Friday, 20 December 2013

Costa Coffee, Tesco, Purley, Surrey, UK

Another bit of rule breaking. Normally I don't cover chains on this blog, but here I am about to bleat positively about a Costa Coffee outlet – although Costa has been covered before, when I travelled to Glasgow in early 2012 and raved about the lemon drizzle cake. The Costa in question was inside a Waterstone's bookshop. Anyway, I'm writing about Costa because of that great phrase 'value for money' something one doesn't normally associate with this international coffee chain where tea and a bun costs a small fortune.
A pot of tea for just £1 in a Costa Coffee in Purley

I was out early and in need of some kind of relaxation prior to a 40-minute walk home along slippery roads. I knew that Tesco in Purley – one of those huge outlets on two floors – had a Costa Coffee on the first floor and headed there after buying a newspaper.

What surprised me was the price of a cup of tea. Normally it's £1.75 or £1.85, but here in the Costa at Tesco's it was just £1... and that's why it deserves a mention. A nice pot of tea, in a Costa, for a quid and all because the coffee brand is located inside a Tesco store.

I can only assume that Tesco knew how Costa charges an extortionate price for its hot beverages and said to them: 'you can have a store here, but your prices must come down'. And Costa obliged on the basis that it would score on volume sales.

I'd say 'well done' to Costa, but I think the credit should all go to Tesco as I'd imagine Costa bosses quietly seethed about such a deal. "Tea for just £1 a pot?"

Don't forget, folks, it costs no more than 5p to make a cup of tea – or thereabouts – meaning that if tea was sold for, say, 30p a cup, Costa would still be making a huge profit!

One piece of criticism...

In fact, one piece of criticism that has to be levelled at the coffee chains – all of them – is the amount of time it takes to get served, normally because some nob cheese has ordered a complicated coffee drink that requires somebody wearing a shirt with the word 'barista' on the back to make it. Every time I've ever visited a Costa Coffee outlet, there's always been a queue of people at the front of which can be found the 'barista' concocting some complex coffee-based drink on the espresso machine. Sort it out!

Café Brood, London Bridge, UK

Paella and a Catalan meatball stew plus a glass of Tempranillo. Lovely!
It wasn't easy finding a decent caff in London Bridge, although I'm guessing that's my fault as I'm not familiar with the terrain. I was in town to attend a meeting at 2pm, meaning that lunch was out of the question as I'd be travelling when I should, by rights, be eating. So I left the office early in order to find somewhere to grab a snack.

My dilemma was this: should I venture over London Bridge – where the meeting was to be held – and find a caff there, or would I better finding something south of the river, bearing in mind that Borough Market was on the south side and there were more shops. I opted to staying south and, fortunately, stumbled across Café Brood at the foot of the bridge and down a few steps. Quite a secret as it's pretty much concealed from view. I spied the signage: Café Brood and decided to give it a whirl.

A giant paella – wonderful!
In all honesty, it doesn't qualify for Teashop and Caff as it's licenced, but I was desperate for food and decided to break my own rule. But this was an amazing place with a strong Spanish theme to it and freshly cooked food. There was a giant paella cooking outside as well as a giant Catalan meatball stew and it was possible, I was told, to have a bit of I did along with a glass of Tempranillo.

What else was on offer? Rib Eye steak for £6.50; Café Brood burger for £6.00; Grilled Chorizo at £5.95; Marguez Sausage, £5.95; Lamb Kofte at £5.95; a hot dog for £3.65 and a vegetarian option too (Mediterranean salad, £6.50).

Well worth a visit, but better on a warm day. My advice to these people would be 'build a wall and add a door' and that way you'll keep the bad weather out of the customers' faces.

Top notch establishment offering quality food at reasonable prices.

Café Piazza, Redhill, Surrey, UK

Shopping mall cafés leave a lot to be desired, especially when they have chairs 'outside' as if al fresco is ever an option.

Café Piazza, The Belfry Centre, Redhill, Surrey.
The Café Piazza is located on the first floor level of the Belfry Centre, a smallish shopping mall in Redhill, which is kind of half way between London and Brighton on the southern outskirts of Surrey.

Redhill is best described as 'a funny old place' full of a sizeable contingent of the sort of people you might see in the movie The Hills Have Eyes. It is, if you like, the poor relation of toffee-nosed Reigate, which is just up the road.

Not that the Café Piazza reflects anything; it is, after all, just a shopping mall caff that could be viewed as a little pricey until you think hard about it and realise that it's alright in terms of value for money. I spent £8.15 on cottage pie and beans plus a cookie and a pot of tea (which came with extra hot water).
Cottage pie, beans, a cookie and a pot of tea with hot water.

The big question: is it value for money? The answer is 'just'. Why? Because there were free newspapers, that extra hot water meant more than one cup of tea and the food quality ain't bad either. I've been here before and I've enjoyed it, they take plastic and overall, that's all fine with me.

