Before the chaos of the festive period began I went to visit my Mum who now lives in Essex. Despite it’s bad press and tacky image on TV Essex is a beautifully green county where you can swap your heels for hunters and enjoy the countryside. Mum wanted to visit a small craft centre she had often driven past to see what was on offer and with the promise of tea and cake I did not take much persuading.
The Blake House Craft Centre is just outside Braintree in Essex and consists of converted farm buildings housing a variety of businesses including a reclamation shop, holistic health centre and haberdashers. You can find bespoke pieces of furniture and nicknacks for the home, have your tarot cards read or treat yourself to a piece of handmade jewellery. Conservatory and new kitchen show rooms sit in juxtaposition and seemed a strange addition for a “craft centre”. Never the less it was a pleasure getting lost in the personality of each stable showcasing their wears.
The centre piece is an imposing 17th century timbered barn housing Timbers Restaurant. The building is stunning with its exposed beams and wonky walls. Inside is dimly lit with a sense of history. The high ceilings let you know you are in a barn and you can picture the towering sheaves of wheat, barley and oats that would have been housed here from the harvest. Dark wood and lanterns give slightly more atmosphere than is required for an afternoon snack and the sight of the dark patterned carpet elicited memories of the good old British pub (thankfully our feet did not stick to it and there wasn’t a lingering smell of cigarette smoke from the 90’s).
The serving counter and till area doubles up as the bar in the evenings, with the only fluorescent lighting in the room dowsing the staff there was a sense of a working mans club. Bottles of spirits and beer on tap stood proud next to stainless steel tea pots and a display of the teabags on offer. It felt an odd combination but the cake counter looked divine, with lots to choose from. The one that caught my eye was a spiced parsnip, maple and pecan cake!! What a combination! Mum ordered the St Clements cake, which would have been my second choice.
Around us people were eating their Sunday roast (which looked amazing) and up on the mezzanine floor a large party was enjoying the full afternoon tea. Although it was busy there were plenty of staff so we did not have to wait long to be served. Delicious slices of cake on delicate vintage plates were served next to pots of Twinnings tea. It’s a shame the cups were not of the same nature as the sturdy white cups had more of a little chef feel that an afternoon tea vibe.
The parsnip cake was a delight, lightly spiced with sharp cream cheese icing, drizzled with sweet maple sauce. A fabulous alternative to my favourite carrot cake. You can’t usually convince me to eat a parsnip, not even roasted in honey! However it seems if you bake with eggs and flour and smother it in icing I don’t take much persuading. The St Clements was more sweet that citrus but the icing was zesty and the sponge light. I found this slightly drier that the parsnip cake but by no means too dry to enjoy.
I was torn in my opinion of this venue as it felt dated, however I loved the decor that was sympathetic to the buildings origins; antique farming equipment and copper pots around the wood burner. I fear Timbers is trying to be all things to all people, serving hearty breakfasts and Sunday roasts, afternoon teas and real ales as well as putting on evening entertainment and an a la carte menu. I can imagine their clientele is loyal and local, with families able to bring along all generations for good food and entertainment. Perhaps a little ambiguous in comparison to the dedicated tea shops I have visited, however I cannot fault the quality of the food, all the cakes are home made and fresh, served by friendly staff who were happy to help.
We sat in the candle light enjoying our treat and catching up on life, which is imperative when your family is not on your door step. The venue becomes irrelevant when the company is so important and perhaps that is why this business is thriving. After all if it aint’ broke……..
Timbers @ Blake House Craft Centre, Raine, Braintree, Essex, CM77 6RA TEL: 01376 552553