendously good childhood memories of the times when mum and dad rented a house right on the beach, yes, right on the beach, and we spent a fortnight having fun in our inflatable boats and generally enjoying a fantastic British seaside holiday. We would walk along the promenade to what was then called Perdido's for a lemonade and a biscuit or some fish & chips (crinkle cut), and the whole experience has stuck with me ever since. 

Now I have kids of my own, whenever the sun shines – and some times when it doesn't – we jump in the car and drive to Felpham, have a cup of tea and something to eat in the Lobster Pot and then go for a bracing walk on the beach. We return some time later and nip back in for a cup of tea before the journey home.

The Lobster Pot is a caff to be reckoned with; it's always jam-packed with people and it is right on the beach. I suspect that it has new management as the larger-than-life lady who is normally there seems to have gone. This is sad news as the teenage girls employed as waitresses probably need somebody like her to keep them in check. Not that any of them have ever shown signs of slacking during our numerous visits. 

The Lobster Pot is always busy. There are tables outside as well as in, and a constant stream of people queue to order their food. It's a caff, which means you can get stuff like apple pie and custard, treacle sponge, sausage, egg and chips, sandwiches, jackets, you name it.

We ordered scrambled egg on toast with beans and tomatoes, a sausage sandwich, toasted teacake, chicken nuggets and chips (McCain's, I hope) plus tea and milkshakes. The sausage sandwich was delightful as the quality of the sausage had definitely gone up a notch – I think it might have been a Cumberland! My wife said she wasn't happy with her scrambled eggs, much to my annoyance, but I tasted it and it was fine. Serena, our daughter, never complains when she's in a caff – she takes after her dad – so all was well with her chicken nuggets and chips.

Needless to say there was plenty of Heinz Tomato Ketchup and HP Sauce at hand to add that little something to the food. I had loads of HP on my sausage sandwich and yes, I could easily have eaten another!

The Lobster Pot is now open daily at 8am until 6pm as a café, according to owner Tom Barnes and from 6pm to 11pm from Tuesday to Saturday. Last orders are at 9pm.

I can't think of anything better than a full English breakfast followed by a walk on the beach. They also have their own ice cream cart (see photograph above) to complement the selection of hard scoop ice cream available in the caff. We ordered one chocolate and two Oriental Ginger cones and then headed off for the beach. 

The Lobster Pot is up there with the best Britain can offer in terms of caffs. There is another excellent place in Littlehampton, a few miles east of Felpham. It's called The Riverside Restaurant (think Gingham tablecloths and those tomato shaped sauce dispensers) and it will be reviewed here shortly I hope. In the meantime, if you're anywhere near Felpham, West Sussex, get yourself down to The Lobster Pot, you won't regret it.

They used to have a really good painting of all the world's leaders standing outside The Lobster Pot. If the larger than life lady has left, it's possible that the painting has gone too as it wasn't there yesterday when we paid our visit. Needless to say the world's leaders haven't been to the Lobster Pot, although I did see Caron Keating in their once, God rest her soul, and when we went to nearby Middleton-on-Sea as kids, the late Leslie Crowther used to go there too.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Atom@ in sunny Croydon – a nice cuppa!

Picture shows my cup of tea, which cost me £1.25. Photo taken on a Samsung Omnia. The camera is the phone's only redeeming feature. Note the pleasant and clean wooden table tops.

Remember the cartoon charactor Atom Ant and his favourite catchphrase, "Up and Atom!" Well, there's a new sandwich bar in Croydon called Atom@. Yes, that @ at the end is part of the name and it's there because Atom@ is also an internet café in the true sense of the word, ie you can go online AND get something to eat. Most internet cafés tend not to sell food and drink. This one offers the best of both worlds, a good dozen screens and an excellent selection of food.

Anyway, it's billed as a sandwich bar, but as far as teashopandcaff is concerned it's a kind of hybrid. There are nice wooden tables and chairs on which to sit, a pleasant and friendly environment and a slightly pretentious shelf of cookery books in the far corner.