The cottage pie was piping hot and by that I mean it was too hot, thanks to being microwaved and it did have a slushy texture to it, but it was filling and just what the doctor ordered so I wasn't complaining.

The service was straightforward and friendly too – a fast food/cafeteria set up with display counters, a hot servery area and a till point at the end of the process. A good selection of food and pastries too so all in all, top marks to the place.

Inside Café Piazza – note servery in foreground.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Kamps bakery outlet, Dusseldorf, Germany...

Lovers of bakery outlets where you can eat in are spoilt for choice in Dusseldorf, Germany, when it comes to the Kamps brand and I'm guessing that other German towns and cities are also well-catered for by the brand.
The Kamps outlet we visited taken from the railway station taxi rank

There are plenty of Kamps outlets scattered around Dusseldorf, some offering sit-down as well as takeaway and others simply standalone kiosks.

I found myself in a sit-down outlet opposite the main entrance to Dusseldorf Hauptbahnhof (the city's main station). It was a fairly pleasant sort of place with wood (or possibly laminate) flooring and, as we walked in, a large servery counter crammed to bursting with delicious-looking savoury rolls and then, further along, some amazing cakes and pastries. There were standard bread products on shelves behind the counter.

The seating was a little cramped, so much so that for me to sit down I had to push the seat behind mine right under the table. It would have been impossible for me to sit down had the table been occupied by two people (it was occupied by one person who was happy for me to push the chair opposite her under the table – all the Germans I meet, not just on this trip, are very friendly, polite and helpful).
Just some of the pastries on offer at Kamps, Dusseldorf

We ordered a couple of savoury rolls plus tea, and my colleague ordered a plastic bottle of Coke and then a tea. The savoury rolls were excellent and we followed up with one of the store's huge Danish pastries (see photos). My colleague ordered one to takeaway, but then left it in the store (he bought another one from a different Kamps outlet later).

The whole 'tea' thing abroad always leaves a lot to be desired: tea served in a glass mug is basically hot water and a teabag and there's never any milk, just portion pots of 'creamer', which are obviously more suited to coffee. I hate the way that tea plays second fiddle to coffee in the same way that, by and large, when abroad, you have to make do with some kind of 'lager' as opposed to a pint of bitter (my favourite tipple). Although I must add that British bitter is British bitter and you can't get it anywhere else other than in a British pub.

As for Kamps, we both liked it as it offered quality filled baguettes and a wide range of cakes and pastries and, of course, friendly and efficient staff.

Now that's what I call a pastry! Bumper size and ultra tasty! But notice 
also the tea in glass mugs, the teabags soaking away and the portion pot
of 'creamer'.
We haven't talked money yet. The bill for two savoury baguettes, two bumper-sized pastries, two teas and a coke was roughly EUR34.57.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

La Boulangerie Moderne, Complexe Desjardins, Montreal, Canada

I'm not a great fan of huge, corporate hotels like Montreal's Hyatt Regency, in which I sit now penning this post and the one prior about the il Panino Mediterraneo café. In fact, had I had my way, I'd have been in the Sherbrooke Holiday Inn, but that's another story.

Having said that, I was amazed to discover, aside from the main bank of elevators (lifts) that take guests to their rooms, another bank behind them going down, not up. In fact, on jumping in the lift (on floor six) these elevators go down six floors into a kind of subterranean world of shops and cafés. In essence, a huge mall which, because you're travelling down (to the second floor) seems to be a cavernous underground space.
La Boulangerie Moderne, Montreal

The cafés here are not self-contained – or rather they are, but there's an element of 'food court' about them – and there's plenty of choice. Had I the time I could have written up many reviews on the different establishments populating this rather pleasant space. Pleasant because of the hubub (is that how you spell it?). I would quite happily come here with a book – Morrissey's Autobiography (arguably one of the best books I've ever read) springs to mind, order tea and a pastry and simply sit here reading. Perhaps later.

I dropped into La Boulangerie Moderne after 'a day at the office' and, along with a colleague we ordered a drink and a snack, both choosing a Danish pastry, my colleague ordering coffee and me sticking with a nice cup of tea. All very pleasant and worthy of a mention. There were more chairs 'outside' then in where there was just a single strip of seats made to look longer than it was by a huge mirror that doubled the size of the establishment. Once again, a good selection of everything and as I didn't pay the bill, I don't know the price, although I'm guessing it wasn't extortionate.

I didn't eat both of those pastries, just the one.

