Sunday, 17 July 2016

Tiffins, Petworth, West Sussex, United Kingdom

Tiffins, Petworth – a brilliant teashop and caff
Petworth in West Sussex is one of those towns where one can wander around, looking at antiques and admiring (during the summer months) the splendid hanging baskets that seem to be everywhere. 

There's a fair smattering of eateries here too in the shape of pubs and cafés and tearooms, everything you might expect, and let's not forget Petworth House, a stately home the town can be proud of; and while I haven't been there for some time, I expect that it too has a café and a gift shop – for me the highlight of any stately home visit. Let's be honest, if it wasn't for the tearoom and the gift shop, it would be incredibly boring.

But this review is not about stately homes, it's all about Tiffin's Tea Room, a place I stumbled upon a year or two ago and one I keep coming back to with my family as it's perfect in every sense and never, ever disappoints. There's a touch of Miss Marple too, a key ingredient of any self-respecting tearoom thanks to its mis-matching cups and saucers – a touch of the Margaret Rutherfords, perhaps – it's all here, but couched in a bright and breezy environment with friendly staff and pleasant customers.

Four cheese ciabatta with onion marmalade...tops!
Tiffins' key attribute is the friendly staff. All the best tearooms and caffs have a 'larger-than-life lady and Tiffins is no exception. I don't mean 'large' in the physical sense, but in presence and while I don't know the name of the woman at Tiffins, I get the impression that she's in charge. What I like about her is she knows what she's doing, she knows the menu, she knows everything and she takes control, which is great. It's important to have somebody there, guiding you through the menu, helping you make that all-important choice and backing up whatever decision you make. It's part of the experience.

I was at Tiffins yesterday (Saturday). We had decided to drive to Petworth and a trip there isn't complete without a visit to this great tearoom. The larger-than-life-lady greeted us like old friends, which was great, we took a seat, a waitress approached and we ordered. I had a three-cheese ciabatta with onion marmalade plus a pot of tea, we ordered two carrot and coriander soups, which always includes a slice of crusty bread and butter, and a jacket potato with tuna and beans, plus another tea. In fact, it was tea all round and a hot chocolate for my daughter.
A bright and breezy interior at Tiffins...
The food here is wonderful. The soups are flavoursome, the ciabatta was just what the doctor ordered and the jacket potato an ample size, but not over the top (as they can be in some establishments). The tea was pleasant too, it always is, and the other clientele quiet and well-behaved – no babies having their nappies changed in here – although I don't want to give the impression that Tiffins is in any way 'stuffy', it isn't. Quite the contrary – it's a bright and breezy place with specials advertised on a colourful wall on the left as you walk in; they sell their own jams, chutney and honey for £3.50 a jar, there are home-made cakes.

We ordered a Victoria sponge and a rhubarb and ginger sponge. The latter was iced. Both were perfect! 

Off the top of my head, I can't remember the final price, but it would have been reasonable – it must have hovered around the £18 to £25 mark as we were a party of four and I don't begrudge paying that sort of money if the food is good and the service impeccable.

It goes without saying that whenever we're in Petworth we find our way to Tiffins for one simple reason: it's perfect in every way. Service with a smile always, decent food and beverages, reasonable prices and a pleasant, bright and breezy atmosphere. It's what a British tearoom is all about after all.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Robertsons Coffee Shop, Oxted, Surrey, UK

There's nothing worse than the smell of babies, if you get my drift, with your cherry Bakewell – or any other cake for that matter. There's nowt worse than the smell of babies answering the call of nature, full stop, especially when you've ordered a toasted teacake with cinnamon honey and a pot of tea, and there's nothing worse than a running commentary from the baby's mother as she goes through the process of changing her baby's nappy. Actually, there's more. There's nothing worse than the sound a baby makes prior to having its nappy changed – especially if you're eating.

I was in Robertsons Coffee Shop in Oxted, Surrey, on a Saturday afternoon. I'd nipped in for a quick cuppa and something to eat, having enjoyed a cheese and pickle sandwich and a bowl of soup in the same establishment the previous Saturday. I've been here before, a few years ago, and there's now a sign outside exclaiming 'under new management'. Look, it's quite simple, I don't have a problem with women breast-feeding in public, but when it comes to changing a baby's nappy, surely that's why they invented baby changing facilities in the restrooms.

It's a good place, but we happened to experience a nappy changing moment.
My companions and I ordered two teas, a hot chocolate, two toasted teacakes with cinnamon honey and two scones – very dry scones – and, all-in-all, we weren't over the moon. Cue a nasty aroma drifiting in from the other corner of the room where a baby was enjoying answering the call of nature, twice, in the space of about 10 minutes, accompanied by some stunningly realistic sound effects – realistic because they were real, not fake. The sounds certainly affected my attitude towards the food I had ordered. And let's not overlook the running commentary from the mum, something like, "Ooh! Look at that!" as she admired the contents of the baby's nappy, which, like a museum, had opened to the public, in this case the clientele of Robertsons Coffee Shop.

There was an awning outside, it wasn't cold, but the weather was changeable: one minute sunshine, the next rain. Why didn't the manager point the woman in the direction of the fresh air, thereby allowing the aroma, if that's the word, to travel the length of Oxted's quaint high street and disappear into the atmosphere rather than mix with the more pleasing aroma of freshly ground coffee?

Robertsons is one of those quaint places that sells teapots and biscuits and different teas, not forgetting chocolates and cups and saucers and coffee beans. The teashop or 'caff' element of the business is through some doors at the back of the shop. It's an enclosed space, not ideal if you're baby's in the mood to pick up the phone to Mother Nature. Windows were good and it wasn't good for the nostrils, put it that way – or the appetite.

But let's take a look at the bill. There were four of us and the bill was just short of £18. A pot of tea for one was £2.50 (we had two pots) – more expensive than in a Costa. A hot chocolate was £3.25, those dry scones were £2.25 each and the toasted tea cakes were £2.50 each! The smell of a baby being changed? That was complimentary – on the house!

We left Robertsons Coffee Shop almost £18 lighter and let me make one last observation: the cakes on display were not exactly a welcoming selection. Most had been sold, but not replenished. There were small chunks of three different cakes under one of those clear plastic containers. It could be that the cakes were so good they had all sold out, bar what was left, but when I visit a coffee or teashop and there's a paltry display of cakes, it's always a little bit depressing, even more so if there's the unmistakable smell of babies.

Look, where the baby was concerned, these things happen and I'm sure Robertsons Coffee Shop isn't always choc-a-bloc with babies desperate to lighten their loads by answering the call of nature – twice. For that reason, we won't rule it out in future if ever we're in Oxted – and we will be – but I'll check the price of a cuppa in Costa first, although I'm sure there will be babies misbehaving in there too.