A slice of apple pie will set you back just £1.70 and I had an enormous cup of tea (see photograph) for just £1.25. I know, it only costs 3p to make a cup of tea, but that's still reasonable even if it is slighly on the pricey side.

A boulder's throw from Millets, just across the road from The Ship pub and not a million miles from central Croydon, Atom@ is worth a visit.

Birmingham – a great caff and teashop city!

Pictures from the top: The inside of the Victorian Restaurant; my steak & kidney pie; Drucker's; my All Bar One Full Breakfast; and the All Bar One in Birmingham's Brindley Place.

I travelled to Birmingham the slow way, from Marylebone to Snow Hill and not only was there no buffet, there was no trolley service either. Fortunately, as Foghorn Leghorn once said, 'I keep my feathers numbered for just such an emergency', or rather, for the sake of good English, I kept my feathers numbered. In other words, I came prepared with a crayfish sandwich, a small bottle of wine and a sticky bun from the M&S on the station concourse. Not that a sandwich and a bun did anything to stave off the boredom of the journey.

I was in Brum on business and once that had been completed it was time to head back home, on the slow train. But surely, something to eat first! Across the road from Snow Hill is one of those quaint old-looking shopping arcades full of quaint shops. One of them was Drucker's, a kind of teashop/caff hybrid, which offered a pleasant little display of fresh cakes. I just had to order the apple pie and a pot of tea, which I did, and the woman behind the counter convinced me to have some ice cream. Sadly, I was conscious of the time and the fact that shortly, in about fifteen minutes, I would have to board the train home. This made the whole experience slightly rushed, but I can vouch for Druckers. A great chunk of apple pie, hot, with some contrastingly cold ice cream and a nice pot of tea – I only managed one cup before whizzing back along the arcade, across the street to Snow Hill and then home to London. My snack had cost me just under £6.

My budget hotel (Travelodge in Broad Street) only offered a meagre paper bag full of breakfast items so I took a stroll and found Brindley Place where All Bar One was open for breakfast. Excellent! I ordered a Full Breakfast (Cumberland sausages, bacon, free range eggs, black pudding, baked beans and fries – and I could help myself to toast) all for just £5.95.

All Bar One was great, much better than the Café Rouge next door, but I was clearly missing a trick. A brief walk to the canalside filled me with disappointment as I realised I could have enjoyed breakfast on a canalboat. Oh well, next time.

I was back the following week and this time, after my work was done and I was getting hungry, I dived into The Victorian Restaurant, a first-floor affair in the same arcade as Drucker's and run by an Indian mother and daughter. No curry here, though; this was one of those roast beef and carrots places – baby carrots – AND it was licensed. There was an ornate but restful interior with plastic tablecloths that gave away its 'caff' status and made me feel immediately at home. I sat at table 21 and ordered the steak and kidney pie with mashed potato, peas and baby carrots. While the pie was a little salty and the accompanying gravy on the thick side, I still enjoyed it and I had a pint of Carlsberg to wash it all down – all for a perfectly reasonable £12.90.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Teashops and Caffs – aren't they just the best?

Picture shows table 21 of the Victorian Restaurant in Birmingham, UK. It is located opposite Snow Hill railway station half way down a quaint arcade.

Welcome to teashopandcaff, a blog devoted to the teashop and the caff. What can possibly be better than sitting in a caff munching on a piece of cake or bread pudding and drinking a large mug of tea? Alright, apart from that? Well, personally, I don't think you can beat a good caff and there are so many of them around.

I've written about Michelin-starred restaurants, I've interviewed top chefs and stayed in some of the best hotels in the world, but spending an hour in, say, Sergio's Continental Bar & Diner in St George's Walk, Croydon, with a few pals is a billion times more appealing than sitting in some white-tableclothed, poncy 'eaterie' wondering how much it's all going to cost. What about Rose & Jack's at the Mornington Crescent end of Camden High Street? Is it still there? I haven't been that way for a while but I remember that the area has loads of caffs and that good old Rose & Jack's was one of best. Let's hope it's still up and running.