Tea and a tart on my second visit.
With an afternoon to kill awaiting a night flight from Montreal to London, my colleagues and I headed back to the mall and found ourselves at the Boulangerie Moderne once again. This time we ordered tea and tarts. Both were excellent. The tea was so wonderful (straightforward English breakfast) that we each had another one and I was sorely tempted to buy another tart, but didn't.

il Panino Café Meditterraneo, rue Sainte-Catherine, Montreal, Canada

il Panino Café Meditteraneo, Montreal
The rue Sainte-Catherine seems to cut Montreal in two. It runs a considerable distance in both directions and takes in all the big brand name stores along the way. If, however, you take out the shopping section of the road, the rest tends to deteriorate in terms of quality on either side – dollar stores, strip joints and other sleazier sides of life. At Cabot Square, for instance, there were plenty of down and outs, in fact, Montreal seems to attract them, some quite young, with messages scrawled in marker pen on a piece of cardboard, the obligatory dog and, of course, a few blankets. At the other end of the street, behind the Hyatt Regency, it's a similar story. The quality of the restaurants deteriorate and soon, within, say, 15 to 20 minutes of walking, you're no longer in the swish part of town. I'd imagine it could all look pretty depressing in the rain.

Wherever you go in Montreal you'll come across Bixi Bike stations and, having riden around the city for a good hour – or at least it seemed that way – I parked up and went for a stroll along the rue Sainte Catherine (the bit 'behind' the Hyatt). After a ride, of course, hunger sets in and, having stumbled on a kind of internet café that was far too busy for my liking, I crossed the street and found a small (and empty) il Panino Café Meditteraneo.
My tea and pastry – both very nice and much needed

There were tiled floors and modern furniture: huge dark wood block tables, chairs with chromium legs and some trendy photographs of Mediterranean scenes on the walls: woman on a bike, bike alone, a close-up of an espresso machine's group head and so on.

There was a nice display of cakes and pastries and plenty of filled baguettes for those grabbing a lunch time bite. Lunch would be later, but what I needed was a cup of tea and a pastry so I chose a kind of ornate Millionaire's Shortbread, which probably just looked like one. It went by the name of a Carre fromage bleuts ($2.95). The tea was $1.74.

This was a good place and the service was friendly too, meaning that I'd definitely return if I was in the area. Afterwards, I found an amazing 'record' shop. The term seems redundant as it sold CDs and DVDs, but it was a great place, called, if I recall Volume and also on the rue Sainte Catherine.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Patisserie De Vermont, Rue de Vermont 3, 1202 Geneve, Switzerland

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Geneva is boring. The downtown is full of boring shops selling expensive watches, perfumes and clothes and there's an air of boredom everywhere. It even filters down to the city's caffs.
Look at the top of the shot (middle). You can see the staff member's foot. 

Take the Patisserie De Vermont: it lacked something. Actually, it lacked plenty of things, like customers for a start, but, like the bigger city in which it resides, it lacks character, personality, humour, everything. People say the Germans are a bit humorless, but they are not as bad as the Swiss. There's an air of misery, a hint of some kind of apathy. I can't put my finger on it, but the place isn't 'alive', unlike, say, Dusseldorf.

Perhaps its all the rich people hiding behind their shuttered properties, hoarding their money and trying to avoid paying hefty tax bills in their own countries. Perhaps it's got something to do with Switzerland's neutral status on the world political stage, I don't know, but if I was Obama I wouldn't come here to discuss nuclear weapons with Iran. It's the sort of the place that might make matters worse and by that I mean it's SO boring he might just say, "Oh, develop your weapons of mass destruction, I don't care, just get me out of this boring city."
The Vermont's interior. It needed more customers if the the truth be known.

As for the Vermont, well, it had round, Formica-topped tables, wood or possibly laminated floors and a servery showcasing a range of sweet and savoury pastries. Oddly, it might be licensed as I can see a bottle of Ricard and a small array of upturned glasses, although this seems common here; most of the small 'caffs' seem to be licensed, but it's understated. All this is tucked away in a corner behind the espresso machine.

There are orange walls and a huge mirror on the wall at the back through which I can see myself sitting alone at a table in the corner. I am the only customer. In fact, the only other person here is the proprietor – or the person who happens to be working here and she's not overly friendly. There's no cheery 'hello' or 'can I help you'. In fact, when I arrive, she's sitting in the opposite corner, by the mirror, reading the newspaper.

A radio is on and there is a Lindt Easter bunny wrapped in gold paper sitting on a high shelf, a reminder that we are in Switzerland, home of chocolate and expensive watches – the former making the place less boring, perhaps.
View from across the street.
I ordered tea and a sweet slice of something, I'm not sure what, but it was very tasty. The tea was served in a tall glass. Or rather the hot water was served in a tall glass and there was a sachet of Liptons tea accompanied by a sachet of sugar on a plate. Sadly, there was no milk as the Europeans simply don't understand tea. I think they turn their noses up at people who order tea, possibly because they find it difficult to serve. So difficult that they prefer to simply fill up a glass or cup with water and provide a tea bag, wrapped in paper, for the customer to throw in. As for not offering milk, well, that's simply unforgivable and I couldn't be bothered to ask as it would have meant disturbing her: she'd gone back to her seat by the mirror to continue reading her newspaper.

