Cake Diary: Lavenham Blue Tea Rooms

Cake Diary: Lavenham Blue Tea Rooms

The sad thing about friends moving away is that you don’t get to see their lovely face everyday. The good thing is you get to visit them and find new amazing tea rooms!

A dear friend from work moved to Suffolk at the end of last year and last weekend another friend and I finally got the chance to visit her. Knowing me as she does she found a beautiful little tea room for us to visit in the quaint medieval village of Lavenham.

My friend and I had hit the road early to find this rural retreat, winding our way through country lanes, the grey sky draping itself over naked trees, surrounded by muddy, fallow fields patiently awaiting spring. Amidst the grey February drizzle the new pad emerged and like a pocket of sunshine in the gloom there she was welcoming us with open arms.

On such a dreary afternoon it is a struggle for anywhere to look appealing, but Lavenham still managed to entice us. Narrow streets lined with wonky cottages lead us to the village square, frozen in time you can visualise the bustle of a medieval market horse and cart now replaced combustion engines and sat navs!

Tucked just off the main square is Lavenham Blue Tea Room. A stunning 15th Century listed building, it was once the village barber but now welcomes people for tea and cake. Amanda, the owner, welcomes you with a smile, a picture perfect tea lady with her pinnie round her waist, clutching a cosied tea pot. She was so accommodating, moving tables to fit in our party of 5 and making sure we were comfy throughout our visit.

Amazingly this tearoom is set in the downstairs of Amandas home. Lovingly converted it displays nicknacks from her life including four generations of family photographs. A grammar phone plays in the corner transporting you back to the 1940’s as you peruse the RAF memorabilia. Lavenhams RAF base was utilised by the USA during the second world war leaving it’s international influence across this traditional British village. The artefacts and photos take centre stage on the white washed walls, framed by exposed beams and surrounded by antique furniture.

The menu was a delight with locally sourced produce at its heart; the bread from the main square and scones from just two doors down, handy should they need a fresh batch. Breakfasts and brunches, soups and sarnies all homemade and hearty. I opted for the ploughman’s lunch, a platter to nibble on leaving room for cake of course!

None of us were disappointed as the food arrived, fresh and delicious. The portions were generous with the cheese cut in slabs and the bread served in hunks. Thankfully there is no rush in Lavenham and we were free to graze as we chewed the cud.

With time to rest before we embarked on cake I was ready for something sweet. The counter was laden with everything from traditional Victoria sponge to warming ginger cake and indulgent chocolate fudge. The toffee apple cake had caught my eye, topped with slices of fresh apple and doused in thick, gooey caramel dripping down it’s sides. To accompany it I ordered a pot of Assam, warming and malty it was the perfect brew.

The lace covered tables were set with doily adorned plates, vintage china tea sets and cake stands. Dainty sugar cubes ready to be tonged and a china bell on each table which can be chimed to summon a free teapot refill. Our cakes arrived with a side of ice cream to compliment the flavour of the slice, for me vanilla and caramel.

The cake was stunning, moist chunks of apple encased in light, gluten free sponge. The caramel on top was rich and smooth, the cold ice cream cleansing the pallet between each bite. The apple on top gave the slice freshness and crunch to contrast the soft, sweet apple within. All I needed was a sparkler and it’d be like bonfire night all over again!

With our bellies satisfied we kept the afternoon nap at bay with some fresh air and a wander around the local antique store. This little village is ripe for exploring but both time and weather were against us on this occasion so we headed home. The perfect excuse to head back when the sun is shining!

No matter the time of year Lavenham Blue Tea Rooms will bring sunshine to your day. The drives around the Suffolk countryside are stunning and the welcome you receive is whole hearted. So whether with new friends or catching up with old ones, order a refill and catch up over cake.

