Thursday, 30 September 2010

Roaming about, but not posting a great deal...

Well, the headline kind of says it all; I've been roaming about and visiting the odd caff and teashop here there and everywhere, but haven't gotten round to posting a great deal, which is a shame as I don't want anybody out there to think I've been slacking in the teashop and caff arena.

The Cholmondeley Arms, Chesshire – nice pub, great rooms

Right this minute I'm in a hotel room at the Cholmondeley Arms (pronounced 'Chumley') somewhere in Cheshire, hence I've got the time to sit and blog for a while.  I thought I'd update you all with some of the places I've been to, although I must confess that I've been off of the Millionaire's Shortbread even if I did indulge a bit just now with an apple pie and damson ice cream here at the Cholmondeley Arms in Cholmondeley. The pub is a converted school and there are outbuildings (alright, it's like a house across from the pub) in which there are letting rooms.

The food at the Cholmondeley Arms is good. I had chicken breast as a main course something like apple and celeriac soup to start, although I'll check that as it might be wrong. That and a pint of bitter went down a treat and prompted me to order a dessert in the shape of apple pie with damson ice cream. To be honest, while relatively tasty, the apple pie was a little flat and 'spludgy' and the damson ice cream relatively tasteless. Still, it was pleasant enough as I sat there reading bits of the Times and generally chilling out.

The pub, of course, is not a teashop, nor a caff, so I shouldn't really be writing about it at all. I was in Whitchurch earlier, a decidedly run-down sort of place with loads of closed-down pubs and a raft of one-man-band cab operators. I had to wait for ages to travel the six miles from Whitchurch to Cholmondeley and took refuge in a pub that was open while I waited for one of the cab companies to call me back. There were some interesting caffs in Whitchurch but they were all closed. Having said that, hats off to the Edge, a coffee shop by day and a bistro by night. The girl there provided me with many cab company numbers and eventually, I reached my destination, the Cholmondeley Arms.

Café Viriato, Epsom

There's nothing better than going into a caff and getting that feeling that you're in another country. That's exactly what happened to me when I bowled into the Café Viriato in Epsom, Surrey, for no good reason at all. Billed as a Portugese deli, the Viriato was fantastic as it was not only a caff but a deli selling foreign stuff – no familiar names to be seen, giving me the impression that I was in downtown Lisbon. The hot weather outside added to the delusion. The Viriato gets top marks for everything.

A chunk of Portugal in Epsom, Surrey

It sells sandwiches, baps or French sticks for between £1.80 and £3.00; Ciabatta range from £2.30 to £3.20 and a large tea will set you back 80p. A hot chocolate is £1.30 and I noticed that a bacon sarnie was £2.30; a chicken sarnie £2.00 and a hot sausage sandwich, £2.30. Nice place.

Narrowbar Café, Penrith

After taking a bus from Cockermouth to Penrith in order to catch a train from London – and discovering I had time on my hands – I nipped into downtown Penrith from the bus station (or bus stop, I can't remember which) and enjoyed the delights of the Narrowbar Café. This was not only a nicely furnished, pleasant place to pass some time, it sold fantastic food, offered great service and the staff were all incredibily attractive women. What more could a weary traveller ask for?

The Narrowbar Café in Penrith – nice food, ever nicer waitresses. Woof!

Well, I asked for a lot: a cup of tea and a Tomato and Mozzarella ciabatta with pesto, which arrived looking extremely good. I also ordered a home-made cookie and noted many other home-made delights such as that old teashop favourite, Lemon Drizzle Cake (£2.40) and a whole range of baked cakes and scones.

Here at the Narrowbar, a bacon omelette with chips and salad cost £6.50 and there was a pleasant, upbeat vibe, created largely by the general environment, but also the fantastic-looking women serving behind the counter. To be honest, I could have sat there all day.

The Bay Bistro, Brixham, Devon

The Bay Bistro in Brixham, Devon; right on the harbour!
The Bay Bistro prices displayed in the window!
We went on holiday to Brixham and stayed in a house overlooking the harbour. Very quaint. There was plenty to do and see, like the Bay Bistro, right down on the harbour. This was a pleasant place and it was licensed too, not that I indulged.

There were laminate wood floors and chrome seats and being right on the harbour, some great views too. Here a full English breakfast is £4.75, a Harbour Special (£7) – and this is big: two bacon, two sausage, two fried eggs, hash browns, beans, mushrooms, fried bread, toast and tea. Then there are specials, like cottage pie, jacket potatoes, paninis and beef lasagne – the latter costing a pricey £9.99.