Not an ideal experience. It was boring, like the city and I couldn't wait to pay up and leave.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Tudor Rose Tearooms, Westerham, Kent, UK

Breakfast in Westerham, Kent and I'm not sure whether we're in a town or a village. Westerham is quite large for a village, so it's probably a town, but there's a village green, it's kind of rural around the edges and it's occasionally a little on the quirky side. This weekend, for instance, there was a 'scarecrows and soldier's festival complete with beer tents, battle re-enactments and scarecrows seemingly everywhere. The green looked like the set of The Wicker Man.

A feast fit for a king at the Tudor Rose Tearooms in Westerham, Kent, UK.
But we were here for breakfast and what better venue than the Tudor Rose Tearooms? The service was top notch, the weather was fine enough to sit outside and the food – scrambled egg on toast with beans and mushrooms, a sausage sandwich and a pot of tea – was top quality.

The Tudor Rose Tearooms is an established place. It's a kind of cross between tearooms and 'caff' and the two sides of the business blend together nicely. There's always a selection of decent cakes, the tea is very good – especially when served in bulbous teapots and, as I said earlier, the service was good too.

We arrived shortly before 8am when the place was closed, but it didn't take long before the wrought iron table and chairs were brought out front and a pleasant and friendly waitress took our order.

The bill for two was just under £13.00 (I can't remember exactly, something like £12.95) and bearing in mind the size of the meals, it was very good value for money. Check out the photographs!

The Tudor Rose Tearooms, Westerham, Kent – it's fantastic!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Waitrose Café, Banstead – I'd rather go to Pistachios in the Park...

Don't get me wrong, I've always liked Waitrose, the quality of the food is unrivalled – although some say M&S is better (and I disagree) – but when it comes to in-store catering, perhaps they should leave it to the experts. Not that in-store catering ever really shines and today proved to be no exception.

Wandering, or rather driving, aimlessly just for a bit of fresh air, I arrived, with my wife and daughter, in Banstead, Surrey. The plan was to take a walk and then go home, but, as we passed Waitrose, we spotted a Waitrose Café, an operation mentioned before on this blog, but never experienced first hand.

This shot of Pistachios on the Park courtesy of Families Online
I wasn't impressed, especially after my recent trip to the USA where I experienced the delights of Panera Bread.

Why wasn't Banstead's Waitrose Café my cup of tea? The answer is lengthy, but simple: it was disorganised, untidy, messy and off-kilter and there were many different reasons. First, the food display looked decidedly tired. Stocks hadn't been replenished and the whole thing had the look of a half nibbled through party buffet. Then there was the person behind the counter who was simply slow and unsure of herself. There was no urgency in her delivery. Regular-sized paper cups had run out, so I decided to have a small tea, like my wife and daughter, but then the regular cups turned up. My daughter had wanted a hot chocolate, but they'd run out of the necessary ingredients.

Eventually we sorted out our order: two small teas and one regular tea plus three iced cinnamon swirls, which were fantastic and cost just £1.19 each – the whole bill was just over £6.50.

What made the experience unpleasant was the mess on the floor surrounding our chosen table: broken gingerbread men and all sorts of rubbish was in dire need of being swept up, but nobody had bothered. It was like finding a table amongst the rubble of a toddler's birthday party in a local authority leisure centre. This sort of thing matters to me and while the cinnamon swirls were great (they were the only thing on display that looked anywhere near inviting) and the tea was fine, the fact that we had to sit in what amounted to a pile of rubbish and food debris – and I had to clear the table myself before we sat down – meant that next time I visit Banstead I'll be heading for the nifty-looking caff in the park, imaginatively named Pistachios in the Park.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Panera Bread – Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Panera Bread is a chain operation, let's make no bones about that, but it's good and worthy of mention. The one I've been visiting for breakfast over the past day or two is located within the same building as my hotel, the Quality Inn.
Paper cups – showing Panera's fast food credentials.

When I first visited Panera Bread I was a little unsure whether I liked it or not. It has a fast food store formula, combined with a bit of the Starbucks methodology of a separate area where you can put skimmed or whole milk in your tea and coffee. There's a bank of cashier terminals behind which is the store's menu displayed overhead like in a McDonald's.

Panera offers up a very spacious environment and, it has to be said, a homely atmosphere. It's even got a private dining area and larger tables for those who want to conduct meetings.

What I found impressive, apart from the cheap prices – $11.30 for a Power Sandwich (ham, egg and cheese) a Bear Claw (a pastry of which I'll explain more in a second or two), a hot tea (a ginger and orange concoction that was very enjoyable) and a bottle of fresh orange juice – was that the portions were not huge. You might think that a Power Sandwich would be a huge sub overflowing with crap, but it was just under the size of a normal sandwich in the UK and, it has to be said, was so tasty I could have ordered another

The pastries were a little on the large side and I discovered what I believe to be the best pastry ever – the Bear's Claw. I don't know what's in it, but in essence it's a Danish pastry shaped like a bear's claw and it was delicious. Worth every cent at $1.79 (roughly a quid in the UK, although, in the UK it would cost the best part of £3.00, probably just under, but equating to roughly $6.00).