Lavenham Blue Vintage Tearoom, 6 Market Place, Lavenham CO10 9QZ    

TEL: 01787 248295  

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Cake Diary: Flourish

Cake Diary: Flourish

One of the many joys of having an artisan baker as a friend is that she finds little bakery gems and invites me along to test them out. Purely market research you understand as we would not normally like to spend our days off chit chatting over cups of tea and enjoying freshly baked produce!……. It’s a tough life.

This week we discovered Flourish, a craft baker tucked away on an industrial estate in Watford. As the sat nav led us past tyre fitters and wholesalers I began to think we were in the wrong place (I don’t trust sat nav’s at the best of times) but then it emerged before us. In contrast to it’s run down industrial surroundings Flourish stands proud with grey painted brickwork and slick black signage; a clean and sleek oasis.

The building is huge with the bakery taking up the majority of it, they need the space as they supply several high end hotels in London as well as The Grove locally. Sitting proudly at the front is the cafe with rustic, warm decor of reclaimed wood panelling and worn leather seats, welcoming you in to the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. Vintage pastry trays and pans line the walls while wooden crates display goods for sale, simple yet elegant. Above each table a low hanging pendant light keeping an intimate feel and your focus on the food before you.DSC_0112

The wood panelling is punctured with bright windows of white light showing you the inner workings of the bakery. Machines whirring and hands kneading, just a pane of glass between the creators and the client.

The breakfast and brunch menu is simply mouth watering, there are no greasy spoons here! Fresh, vibrant ingredients lovingly put together to satisfy your hunger, the difficulty is deciding what to have. Having tried and failed to cook the perfect poached egg more times that I care to admit I now leave this nemesis of mine to the experts. Clearly these guys knew what they were doing so I ordered the smashed avocado and poached eggs with halloumi, on sourdough.

I had prepared myself for the menu choices and I knew the selection of breads and bakes would be varied. I had not, however, expected there to be such an interesting tea selection. The brand stocked is Birchall’s, an eco-concious London tea company who have developed plantations around the world. They work closely with the communities they’re in, are rain forest alliance certified and fair trade. Amongst the more familiar blends I noticed one on the menu I had not heard of before, Virunga….I was intrigued.

Virunga tea is grown at high altitude in Rwanda, close to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Virunga National Park. Not only does this park nurture exquisite tea plantations it is also home to endangered wildlife such as Mountain Gorillas. You can read more about Birchalls conservation work at their website where they also recommend a Netflix documentary called “Virunga” for an insight into the area. One for the watchlist me thinks. Large companies have such an obligation to the nations they work with, amazing produce can be grown whilst still caring for the environment and local communities.

In the bag Virunga is a fine black tea and in the cup it brews a warm russet colour. I found it a little strong to drink without milk – as my friend described it “It’s very Tea-ee”! I would have to agree. A strong and earnest brew it will appeal to those who like a DSC_0097“proper cuppa”. Slightly more refined around the edges that a builders brew but still packs a punch. Virunga also comes in earl grey and Chai blends which may be softer on the palate but I am yet to try.

Brunch was nothing short of eggy perfection. The sourdough, toasted but still soft, had a delicious chewy crust, slathered with creamy, smashed avocado. The halloumi was pleasingly squeaky (I expect nothing less from squeaky cheese!) and not as salty as many supermarket brands. As I popped each egg the golden yolk flowed dressing the plate with sunshine. A gentle sprinkle of chilli & chives graced each fork full providing just a tingle of warmth. My plate was cleared and my tummy was full. So full I had to get my sweet treat to take away!

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The counter had plenty on offer, from huge slabs of carrot cake to delicate fruit tarts. It’s not often I go for a chocolate choice but I was enticed by the coconut brownie. A good few hours later that afternoon as the 4pm slump hit and the kettle was on I tucked in. Not as gooey as some brownies but I don’t think thats a bad thing. Sturdy enough to hold and bite in to, the desiccated coconut adding both texture and flavour to the bitter sweet chocolate. Deliciously satisfying and definitely worth the wait!

