Tuesday, 28 June 2011

When in Devon...

The Town Mill Bakery, 2 Coombe Street, Lyme Regis, DT7 3PY

River Cottage Deli & Canteen, Trinity Square, Axminster , EX13 5AN

I spent this weekend on the Devon/Dorset border on a road trip to pick up some parts for the 1969 Volkswagen Beetle my boyfriend is restoring. We found a whole load of original parts being sold on eBay by a guy who lives there and thought we may as well make a weekend of it and go and pick them up ourselves. So, one B&B booking  (we stayed at Summer Lodge near Dalwood – the bed was heaven and the cooked breakfast amazing) and five hours in a hire car later, we arrived in Devon a bit too early to check in and headed over to Lyme Regis to get our fill of sea air.

Once we’d parked the car and headed down a very steep hill towards the town centre, we happened across an artisan bakery/cafe called The Town Mill Bakery. Naturally curious, I popped my head through the door to have a good nose. I'm ashamed to say that I did not stop for anything to eat or drink, but you can see from their photo library that everything looks scrumptious in the extreme. It’s also all either organic or locally sourced so is easy on the conscience too.

More than the food and drink, I was enchanted by their approach to customer service which involves a ‘help yourself and pay at the end’ ethos. I thought the sense of mutual trust and freedom afforded to customers made the place feel very laid back and it seemed like somewhere I could easily feel at home and while away a few hours. Encouraged to help yourself to a mug and wooden board (otherwise referred to as a plate) then dig into the treats on offer, you can eat your fill and then pay for what you’ve had on the way out.

Taking a slightly different approach, but with that similar West Country relaxed charm, the River Cottage canteen in Axminster gave us a memorable evening meal. I know it’s not strictly a cafe so is rather off topic for this blog, however as a dining experience, my visit was so enjoyable that I had to share it.

The cavernous barn-like space, chunky wooden furniture and menus chalked up on boards give Axminster’s River Cottage canteen a more relaxed feel than many restaurants. However, it was not without a sense of occasion and many of the people there were celebrating birthdays or other events. As an affordable alternative to Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall’s original River Cottage it can’t be knocked. We had three courses each and one alcoholic drink for under £60 which isn’t bad considering the celebrity-chef affiliation.

Whether you’re feeling adventurous and go for something similar to the crispy pig’s head salad and ox’s liver with lentils and bacon, or stick to the safe bet of the soup and slow roasted shoulder of pork, you won’t be disappointed with the food. The puddings were also spot on with a dribble-inducing chocolate tart and deep cheesecake with fresh local strawberries making our selection.

The Town Mill Bakery are on Facebook and Twitter, they also have a website and blog.

River Cottage has a website, and can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A review of The Natural Kitchen

77-78 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 5JX

As well as cafes, coffee and cake, one of my favourite hobbies is reading. I love books. Fiction, non-fiction, coffee-table, picture books – I love them all. It probably helps that I was brought up in a house resembling a library and that my mum even worked in one for a lot of my childhood.
Daunt Books

Generally, whilst whiling away a few hours in a favourite cafe I will have a favourite paperback at the ready to keep me entertained. But quite often I run out of books to read and must seek out my next venture. I usually beg, borrow or steal books from friends and family, or failing that, I head off to my nearest charity shop for a few hours browsing. However, if I’m feeling particularly decadent, I’ll head over the Marylebone and peruse the shelves of Daunt Books – a retro emporium containing every tome imaginable.

It was on one such day, whilst in a decadent frame of mind, that I headed into The Natural Kitchen also on Marylebone High Street seeking out a caffeine and sugar hit to see me through the first few pages of my new book. The cafe-cum-deli-cum-restaurant is slightly confusing on first entering. Making my way upstairs I asked the waiting staff if it was ok to have a seat and just have some coffee and cake and was promptly informed that afternoon tea did not start until 4pm and was hastily banished downstairs.

Now, I know I was in Marylebone so had to expect that certain customs would be different to, say, my local cafe in Bethnal Green, but I must admit I was a bit taken aback at their rigid approach to dining. However, once installed in a more suitable environment for stuffing my face I did find a delectable selection of muffins at the front counter which I could order and eat at a table at the back.

NATURAL KITCHENI went for the seeded, spiced carrot cake muffin, though I did also eye up the blueberry as a close contender. The coffee was also very tasty and came in generously sized mugs so that I had plenty of time to get stuck in to my new book without running out.

The menu in the informal downstairs space centred on cakes, salads and quiches/flans which can be purchased in containers in various combinations. Prices are predictably steep given the location - a salad will set you back between five and seven pounds. However, you can grab a sarnie for under four quid so it’s not totally exclusionary.