I had a Bear's Claw yesterday too and loved it so much I couldn't resist another one this morning. f

Panera Bread is independent from the Quality Inn and is merely sharing the same building, but that's good news for Quality Inn customers and for Quality Inn as it doesn't have to provide a restaurant.
You can't beat a Bear's Claw – I could eat another one!

The lift in the hotel has one floor marked as R. This is the Panera Bread floor from where I have just hot-footed it to my hotel room to write this post.
That's a large plate and a large Danish pastry

Panera Bread is open throughout the day and right up to around 9pm in the evening. It's good and just what the doctor ordered if you don't like those poncy hotel breakfast services where you're checked in, directed towards a table and then asked if you want tea or coffee and so on. To be honest,  I like the poncy breakfast experience, but sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

There are standalone Panera Bread units too. Check out the link by clicking here.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Addy's Restaurant, 99 St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 44113 USA

A cup of tea for $1.19 in Addy's in Cleveland...nice place.
Restaurants like Addy's have largely disappeared from the high street and replaced, more often than not, with rubbishy branded operations that think they can charge a fortune and get away with it purely because they offer consistency. Yeah, right, like a consistently high price and the same old boring product wherever you are in the world. It's all a result of globalisation and it means that wherever you are in the world, there's a danger you might find a Claire's Accessories or a Starbucks or any other big brand name you might care to mention. Suddenly, the world is no longer an interesting place.

Well, as Buzz Lightyear said, 'not today!' In these troubled economic times I expect to see more restaurants like Addy's, not less of them. In the UK, in a Surrey town going by the name of Redhill, there used to be the Belfry Café. It was the sort of place where you could buy a huge brick of bread pudding and a large mug of tea for next to nothing, served by school dinner ladies. It's now an expensive Costa Coffee.

Addy's, I'm told, has been around for a long time and is part of the Cleveland furniture, so to speak. This, of course, is music to my ears and I'm starting to think that somebody would make a killing if they set up a 'cheap' restaurant like Addy's in the UK. It's all about volume in a place like this, but I'm guessing that Addy's does all right because people don't want to spend a fortune at lunch time.
Inside Addy's – note lack of tablecloths and tabletop condiments. Excellent!

I'd just had lunch in a slightly 'poncy' restaurant a few blocks away and while it was fine and I had a couple of glasses of cabernet, Addy's was where I should have been: sauce bottles on the table, no tablecloths, a laminated menu – heaven! And, most importantly, it won't break the bank.

But it's more than just price, it's the food on offer. Why is it these days that you only get to eat chopped sirloin and onions, roast beef dinner or grilled liver and onions when you visit grandma? It doesn't have to be that way. At Addy's you can get meals like these for $6.99 – wow! That's £3.50 thereabouts (the price of a cup of tea and a cookie in a UK-based Costa Coffee). Or how about shrimp in a basket for $6.99? Addy's is value personified, but sadly, I just had a cup of tea ($1.19) and had missed the earlier lunchtime bustle.

I say open more restaurants like this, even if it's goddamned chain, although chains = greed = extortionate prices, so let's just support our independent operators.

Addy's gets top marks just for being Addy's.

Arabica Coffee House, Standard Building, Cleveland, Ohio

I was determined to find some kind of independent coffee house in Cleveland, but kept getting directed to Starbucks – or rather, not directed to Starbucks, but when asked about coffee shops that was the name that was on most people's lips. Still, I managed to find the Arabica Coffee House and at first I was confused as to how to get inside.

The Arabica Coffee House is part of Cleveland's historic Standard Building, owned by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, a union of some kind and still the driving force behind this amazing building.

To reach the Arabica Coffee House you go into the Standard Building first and there it is, designed no doubt, for those working in the building. It's pretty basic, but the staff are friendly and the prices are ridiculously low when you compare it to a Costa Coffee in the UK. Put it this way, I had a white chocolate and macadamia nut cookie and a medium-sized paper cup of tea – for $2! That's about £1 in UK money. Had I ordered the same thing in a Costa, it would have set me back much more. That cookie would have been, at its cheapest, £1.75 and a pot of tea (carrying much less than my medium-sized paper cup) would have been roughly the same – that's £3.50 (or about $7).
Good value, friendly staff – Arabica Coffee House, Cleveland, Ohio.

When I told the girl serving about this she gasped with horror at the thought of paying so much for just tea and cookie.

I sat down for all of a minute when the phone rang and the girl said I'd have to go as she was getting a delivery, so I went out into the lobby of the Standard Building and watched the Ariel Castro sentencing on the television. Oddly, the whole thing had happened live across the street earlier in the day.

In Cleveland they pronounce 'Arabica' differently from the way we do in the UK. In the UK it's 'A-RAB-ica', but in Cleveland, it's 'ARA-beaker'. Strange but true.