If you fancy a fish meal, they start at £7.30 for cod and chips and go up to £16 for a fresh crab and prawn salad with potates and French bread.

A Sunday roast costs £6.95 while desserts, like apple pie and custard, cost £4.50.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Compass at Coventry – employees not happy

Following on from news reported last year in the Coventry Telegraph and posted on this blog, outlining how Compass, a contract caterer, had taken over the foodservice operation at Coventry University, this blog has received an anonymous post claiming that employees of what was Coventry University Hospitality Services are less than happy with the situation.

As the poster pointed out, the employees of Coventry University Hospitality Services are having their contracts TUPE'd over to Compass and have no choice in the matter. In some cases, members of staff who have given between 10 and 30 years service, feel that they have been sold off to Compass and have been given 'sparse communication about their job situation'. Many are worried about their pensions and believe that the University has treated its employees disgracefully.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Yahoo'sTop Ten breakfast guide

Yahoo has listed a number of places where people can enjoy a decent breakfast. Click here for more details.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Poor service at the Lobster Pot

The Lobster Pot in Felpham, West Sussex.
Teashop and Caff had an email from a Lobster Pot customer complaining about the service at the new-style Lobster Pot, which is sad to hear as, when the 'larger than life lady' was in charge, I don't think there was ever any room for complaint. Still, there you have it.

Here's what happened:-

"Yesterday we went to the Lobster Pot to have breakfast – lovely weather, wonderful location, thought we would start the day off well!
"Walked in, no customers inside, waitress behind the counter on the 'phone.  Looked at the menu, decided what to have, went to the counter.  Assistant still on the 'phone (private call).

"We waited, and waited. It seemed ages, really without exaggeration it must have been five minutes, but although throughout this time the assistant could clearly see us she did not make any attempt to end the call.
"In the end we left, went elsewhere for breakfast. Our food was probably not as good as we would have had with you, and the view was certainly inferior, but the service was much much better."
The complainant said that she planned to give the Lobster Pot one more try but if the service hasn't improved, she'll take her custom elsewhere.

Sad news, as Teashop and Caff loves the Lobster Pot. Our message to the Lobster Pot? "Sort it out!"

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Lobster Pot – revisited!

I say 'revisited' but the truth of the matter is that I often drive down to Felpham in West Sussex because, as I've probably said before, it's the place where I spent my childhood holidays in the days when the summers were hot and seemingly endless and the perils of adulthood were simply unreal.

I took a drive down there recently and took a look at what appeared to be the new order of the place. It's now a little more 'culinary', a little more 'foody' in its approach – which is a good thing – but it still retains (thank heavens) the caff element during the day, although evidence of it's new 'cheffyness' was everywhere; well, on a couple of blackboards. There was, for example, a seafood weekend being advertised. It's over now and I couldn't get there, but it seemed like a great idea and I'm sure they did well out of it. 

The thing is, the place now opens at night and the prices are pretty much 'up there' in terms of 'posh restaurant' levels. Main courses range from £9.95 to £12.95. Huss served with hand-made chips and sugar snap peas is £9.95, there's talk of 'port reduction'  and crispy fried squid with roasted chorizo and salad. Things are certainly looking up and the blackboards mean that the food is fresh.

If I say so myself, I make a pretty decent cottage pie so when I saw that the Lobster Pot was offering, as a set lunchtime special, home-made cottage pie, well, I just had to dive in and order it. Was it better than mine? To be honest, no, it wasn't. It was nice, but I'd love to put mine up in a head-to-head contest and see who wins.  Also on the lunchtime specials was home-made mushroom soup with crusty bread and something called a lamb and lentil 'ravine', which, I admit, might be an error on my part. What the hell is a lamb and lentil ravine? Should that be 'tagine', perhaps, who knows? 

But look at the other menu items: veal schnitzel, grilled huss fillet, vegetable and puy lentil burgers, whole roasted rainbow trout. The Lobster Pot isn't the Lobster Pot anymore – a quote that might be used in a film entitled The Lobster Pot Story, should such a film ever be made.

Anyway, it's still a great place and the fact that it's open at night makes it even better. I really do want to spend a night there and when I do I'll report back immediately.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

West End Café, Tamworth, Staffordshire

I'd been covering a training course in what amounted to a theme park, very weird. Outside the window everybody was enjoying themselves on roller coasters and assorted scary rides while inside, people stared aimlessly at Nobo boards and ate biscuits. Then, when it was all over, I decided to walk, in a kind of daze, to the railway station, which turned out to be around five miles away.