And do you know what? Some of the best teashops in the land aren't even teashops! My favourite is my mum's house. She's a dab hand at making exceedingly good cakes, miles better than Mr Kipling, and she's handy with a teapot too. Not only that, there's a good view from the patio doors on to the most amazing garden you'll ever see, complete with real foxes and a couple of large black crows who often drop by to say hello. Sadly mum's not open to the general public and nor are her cakes, but it just goes to show that there's a teashop in all of us.

Wherever in the UK you happen to be, there's always a decent caff or teashop floating around somewhere. In fact, let's talk about teashops for a minute or two. Aren't they fantastic? It's like going back in time to when England was great. You know what I'm talking about: when all old women were like Margaret Rutherford and all the men were like Alastair Sim or Will Hay. When life was like an Inspector Herewatt movie. "Inspector here. What? I'm on my way!"

The quaint bell over the door that alerts the staff when you walk in, the small display of home-made cakes, the china teapots and quaint little Gingham tablecloths and, of course, the old ladies that often frequent such establishments. What could be better than a large pot of tea for two and a huge slice of coffee and walnut cake? In short, nothing beats it.

So, this blog is all about teashops and cafés. In fact, I haven't name-checked any teashops. Let me think...Ah! How about Poppinjay's in Berwick upon Tweed, what about Quaintways down in Penshurst, Kent? What about the Copper Kettle in Arundel, West Sussex? They're everywhere! If you stumble across this blog, let me know about any decent teashops or caffs near you and I'll come up (or down) there and pay a personal visit.

I like to think of myself as a bit of an expert where teashops and caffs are concerned, mainly because I travel around a lot in my job and often find myself with half an hour or so to kill. What do I do? I look for a teashop or a caff and I sit there happily reading a paper or a book until I miss my train and have to spend more time drinking tea and eating Millionaire's Shortbread. I love that chocolate, caramel and biscuit combination, perfect with a cup of Twining's English Breakfast tea.

Now before you start thinking, does he mean independent operators, privately owned teashops and caffs? Well, of course he does, but that doesn't exclude the chain operators. There's nothing better than a Caffe Ritazza or a Pumpkin Café or a Costa, Starbuck's or Caffé Nero. It's a crying shame that Coffee Republic had to go bust but then, hey ho, there's still BB's Coffee & Muffins!

While my favourite local caff would have to be Sergio's in St George's Walk, my absolute favourite is The Lobster Pot Café on the beach at Felpham in West Sussex. What a place! Full of attractive young women, plenty of decent food and a seaview to boot. You couldn't ask for more if you tried. Years ago, when I was very young, it wasn't called the Lobster Pot, it was Perdido's and today they have old photographs of the place in its hey day on the walls. Not that the Lobster Pot isn't still in its hey day – that will last until the day the sea rises and washes it away, which, judging by what folk is saying about global warming, won't be very long. Still, if it washes it's way up to London, it won't be such a bad thing.

As I say, feel free to comment and make suggestions for caffs and teashops we on teashopandcaff should be looking at; nothing is more than a train journey away, unless it's in the USA, of course. Now, I know some good caffs Stateside too, there's one not a million miles from the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. Take a walk to the end of Stark and you'll find a great little place that is open for breakfast. Fantastic! Only I can't remember it's name. Hell, one day I'll be going back there anyway, I hope, as Portland, Oregon, is one of the best cities in the world. There's a good bakery and teashop there too in the trendy Hawthorn district, which I remember writing about for a magazine called European Baker.

So, keep your eyes peeled and keep teashopandcaff informed about the best caffs and teashops near you. And don't forget, support your independent operators and hopefully we can keep the Great British Teashop and Caff Culture going strong.