Verdict: nice place and good value for money compared with the UK and, indeed, the Starbucks near the Cleveland Marriott, but they lost points for kicking me out when a delivery arrived.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sun, sea and the Lobster Pot in Felpham...what a great combination!

I haven't visited the old Lobster Pot for a while and I think the last time I was there I moaned about having to wait one hour for a sausage sarnie. Well, fair enough, but I'm never one to bear a grudge, certainly where my all-time favourite caff is concerned. And even if the larger-than-life lady is no longer around, the Lobster Pot abides, which is good news for Felpham and good news for people like me who remember the place from their childhood days – when it was called Perdido's – and who simply love the place.
This is an old photograph and I need to take a new one.

I've worked as a journalist for some time and I've spent a great deal of time writing about hotels, pubs and restaurants and once, it has to be said, I took somebody fairly senior in the foodservice industry to the Lobster Pot for lunch. Normally we'd have gone to some swanky joint with tablecloths and polished wine glasses, but instead we basked in the glory of the best caff on the South Coast. I'm going back to the days of the larger-than-life lady, of course, but I'd take business associates to the Lobster Pot today too, especially now it's open in the evenings, although I live too far away to make it practical without a hotel stay being involved.

So, anyway, here we are, talking about the Lobster Pot again and you're probably wondering why. Well, it's because I've been there again, last Sunday to be precise, on a scorching hot day. It was good, there was no long wait for food, we ordered the soup of the day, a bowl of chips and a chicken and chorizo sausage sandwich plus tea and milkshakes and the bill hovered around £21 – not bad at all!

The place was crowded with loads of people sitting outside taking in the sun, the tide was going down, revealing the wet sand and rockpools and, all-in-all it was worth another mention.

I'm no longer a foodservice journalist, but that won't stop me bringing business associates to the old Pot if the situation demands it.

To conclude, the Lobster Pot rocks. We returned for ice cream and I enjoyed another mug of tea too.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Le Metropole, 24 Place Rihour, Lille

Le Metropole, Lille.
I was really looking forward to finding a cosy café in which to settle down with a book for half an hour or so, but despite wandering around a grey and rain-soaked Lille looking for an ideal spot, I couldn't find anything and settled for Le Metropole.

Le Metropole doesn't really fit the bill, but it had to do. There was an old man sitting under an awning outside and behind him the darkened interior and the diner-style seating made me feel that it was the closest I'd get to luxury – although I was disappointed on so many levels. It just wasn't cosy enough. There were banknotes stuck to the walls and it was licensed, which means it doesn't strictly follow TeaShopandCaff guidelines.

I was in for breakfast – or rather a pre-breakfast as my official breakfast at the hotel beckoned. Having said that, had Le Metropole offered a decent breakfast, I might have settled in for half an hour or so before making tracks to work.

A teapot without a proper lid containing hot water – it just isn't cricket!
The French, I've discovered, just don't understand tea. If you order tea, they never provide milk and you have to ask for it, which is a bit of nuisance. And this time, I ordered my tea and a croissant too. The teapot didn't have a lid, but instead a small plate. There was hot water, not tea, in the pot and I was provided with a tea bag in a sachet, a wrapped biscuit that one normally gets with after-dinner coffee and the croissant, served as is, with no butter. I had to ask for milk and was given a small jug so I poured in a little dash of milk and returned the jug to the bar.

There were two other customers inside and they didn't seem very happy. One, in fact, seemed positively irritated with me for ordering tea and then having the audacity to ask for milk.

I drank my tea, finished my croissant and left having paid the EUR5.10 bill.

Not an ideal place, I thought, wondering if I would ever find the perfect cosy café. Later, I found a bar and enjoyed a medium-sized Chimay prior to catching the EuroStar to London. The Moulin D'or (31-33 Place du Theatre, 59000 Lille) was the perfect place and, if the truth be known, I probably could have ordered a pot of tea there, but it was early evening and a beer fitted the bill nicely.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Rosi's Sit Down Café, near The Moor, Sheffield City Centre

Ignore the graffiti, this is a great caff and worth a visit
The sun was shining and I had a little time to kill based on the fact that I'd risen early and was ready for a bit of fresh air at 7.30am. My hotel was in the city centre so I headed out for walk through Sheffield, following the tram lines as I was told by the hotel receptionist.

It goes without saying that I was on the look-out for an independent café, but all I could see was the well-known brands: Costa, Café Nero, Starbucks and Gregg's. I walked for what seemed like a fair bit of time, but was only 15 minutes, when I reached a sign saying The Moor. Looking ahead, it was a dead end, but I walked towards a strange-looking sculpture and had no option other than to turn left.

My journey had taken in plenty of closed down shops, which was depressing, but even more depressing was the lack of a decent 'caff'. But then I spotted Rosi's. It was open and I peered through the window to see what it looked like on the inside. It looked great: linoleum floorings, tubular steel chairs, tables covered with plastic tablecloths – tasteful ones.