I knew Tamworth from a previous visit to the Glascote Working Men's Club when I stayed in a hotel in town near the castle. I remember there was a very good army surplus store that sold loads of great things, like camouflage trousers and silly hats, but I had my eye on the West End Café, which I'd seen on my previous visit but hadn't bothered taking a look.

Today was different. I had a bit of time to spare – or rather, time wasn't an issue – so I bowled in to what was an empty restaurant and ordered a pot of tea for £1.20. Once again, I didn't stop for something to eat as I'd been stuffing my face with Digestives all morning.

The West End was a great place and the food looked excellent. There was a specials board (always a good sign) offering dishes like braised steak and onions (£6.95); Madras curry and chilli con carne were both £5.95 and traditional ham, egg and chips (with peas) was a healthy £3.95. A caff wouldn't be a caff if it didn't offer a Full English and the West End delivered with a £3.99 brekkie. There was a home-made turkey, ham and mushroom pie served with chips and peas (£5.95), a big breakfast (which I can only assume is bigger than the full English, cost £5.95. This consisted of three rashers of bacon, two sausages,  two eggs, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, chips, toast and fried bread – all for £5.49, cheaper than the Full English and probably bigger. The daily roast bap of the day was only £1.50 and there was a wide variety of fish dishes, grills, jacket potatoes, sandwiches, burgers and baguettes on offer too.

A dessert menu offered traditional favourites like apple pie and jam roly poly (both £2.50).

The West End has it's own website, click here for details, and it's open between 10am and 4pm on a Sunday too.

Riverside Cottage Café, Lynmouth, Devon.

The Riverside Cottage caff was okay, but I kind of regretted ordering a huge pasty, chips and beans (£5.50). I don't know why, it just seemed so stodgy and unnecessary when a plain old ham sandwich would have sufficed.

Anyway, no point crying over spilt milk – or spilt pasty and beans in this case. Actually, I ate the lot but the caff lacked a cosy atmosphere and turned out to be a hotel, built on the banks of the river Lyn. My wife ordered a jacket potato with tuna (£5.75), which I should have ordered, and my daughter enjoyed a hot soup, roll and butter (£3.75).

The food was fine, the staff were friendly but I think it was something to do with Lynmouth that put me off a bit. I didn't like the place for some reason.

Having said that, the hotel element of the Riverside Cottage looks quite impressive, check out the pictures of the rooms on the hotel's website by clicking here.

Caff in a garden centre (Knight's in Warlingham)

If you want a cosy teashop type of experience, go to Knight's Garden Centre and visit the Pantry. It's just on the other side of a display unit that sells loads of cosy stuff, like jams and preserves and bricks of fruit cake and, like the whole gardening thing, its a cosy sort of place.

Personally, I can't stand gardening. Actually, let me make that clearer; I don't mind mowing the lawn and sweeping up, but I hate weeding and having to pull things out of the ground, like unwanted saplings with hefty roots
Weeding is the worst, though, it's that whole King Canute thing and trying to hold back the tide. Take out some weeds and they'll be back next week; it is, quite simply, a good illustration of what I like to call 'the futility of gardening'.

Still, The Pantry at Knight's is great and it recently won a Gold Award in Surrey County Council's Eat Out, Eat Well Awards. What's more, there's a Curry Day every Tuesday.

On this occasion, however, it was a cup of tea and half a bag of crisps.

The S&M Café in Long Acre, London

My cottage pie, peas and red onion gravy
After a meeting in the Smithfield area of London, I wandered aimlessly along Long Acre wondering whether to simply get back home or stop somewhere for a spot of lunch. I decided on the former as I found the S&M Café just sitting there on the sidewalk.

I'd heard of this place before, having once worked in Islington, on the Green, where a great little caff, known as Alfredo's, was turned into the first ever S&M Café. There were all the obvious jokes about bondage and stuff but it turned out that S&M stands for 'sausage and mash'. Or that's what I recall from when I went into the Islington outlet.

My bill was a reasonable £10.30.
Anyway, now it seems as if they have more than one outlet AND their own website (click here).

The Long Acre S&M Café was excellent. It was long and shady and there were gingham tablecloths and everything you might expect from a 'caff'. My order was for cottage pie and peas with the house red onion gravy, plus a mug of tea. For some reason, the waitress wrote the word 'lover' on my bill.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Camden Coffee House – Croydon Whitgift Centre

Former PC accessories shop now a stunning new coffee house – free wi fi and the prices are reasonable too.