Once I’d finished my afternoon tea (although it was still not quite four ‘o clock), I perused the shelves of seasonal, organic etc. produce and happened across some of my Mum’s favourite liquorice tea bags which she was finding it rather hard to get hold of in deepest darkest Essex. Clutching my purchase I slipped out into the rain and back to the east end, where I belong.

You can check out The Natural Kitchen's website here.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A review of The Counter Cafe & The Container Cafe

Image: www.urban75.org
The Counter Cafe, Stour Space, 7 Roach Road, London, E3 2PA

The Container Cafe at the View Tube, The Greenway, Newham, Stratford, East London

I read Timeout’s ‘London’s best brunches’ with interest this weekend as I’m always keen to find new cafes to visit and review and I was rather curious to see which establishments I recognised in their shortlist. On the most part, they seem to have got the gist of most of London’s geographical areas, although what one likes and doesn’t like about a cafe is so subjective it can be difficult to grasp exactly why they made certain choices. What am I saying? I write a cafe review blog – of course reviews are to be trusted. Mine are anyway....

So, having studied Timeout’s article this weekend, I was reminded to review a little-known, but critically acclaimed cafe in Hackney Wick called The Counter Cafe. I was fortunate enough to happen across The Counter when my friend moved into the adjacent block of flats, and when she moved out my boyfriend conveniently moved in, so my antipodean breakfast fix never went unnourished. Until now.

Now that we live the other side of Victoria Park, and there are so many excellent cafes in our vicinity we don’t go back as much as we should. That’s not to say we haven’t – The Counter’s Brunch is in fact good enough to tempt me to traipse across East London even in the rain – but it does take a rather strong craving on my part to make the trip.

The breakfasts at The Counter are the closest thing I have come to a truly Aussie breakfast in London – tomato chutney and potato cake and all. Their big breakfast doesn’t come cheap but is totally worth it in that you find your hunger sated, taste buds tingling and tummy much happier than if you’d headed to the local greasy spoon. You even get spinach – really, they’re thinking of you.

Whether you’re after a croissant, baguette with bacon and avocado or the full monty, The Counter has something for everyone and now it’s moved into Stour Space it even has a mezzanine level and view of the canal – snazzy.

If you’re over this end of town, you may as well make a trip of it and take a walk down the Green Way to The Container Cafe which makes up the ‘eating’ part of the London Olympics’ View Tube experience. Come for a wander to help your breakfast digest, take in the Olympics site and top up those caffeine levels with one of their expertly poured ‘frothy coffees.’ Run by the same people, you get all the perks of The Counter, but on a slightly reduced scale.

You can find a map of how to get from The Counter Cafe to The Container Cafe here.

 The Counter Cafe is on Facebook, Twitter, and, they even have their own website.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A review of The Manor

52 Gardner Street, Brighton, BN1 IUN

It’s raining and I’m cooped up indoors going a little stir crazy so I’ve made myself a window seat where I can look out at the rain to try and conjure a sense of being cosy and tucked up indoors. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but as it’s June I’d much rather it be sunny so I can get out and about.

While I’m stuck inside I figured I may as well make the most of the opportunity to do some writing so will revisit Brighton, where I was last Sunday, and a quality eating establishment called The Manor in the city’s North Laines.

I’ve been to The Manor twice now, on my last two visits to Brighton. Located centrally between the city’s vibrant North Laines and the city centre, it’s about the right distance between the train station and the sea front to make the perfect pit stop for lunch on the way out or afternoon tea on the way back.  Having partaken in both of these activities, I am pleased to report that both are delightful and well worth the trip from London or further afield.

The food is seriously reasonably priced compared to many other places in a city where tourists keep prices slightly inflated all year round. It’s also responsibly sourced which reduces ones ethically (if not calorie) induced guilt.

Stopping for lunch, we sampled most of the sandwiches on offer between our group of four and found each of them delicious with generous fillings, crisps on the side and half a portion of chips for only a few quid extra. My vegetarian friend was also pleased to find that there were a few options for her on the menu.

To drink, we had celebratory Pimms as it was said vegetarian’s birthday, but I also had some Earl Grey tea which automatically came with milk on the side (it’s always so embarrassing when you have to ask for it like some kind of tea heathen).

The chunky wooden furniture makes for a cosy feel and there’s a spot to suit everyone, whether it’s out on the street in the sunshine, just inside for some slightly more covert people watching or upstairs where some homely touches such as flowers and candles make for more of a tearoom aesthetic.

Find out more about The Manor on their website, or follow them on Twitter.