Food was frying on the griddle and there was a friendly woman in charge, although she wasn't Rosi. Or was it Rosie? She told me that everybody calls it Rosie's, meaning that a letter 'e' might be missing from the name (although no space for it must mean that it's Rosi's).

The bright and cheery interior of Rosi's
I was the only customer, but then it was only 0745hrs. After a short while two young girls, probably on their way to school, came in and ordered something, bringing the total number of customers to three.

I liked the name of Rosi's Sit Down Café. It was the 'sit-down' bit I liked, something you don't hear 'down south'. Aren't all cafés 'sit-down'?

I ordered two slices of toast and a mug of tea and took a seat at the back of the restaurant where I perused the laminated menu. This was my sort of place: roast dinners, omelettes, snacks, they did everything here, even home-made pies (with gravy and fresh vegetables).
My mug of tea and two slices of toast – lovely!

In fact, let's take a look at some of Rosi's fine fayre: the aforementioned roast dinners are £5.00 (£4.50 for pensioners); the home-made pies range from £4.10 to £5.10 and there's one option with free tea or coffee. There's home-made quiche (from £3.10 to £4.10) a wide range of omelettes, jacket potatoes and pasta dishes. I mean, this is a caff's caff. If you live in Sheffield, go there today.

The toast was good and so was the tea, but I decided not to have a big fried breakfast and instead, after about fifteen minutes, I left and walked back to my hotel, past the branded coffee shops and bakeries, the shuttered shops and the Peace Gardens where water cascaded and fountains forced frothy water out of the ground.

I'm so glad I found Rosi's. The bill, incidentally, for two toasts and a mug of tea was a respectable £2.10p. What more could you ask for, I thought, picking up a newspaper and reading how Ken Barlow had been charged over 1960s rape allegations. What, I wondered, is the world coming to? I later read that veteran broadcaster Stuart Hall played his joker and owned up to various distressing crimes. He gets sentenced in June and is now branded a 'sexual predator'. Whatever next! Well, there's plenty more 'veteran broadcasters' coming up in front of the courts...

Friday, 19 April 2013

Chez Sophinette, 184 rue Cardinet, Paris

Chez Sophinette, Paris, 19 April 2013.
This small little café adjacent to my hotel, the Abrial, on the Rue Cardinet, Paris, looked a bit like a snack bar when I first passed by. There were 'meal deal' posters on the window, which is always a bad sign in my books. So, I weaved my way towards the Rue Brochant where, the night before, I had spotted a nice little café, but, alas, it was closed, so I walked around the block and went back to the Chez Sophinette.

It was a small place with tables by the window and a servery, behind which a rather attractive French woman was busying herself with whatever people who work in cafés busy themselves with.

"Bonjours!" I said with a smile, adding that it was the only word in French that I knew, but then, as I sat down to await my breakfast, I realised that I was mistaken: there were loads of words, especially if you took into account all those French words that have made their way into the English language, like 'entrepreneuer'.

I ordered tea, fresh orange juice and bread and jam, having turned down the traditional croissant, which, incidentally, the girl behind the counter DIDN'T pronounce in that awfully pretentious way that English people do: 'cwass-orr'. I hate that and found it refreshing that the French don't pronounce it that way, just poncy English people. I might be wrong, of course, and would only know the truth if I conducted some kind of survey by asking random Parisiens to say 'croissant'. Needless to say, I couldn't be bothered.

Petit Dejeuner – a small breakfast on a small tray, but then came the bread!
The breakfast was pleasant (see photo). A pot of hot water, a trendy tea bag (English breakfast), a can of fresh orange juice – rare to see these in the UK and, I have to admit, I thought she'd handed me a fizzy drink, like Fanta, but no, it was genuinely fresh, 100% orange juice with no added sugar. The bread was amazing. Not a slice of bread but a kind of crusty baguette thing smothered in strawberry jam. Oddly, I'd asked for marmalade and she told me I could have apricot or strawberry, not understanding, perhaps, that in England marmalade is predominantly made from oranges. Later, as she prepared my baguette she confirmed that I wanted 'red fruit'. Why didn't she say strawberry? The breakfast arrived on a small melamine tray and was nicely presented.

Within seconds of my arrival, others turned up and made similar orders as I gazed out of the window hoping that my toothache wouldn't return. The previous evening I'd gone out for dinner in a local Italian restaurant, not far from Chez Sophinette, and was in unbearable, jaw-breaking pain. So bad that I got the bill and left and, as I write this from my hotel room (room 406) I can still see the half bottle of Valpolicella with a cork stuck in the top. It's wasted and I should have left it in the restaurant. I had the choice: painkiller or wine? In the end I opted for the former.