Occupying what used to be a rather lairy-looking PC accessories shop (somehow they lack the finesse of Apple stockists) is the relatively new Camden Coffee House, an independent operation offering free wifi in trendy, modern surroundings.

Camden Coffee House can be found at the top of the escalators near the High Street entrance to Croydon's Whitgift Centre. The company's mission is to develop a chain of stores – or rather 'unique coffee houses' – offering a wide selection of premium speciality beverages.

The Camden Coffee House brand was established in April 2009 in, you guessed it, Camden in North London. In fact, the Croydon store is Camden-themed.

What's on offer? How about luxury fair-trade coffees, worldwide exotic teas (supplied by Tea Pig), hot chocolate, iced coffees and teas, pure fruit smoothies, chocolate bar milkshakes (sounds interesting) and cold soft drinks.

On the food front there are freshly baked pastries and home-made cakes, toasted sarnies, bagels, soup of the day, muffins and cup cakes.

Luxury coffees range in price from £1.30 (small) to £1.95 (large); there are speciality coffees costing from £1.95 to £2.20 (white chocolate moccha, Amaretto coffee and even Gingerbread coffee); there are iced coffees and then a range of exotic teas with iced options available (Chai tea, Mao Feng Green tea, Yerba Mate, Super Fruit and Jasmine Pearl) all ranging in price from £1.25 to £1.50. Smoothies are £3.00.

Want to find out more? There is a website. Click here!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Stop Press! Former Lobster Pot owner sets up B&B!

The simply amazing beachfront at Felpham, a great place to go on England's South Coast and even better when you realise that The Lobster Pot Café is there on the beach too – and now the former owners have set up a B&B!

This is great news! The former owners of the amazing Lobster Pot Café on the seafront in Felpham have turned their home into a guest house offering rooms for between £40 and £60 per night. The reason this is great news is because the Lobster Pot Café, while still a great place to eat, was, shall we say, at its height of fame and fortune when the person I have referred to as the 'larger than life lady' was in charge. I can only assume that it is she who runs the guest house, which means you'll be in safe hands. In short, she's brilliant: just the sort of person to be running either a guest house or a caff. I bet Christmas lunch round at her's is to die for, she's a proper 'mum' type, that's for sure.

I was unaware that the Lobster Pot, many years ago known as Perdido's, had a website, but it does and it was on the site that I noticed the new bed and breakfast business.

Check out both websites.

For the Lobster Pot Café, click here.

For the bed & breakfast, click here.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts' Indian coffee investment...

The New York, USA, based Kohlberg Kravis Roberts company has announced plans to invest in Coffee Day Resorts, an Indian company that owns the Cafe Coffee Day brand. The coffee chain opened its first outlet in Bangalore, Southern India in 1996.

For more information, click here.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Camden Food Co, Birmingham New Street Station

I managed to grab this image of the Camden food co. in a short break of the rush hour crowds.

En route to Liverpool Lime Street from Bristol Templemeads means one of two options: change at Stafford or Birmingham New Street. I'd opted for the latter and arrived just before 5pm with half an hour to kill before my connection. Time for 'dinner'. I put the word in inverted commas because this was not going to be a sit-down affair, more a case of 'eating on the go', something I don't particularly enjoy.

Having said that, I found that the Camden Food Co outlet on the ticketed side of the concourse to be reasonably pleasant. I'd passed it many times before but never ventured in, mainly because there was something about the lighting and the seating area that put me off; it was all a bit transient and not that welcoming.

On this occasion, however, I figured it would be my only chance of food as the Liverpool club I would be attending that night didn't offer anythng – apart from crisps and peanuts – so in I bowled to check out what was on offer. Food and drink is laid out in display units or on the counter. All the customer has to do is select his or her food and pay at the counter (where they can also order hot beverages).

I opted for chicken and pesto foccacia, a banana and a cup of tea. The panini was toasted on the counter top and the tea provided in a large paper cup with a lid. I then found a table and sat there watching the commuters before making my way to platform 4c and my train to Lime Street.

The foccacia cost £3.79, the tea (which was organic) set me back a staggering £1.79 and the banana was 59p, although she did offer me two bananas for 99p but I declined.

The service here was good – friendly and efficient.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Otford Tea Shop, Otford, Kent

Not a million miles from Dunton Green in Kent, near Sevenoaks, Otford is a quaint village full of antique shops and places like the Otford Tea Shop.