The vibe of Flourish is very much of an artisan bakery but their wealth of experience and expertise comes across in droves. There is little reason to visit this North Watford industrial estate but for the delicious food, welcoming service and artisan loaves that entice people back time and again. I doubt you’ll be passing but I highly recommend a detour.

Flourish, Unit 2 Garnett Close, Watford, WD24 7GL         TEL: 01923 630588

Cake Diary: Camphill Cafe

Cake Diary: Camphill Cafe

With the weather being as glorious as it has been of late my other half and I decided to explore somewhere new to walk the dog. We headed up to Milton Keynes (the land of round abouts) to enjoy a picnic by Willen Lake. Amidst the sprawling housing estate that is Milton Keynes is this oasis where you can do as little or as much as you choose. There is an array of water sports on offer on the lake, from rowing to wakeboarding and most things in between, but as tempting as the swan pedalos looked we kept our feet (and paws) on dry land!
The park is vast and once within in you soon forget that you are in the middle of suburbia. We walked around the lake trying our hand at some of the exercise pit stops along the way (this challenge came to an abrupt end when I beat my other half on the monkey bars!). So to keep the peace we kept moving, meandering along the banks enjoying the sunshine.
In contrast to the sporty, fast paced South Lake the North Lake is home to a Buddhist temple and the first peace pagoda to be built in the western world. We clambered up the hill beyond the pagoda and found the “one world tree”, its branches heavy with messages of hope, photos of loved ones who have passed and ribbons of remembrance. We took a moment in this peaceful place, surrounded by cherry trees, to read some of the messages.

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Just a short stroll took us to the perfect spot to sit and unwrap our sandwiches, overlooking the labyrinth and the lake beyond. The dog was content playing fetch and returning in hope of a spare crust to keep his energy up. Hours could be spent enjoying this clean and open space but cake was calling our name and I had found somewhere nearby to satisfy this urge.
Just across the road from Willen Lake North and the car park for the peace pagoda is a wonderful place called the Camphill Cafe. Camphill is an organisation that offers support and development for adults with learning difficulties or disabilities. They run a community where residents live as independently as possible whilst being supported for their individual needs.


Co-workers live alongside the residents assisting them with day to day activities and as many of the workers visit from abroad the residents, in turn, assist them in practicing their English language skills. It is a partnership throughout and the residents are encouraged to take part in various activities and workshops that are available on site on site.
One of these workshops is the cafe where residents develop their social skills, customer service and food preparation knowledge. Serving seasonal lunches, hot beverages and cakes baked on site in the Camphill bakery. The bakery and gardens are other areas where residents can learn about growing plants and vegetable or making bread and baked goods, all of which go on to be sold in the cafe. The pickles and preserves the residents are taught to make are also sold in the community shop. It’s a hands on environment making the site essentially self sufficient, its great to be able to meet those who have hand made many of the products on offer.
As we arrived it was like entering a small village, peaceful and slow paced. The gardens are exquisite with the residents clearly taking pride in the pruning and planting. The shared accommodation wraps itself around a small green area, with residents milling about running errands or off to their scheduled workshops. The cafe is modern in it’s decor, pine furniture and simple table dressings. Every wall filled with art work for sale and murals of the community, the space is filled with colour and light. We took a seat outside in front of the lawns to enjoy the sun.
Our dog attracted a lot of attention as numerous residents came over to enquire about him and take an interest in our day. With our order taken we welcomed the interactions, finding out more about the residents and how they fill their days. Some, it seems, have a preference for working in the cafe whereas others like to mix it up by spending each day doing something different. It is clear that they all get a lot of satisfaction out of what they do and a real sense of independence.
The cakes and scones on offer all looked delicious and the slices were generous to satisfy the appetite we had worked up walking around the lakes. Today my slice of choice was coffee and walnut. Not being a coffee drinker I am often cautious when it comes to this flavour but to my delight the balance of coffee to cake was perfect; soft sponge with just a hint of coffee, complimented by the sweet icing and bitter walnuts. My partner in cake ordered the Victoria sponge which was equally healthy is size with a generous layer of icing in the middle.


