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.

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