The teashop doubles as a Hospices of Hope charity shop, selling some excellent stuff including secondhand books, small toys for kids, secondhand videos and DVDs and everything you might expect from such a place. The teashop is real Miss Marple territory and needless to say there are some tremendous home-made cakes on offer too.

We had a pot of tea, a mug of hot chocolate and a slice of carrot cake and then drove home.

Where Dunton Green is concerned, readers are seriously advised to click here for more information.

Bank Quay House Coffee Shop, Warrington, Cheshire

Exterior shot of Bank Quay House Coffee Shop (top) and the gates bound for Buckingham Palace that were rejected by Queen Victoria.

Part of an office block called Bank Quay House, the eponymous Coffee Shop is on ground floor level and, while a little stark, it's fairly pleasant and ideal for anybody working in the building. It's about 10 minutes' walk to Warrington's Bank Quay railway station and just across the road from the impressive town hall gates.

The gates were, apparently, originally destined for Buckingham Palace during the reign of Queen Victoria, but when she found out that the foundry commissioned to make the gates had also been responsible for a statue of Oliver Cromwell, she didn't want them and that is why they remain in Warrington at the top of Winmarleigh Street.

There are plans to knock down a wall at the Bank Quay House Coffee Shop and make room for an art gallery. Light snacks are also sold here, there's an espresso machine too and an outside catering company linked to the café.

I had a small pot of tea before heading off to Bank Quay railway station and a non-stop train to London Euston.

Rhode Island Coffee, Warrington, Cheshire

Yes, these pix were taken on my new iPhone. They show an interior shot of Rhode Island Coffee (taken early in the morning as by 11am, those tables outside were all taken). The other shot is my mug of tea.

If you're looking for a spot of breakfast while in Warrington in Cheshire, you won't go far wrong with Rhode Island Coffee, a chain operation with five units in Altrincham, Burnley, Bolton, Stockport and, of course, Warrington.

The company claims that all of its units are at the heart of their local communities; as a result, there's a lot going on: open mic nights, DJing, poetry reading and a few charity fundraising events too.

I enjoyed a cheese and ham panini and a large mug of tea and then, because the environment was right, I stayed on and worked on my laptop while watching the place get steadily more crowded. To be honest, I could have sat there all day, not only because of the decent food and drink and the friendly, bustling environment but also because I had a new iPhone to play with!

It wasn't warm outside, but Rhode Island Coffee was not only full inside; it's tables outside were all taken by mid-morning.

To find out more about this excellent chain operation, click here.

Café on the Square, Grove Avenue, Bristol

Internal and external shots of the Café on the Square, Grove Avenue, Bristol.

The Café on the Square in Grove Avenue, Bristol is a fantastic place for the simple reason that it has that added something that elevates its status from 'caff' to small restaurant – although it is not open at night. I liked the place the moment I peered through the window and noticed the brightly coloured tablecloths – they were enough to draw me inside where I found a friendly environment and helpful staff too.

Another good thing about this place was that it took credit cards, unlike most places of this sort. It would have been even better, of course, if I hadn't lost my credit card – or rather I had, unknowingly at the moment I entered the restaurant, left it on the floor in my hotel room. Naturally, as soon as I had confirmed that I could pay by card, I started to fumble around in my wallet to find it, only to discover (after emptying all my pockets and turning my wallet inside out) that I didn't have it. I began to panic, ordered my food anyway and paid cash and then sat there fretting.

I won't bore you with all the details, but it turned out that I had inadvertently left it on the floor in my hotel room – all was right with the world again, but it still managed to ruin my meal at the café – Napoli chicken in a rich savoury tomato and basil sauce with red onions and peppers (£5.25) – plus a cup of tea for £1. The total bill was £6.25.

Blackboards on the wall offered grilled paninis (£3.90); a range of home-made pasta dishes (£5.25); jacket potatoes (£3.80 to £5.25); full English breakfast (£5.50); a vegetarian breakast and a Mega breakfast (£5.50 and £6.50 respectively). There were some interesting specials too: chicken rogan josh at £5.50, a home-made beefburger (£5.25) and field mushrooms stuffed with goat's cheese (£4.90).

Oddly, the café sold a range of 'gourmet' potato chips (or crisps) rather than just one variety. Customers have the choice between Real, Tyrell's and Kettle – what is known in the potato processing industry as 'gourmet' potato chips as opposed to more standard products from the bigger brand names we all know and love.

Fortunately, I left the café more elated than when I walked in; my credit card was safe and all I had to do was walk back to the hotel to retrieve it; this done I headed for Templemeads and a train to Liverpool Lime Street via Birmingham New Street.