The view from Chez Sophinette's window was not good: building sites, cranes, that sort of thing, and a busy road in front of it all, but that was the only down side and I'm guessing that once the building work is completed, the view will be much better. This was, effectively, a snack bar, not the sort of place to get cosy while reading a book, in my case, Cycling Home from Siberia by Rob Lilwall, which I finished on the Eurostar home.

The bill for my petit dejeuner was EUR4.50 – very reasonable. Downside? Not many, but it could have been a little cosier in my opinion.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Quality Café, Merstham, Surrey

A nice caff. Opens early and closes early too.
Here's a caff with some tough competition from local competitor Hunger's End on Merstham High Street. In fact, there's a big difference between the two establishments: one is on the main high street (which doubles as the busy A23) and the other is on a road leading down to the railway station.

The Quality Café is the underdog as it closes early, at 3.30pm, and it's side street location means it's not the first choice for the impulse buyer – unless it catches people coming off the train. Although in this case, Merstham residents would probably want something a little more upmarket, like the new art gallery on the corner of the same road with one foot on the high street.

A big breakfast: mushroom omelette and chips.
Merstham has three caffs: Hunger's End, the Quality Café and the new (ish) art gallery caff, but the two big players are Hunger's End and the Quality Café, which I'm guessing picks up the early birds on their way to work in the morning. Why does it close at 3.30pm? Probably because it's not worth staying open unless you're sitting pretty on the A23.

Big, gaudy menu and small servery, but this ain't a bad caff.
The caff itself is a bit gaudy in decor terms. Unlike Hunger's End, which has gone for that more rustic, local look (even though it is a proper 'caff') the Quality Café adopts a fast food stance, with a gaudy menu situated over a small servery and a bright easyJet orange decor. The green chairs are plastic and secured to the floor.

But in caff fayre terms, it's all you would expect to find: bacon and sausage rolls, chips, beans, omelettes and Full English breakfasts. They pile on the chips too. I ordered a mushroom omelette and was given mountains of chips and a decent-sized pile of baked beans. Just what the doctor ordered after strenuous exercise, but in others, just a bit over-the-top. I felt I needed more strenuous exercise to work it off.

A mug of tea is 90p, which ain't bad considering it costs £1.75 in a Costa Coffee.

All-in-all, a good caff, but remember to get there before it closes mid-afternoon. It should get rid of its fast food appearance, ie ditch the furniture screwed to the floor, and possibly consider getting rid of the gaudy orange paint job too.

On the prices front it was fine. My big breakfast and a mug of tea was under a fiver.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Coffee & Chocolate, Knoxville, Tennessee

Outside Coffee & Chocolate facing Market Square.
This excellent little coffee shop on Union Avenue, near Market Square, is well worth a visit if you fancy tea or coffee and perhaps a cookie or some kind of delicious cake. It's all to be found at Coffee & Chocolate.

I sat there on a Friday afternoon reading The Knoxville Journal while discovering how to kill a bit of time.

A medium-sized tea in a paper cup and a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie cost me $4.96.

The place followed the Starbucks model in terms of there being a jug of milk adjacent to the counter along with everything else, ie sugar sachets and plastic spoons.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Confiserie Tea Room Fredy's, Montreux, Switzerland

Confiserie Tea Room Fredy's, possibly named after Freddie Mercury
who lived here and has a statue to his memory in Montreux.
No more than a stone's throw from the shores of Lake Geneva, this excellent caff offers everything a caff aficionado is looking for: good value, high quality food, pleasant, efficient service and a decent atmosphere.

I'd walked from central Montreux for about one hour, following the pathway that hugged Lake Geneva until it ran out and I was forced to hit the road. The road follows the route of the 201 heading towards Vevey (in the direction I was travelling). After about an hour of walking I left behind suburban Montreux with it's old and seemingly empty mansions, some overlooking the lake, others overlooking the road. I was in a small town not that far from Vevey. I think it was called Vaud and the only reason I've worked that out (if I have) is that I've gone on to Google Maps and retraced my walk from central Montreux.
My soup and tea – lovely!

The address, according to Google, is 19 Grand-Rue, La Tour-de-Pielz, Vaud, Switzerland so I'm saying that's where this excellent little café is located.

It's fantastic as it sells everything from high quality cakes, pastries and bread to chocolates and has a small but cosy little restaurant area out back.

I chose a bowl of soup and bread (I can't remember the variety of soup, possibly leek and potato) plus a cup of tea, all for about seven Swiss Francs. The place was busy and, to be honest, I could have stayed there all day, but I only had enough money for the soup and tea so I savoured the moment, paid up and took the 201 bus back into Montreux.

If ever you find yourself in Montreux, there are a lot of places like this and they are truly magical places. I just wish I'd had a newspaper or my book with me as that would have been true bliss.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

TV star beats Starbucks to buy coffee chain

Patrick Dempsey
A report on Yahoo! Finance today states that Grey's Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey, better known as McDreamy, has won a bankruptcy auction to buy a small US coffee chain.

For more details, click here.