Café on the Square is well worth a visit if you happen to be in Bristol, not only because of the excellent food but also the friendly staff and the pleasant environment.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Enjoying breakfast at Hunger's End, Merstham, Surrey

Just thought I'd throw in this shot of a very enjoyable breakfast in Hunger's End, a caff in Merstham, Surrey.

My Teashop, London Bridge

My Tea Shop, virtually opposite Evan's Cycles in London Bridge, where I mooched about afterwards (see Notice my copy of Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road on the small round table outside; great book and I heartily recommend other Yates' novels too, especially Disturbing the Peace.

Easy to miss as it's crammed into a small space underneath the railway tracks, but if you come out on to Tooley Street and turn left, as if you're walking up towards London Bridge itself, then you will find My Tea Shop, tucked away on the left. This could win the award for the smallest teashop ever visited by yours truly. It has a curved ceiling, like a train carriage and has no more than four tables with a servery at the far end. The place is run by Eastern Europeans and it sells standard caff fayre.

I opted for a cheese and ham omelette with chips and beans (£4.80) plus two mugs of tea and just sat there reading first The Sun and then Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, which I had nearly finished. There were three other people in there, making it very crowded, but the ambience was good and I just liked the quaintness of the size and its location under the railway line. Well worth a visit if you've missed your train.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Yahoo's guide to great teashops...

Check out this link for details of loads of decent teashops, courtesy of Yahoo! Click here for details.

Tea shop owner is not going to give up.

Over in the USA in Richmond Va, Allan and Lurline Wagner, who owned the Cuppa Tea Company, are not reluctant to talk about the closure of their tea room. In fact, they're eager to draw attention to the plight of their small business and counsel others considering going down the same path. Read this story in full on by clicking here.

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Gallery Café, 103 Foregate Street, Chester CH1 1HE – check out the cappuccino slice!

Photographs from the top: my order of tea and a cappuccino slice; an exterior view of the Gallery Café and the ceiling, which is decorated with the pages of various magazines. 

The Gallery Café in Chester is my idea of the perfect caff, although the term 'caff' probably demeans the place a little; it is, quite simply, a quaint place to stop by and enjoy the delights on offer – of which there are many.

For a start the place has a certain vibe, an ambience, which is conducive to just stepping off the roller coaster of life and enjoying a little serenity. Paperback books are sold here, there are works of art from local artists (painters and photographers) on show and also for sale, the ceiling is, well, interesting (go there and take a look for yourself or check out one of the above photographs) and the food is good too. Oh, and they also sell decorative bead necklaces.

The Gallery is owned by Jacob and Katie Potter, who have been ensconced at the café for four years (and two months) and seem intent on making it work. They will succeed because they have the passion for it, which is good to see.

This is a long café with an upfront seating area and more seats out back too. There are wooden floors and furniture and blackboards on the wall announcing various deals; for example, you can add a small bowl of soup to any sandwich order for just £1.50. Smoothies are £2.65 and so are milkshakes, the place sells pannini and ciabatta breads, conventional sandwiches and toasted sandwiches, there are jacket potatoes and 'light bites' and the cakes are to die for.

When I bowled in there, having spotted the place earlier that morning while out on the hunt for toothpaste, it was mid-afternoon and I hadn't eaten a thing all day. In short, I needed something to eat, but it wasn't really meal time so I opted for a pot of tea and an interesting variation on millionaire's shortbread (that's a caramel slice if you live south of Birmingham). This one wasn't caramel, it didn't have a milk chocolate top AND it was much bigger than your average product, almost twice the length, and a little bit wider too. It was called a cappuccino slice and it was amazing. I would have enjoyed a second one, but my inner nutritionist slapped my wrists at the very thought of it. I did order a second cup of tea. 

One tea and the cappuccino slice set me back £3.45, excellent value considering the enjoyment I received from the slice (seriously, it was amazing).

What's more, the Gallery is licensed (it sells bottled beers and wine) and there's a take-out menu too. You really couldn't ask for more from a café and this one comes highly recommended by teashopandcaff. Had I more time I would have spent a lot more money in the Gallery, but I was on my way to Leeds via Scarborough and Manchester (by train). I contemplated buying another cappuccino slice for the journey (and wished I had once on the train) but there you have it, all good things must come to an end, as they say.

The Gallery is just the place to visit when you have a good book on the go and an hour to spare reading it, accompanied by a pot or two of tea and, of course, one of those cappuccino slices.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Hunger's End, 26 High Street, Merstham, Surrey

From the top: man outside the caff shaving; my sausage sandwich; my brother Jon's Full English breakfast; Hunger's End, Merstham High Street. You can see my brother Jon (far right) and Andy Smith sitting down and, centre stage, the shaving man – note his radio on the table.

Now this really is a good caff and it doesn't have much in the way of competition either. Well, alright, there's the Quality Café down by the railway station but, to be quite honest, I wasn't happy with that word 'quality' as the caff looked a bit run-down to me.

Hunger's End has a bit of style. For a start, it's more than just pine wood tables and chairs; it has a couple of sofas, a few copies of The Sun scattered about and the staff are friendly too. You order your food at the counter and pay for it (I chose a sausage sandwich with a roll, not bread) and so did my pal Andy. My brother Jon went for one of the breakfasts, not the biggest one, but judging by the size of it (massive springs to mind) I daren't think what the largest looks like.

For a sausage bap and a mug of tea you're talking £3.55, the breakfast with a mug of tea was £4 on the nose. Not bad for a small caff only a stone's throw from the M25. The food is delivered to your table along with brown and tomato sauce, salt and pepper. The food was very, very tasty and we also had some strange bloke outside with us providing some light entertainment: he'd brought along a small radio, a mirror and an electric razor and spent the entire time we were there shaving. It takes all sorts.

Return visits will definitely be made as Hunger's End was the epitome of a great British caff, although the sausage sandwich might be a little over-the-top if consumed more than once or twice a year.

You can read more about Hunger's End on

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Milk jugs? Unhealthy? It's political correctness gone mad!

Image courtesy of

I don't believe it, as Victor Meldrew might have said. A report on the Daily Express' on-line news service has just announced that researchers have found that milk jugs – yes, milk jugs, those little things made of porcelain or stainless steel or plastic depending on the sort of caff you're in – are unhealthy.

But hold on a was health experts in Spain (not here in the UK) who found that up to a third of milk and dairy products served in bars, restaurants and cafés breached EU health regulations and were unfit for human consumption.

Well, that's in Spain and we're in the UK. The next thing we'll know they'll be banning milk jugs! Ridiculous!

To read the full story, click here.

Monkey mimics Meg Ryan fake orgasm scene....

Remember that mildly embarassing scene in When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan pretends to have an orgasm while in a caff? Well, check this out, Monkey from the PG Tips ad with Johnny Vegas is doing it too!

To see the video, click here!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Sergio's Continental Bar & Diner, Croydon, Surrey

From the top: my large tea and a Sergio's laminated menu; check out that amazing apple pie with ice cream (it's a Brake Bros pie and it's the best); and then (above) my 147 with extra onions. Normally I have a sausage and onion bap but they'd run out of baps so I opted for ciabatta instead. From now I might order the ciabatta .

You want a cult caff? Then look no further than Sergio's Continental Bar & Diner. I love that name. We call it Sergio's and that's not only because it's easier to say than Sergio's Continental Bar & Diner, but also because Sergio exists. This is a family business run by Sergio and his wife Pat. Pat does the chat, Sergio produces the food on the menu. It's that simple.

Sergio's is to be found in St George's Walk, no more than three minutes' walk from the lobby of St George's House, headquarters in the UK of Nestlé. It is a caff from the seventies and it hasn't changed much since then. I remember going there for a plate of lasagne back in the days when my wife was my girlfriend in the early eighties. In many ways, this is the caff that time forgot – and thank the Lord for that! Check out the interior decor, it's fantastic.

I started going there on a daily basis back at the beginning of the new millennium. My colleague Geoff Althoff, aka 'the illustrious illustrator', were fed up with Bar Ispani in the nearby Whitgift Centre because it was too expensive and had an identity crisis: was it a caff or a restaurant? It was certainly charging restaurant prices so we shipped out and started to hang out at Sergio's.

It didn't take Pat long to get to know our needs: a sausage in a bap with extra onions was one regular order from me and then there were the baked potatoes with tuna and onion and let's not forget the apple pie with either ice cream or custard. I used to have the latter but only if the custard was made by Pat or the Portugese lady that helped out behind the counter. For some reason they made better custard than Sergio and don't forget, we're talking Ambrosia Devon Custard – nothing better. The ice cream was good too, especially if the pie was hot as the contrast between the hot pie and the cold ice cream was just amazing.

It wasn't long before Sergio's became a regular haunt every day. Two large teas, sometimes three, number 147 on bap (that's the sausage and onion sandwich with extra onions) and then the apple pie with either custard or ice cream.

When the job went down, we still met there for a while and even now, even if we don't go in for months, Pat still remembers us. She has become our friend and that is what caffs are all about.

Whenever I walk in there, Pat just brings me over a cup of tea. She knows my order. If I asked for my usual, she'd bring me a 147 on a bap with extra onions.

Sergio's has round Formica tables with wall-mounted seating on the left hand side, the service counter on the right and over at the back in the right hand corner, the 'confessional'. That's what we call the bench seating next to the end of the counter where a brown mesh wall separates the customers from the counter staff; it looks like a confessional, hence the name.

My colleagues and I, my wife, my son, my daughter, we all love Sergio's and I would suggest that if you want to experience this caff, waste no time as it looks as if it might not be there for much longer. Why? Well, not because it's losing money to restaurant chains. Oh no! Sergio's is a millon times better than Costa or Caffé Nero or Starbucks or anywhere else in Croydon for that matter.

No, the reason is all to do with St George's Walk and the fact that nobody seems to know what's going to happen to it. At one stage it was going to be knocked down but I'm not sure what's happened to that plan. Either way, the initial proposal meant that leases were not being renewed, that sort of thing, so Pat and Sergio were just waiting and wondering and as other retailers in St George's Walk move on (Millets has gone and so have many other shops and other caffs too) Sergio's is still there.

Today, there's a few weird shops in the Walk and a couple of caffs, an optician's, a relatively new fresh bread shop, and, well, it's all a bit strange as there are plenty of boarded up shops too. There are caffs at both ends of the Walk. At the High Street end it used to be Panino's, but that's now called something else. Either way it's not the same as Sergio's, not as comfortable.

I was in Sergio's last week and the first thing Pat did was bring over my tea. I ordered 147 with extra onions AND I had the apple pie with ice cream. I ordered a second cup of tea and the whole lot was just £5.90. You can't beat value like that, can you?

The best thing about Sergio's, of course, is the warmth. Not only the warmth generated by Pat and Sergio and the friendly atmosphere generally, but the warmth generated by the cosyness of the place and the fact that it's warm and welcoming in the cold weather. It's fine in the hot weather too, probably because the Walk is shaded from the heat (not that in England there is any real heat).

Listen, Sergio's is just the best. It's as good as it gets when it comes to caffs and if you haven't been there, then go there soon because you just never know when it's not going to be there. I know that one day I'm going to head on down to the Walk and find it gone. That will be a sad, sad day.

Climate change affects tea plantations in Kenya

Tea growers in Michimikuku, Kenya, are being adversely affected by climate change, according to a report from

Fair trade drink company CaféDirect sources its tea from the region and is hoping to help growers there adapt to the changing climate through its Adapt to Climate Change project. The main components of the project are: efficient use of energy; soil and water management; and crop diversification.

For more details, click here.

Railway carriage teashop for North Tyne Museum

Picture shows the Bellingham Heritage Centre and Dorothy Bell who recieved an MBE in the 2009 New Year's Honours list for her services to the Centre. Well done, Dorothy.

The Bellingham Heritage Centre in Northumberland – 18 miles north of Hexham on the edge of the Northumberland National Park – is hoping to purchase a couple of railway carriages from the 1950s and turn them into a café. What a fantastic idea.

The museum is hoping to get funding from the Northumberland Uplands Leader Project and the Heritage Lottery Fun, according to a report in the Hexham Courant.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Nonna Rosa's, Smitham, Surrey

A view looking out from inside Nonna Rosa's in Smitham, Surrey. Note my bike resting against the window outside.

Smitham is one of those places that doesn't really exist, a bit like Merton. Having said that, Smitham has something that Merton doesn't: a train station; and Nonna Rosa's sits virtually under the railway line on the opposite side of the road to the station entrance.

It's definitely a 'caff' but there's a distinct and, of course, obvious Italian flavour to the place. In short, it's got an Italian name and it's run by Italians. Unless they're imitating Italians, but that would be foolish in the extreme.

I can't say I'd noticed it before. I was cycling past on a Saturday morning and decided to stop by for a cup of tea and a Danish pastry. Not bad for under three quid, it was £2.65. The tea came in a teapot with a nice white cup and saucer and the pastry was just that, a pastry.

A nice vibe to this place and let's not forget that Smitham has a couple of other caffs worthy of note, especially DD's Café, which I enjoyed recently but didn't write it up for some inexplicable reason. DD's was brilliant and will be featured here shortly. The last time I was there the guy that ran the place let me bring my bike into the caff so that I didn't have to leave it outside without a padlock. Top man!