We selected a pot of mint tea to accompany our cakes, I always find this brew more refreshing on a warm day as it is still palatable as it cools down. I was impressed that the cakes are baked on site and the residents should feel a great sense of pride in the products they produce. I am not encouraging you to visit Camphill out of obligation or to feel good that you have contributed to those who require support in day to day living. I am encouraging you to visit because the cake is delicious, the produce is fresh and seasonal and it is the epitome of locally produced. The fact you’ll meet some amazing people and support this fantastic charity is just the cherry on the cake.
Camphill Cafe, Japonica Lane, Milton Keynes MK15 9JY TEL: 01908 308738

Cake Diary: Petersham Nurseries

Cake Diary: Petersham Nurseries

Being a foodie people regularly recommend places which I may enjoy visiting for food, drinks and, of course, tea. A colleague of mine had been urging me to visit London’s Borough Market for some time, with stories of street food and fresh produce from around the globe, eclectic backgrounds come together for the love of food and the vibe of our great capital city. Several months ago we put a date in our diary so she could share this amazing place with me but sadly it was not to be. Just one week prior to our planned visit 3 men took innocent lives in this vibrant market place and with the Police working hard to investigate it the market remains closed at this time.

Despite the inevitable fear and caution I felt inside I knew that acts of terror must not deter us from living our lives. The closure may have caused us to change our plans but London would still be our destination. Even during world war 2 milkmen made their deliveries, we are British and no enemy, near or far, will stand between us and a brew!

London milkman, 1940
Photo by Fred Morley – Learn more here

The weather was kind to us as we left the Shires and headed into the city, first stop Camden Town. The streets were heaving with rivers of people flowing in and around the market stalls and we were soon swept away. My senses over whelmed with colours and sounds from each of the stalls. Bespoke handmade jewellery, scarfs and bags through to antique books, records and clothing. Truly something for everyone which is reflected in the clientele.

Our noses lead us to the food stalls where you can travel the world in just a few paces. When offered the world on a plate where do you start?! Thailand or Mexico, America or the Middle East? In the end I landed in Greece with fresh falafel and halloumi wraps drizzled in yogurt dressing, crunchy salad and topped with pomegranate it was the perfect lunchtime treat.

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Leaving behind the white water pace of Camden we hopped onto the water bus to head west. The dockside was lined with swinging legs soaking up the sun, passing them we meandered through Regents Park to our next stop, Little Venice. Tree lined avenues radiate out from the Grand Union and Regents canals with ornate barges decorating the waters edge, city life slows down to just four knots. You can re-fuel at the quaint floating cafe before walking the tow paths to explore this picturesque area.

Despite tea and cake being on offer this was not our destination de jour. A short tube ride from Paddington took us to Richmond where it is hard to believe you’re so close to central London. We walked along the Thames which was littered with rowers and paddle boarders, passed meadows of grazing cows in search of a hidden gem called Petersham Nurseries. This is not your average garden centre as tucked among the roses and evergreens is a Tea House with a difference.

Welcomed through an ornate oak doorway you find yourself in a secret garden greenhouse where you can enjoy tea and cake amongst the flora. The metal furniture is beaten and worn as if hidden here for decades, painted bright colours it blends in with the surrounding plant life. Relaxed and open plan privacy between diners is provided by orange trees, shrubs and vines which scent the room with citrus and jasmine. As well as the Teahouse they also offer a more extensive menu in their cafe, although this should be booked well in advance

Although we arrived late in the day there were still plenty of cake options on offer. My partner in cake ordered the lemon and poppyseed which did tempt me until I spotted the elderflower sponge. Given the surroundings I felt something floral was appropriate. To accompany it, the Petersham afternoon tea blend.

I was disappointed the elderflower flavour did not pack more of a punch but the sponge was deliciously light. Scattered with almonds throughout it did not loose moisture and was topped with sweet Italian meringue icing. The loose leaf brew was a simple black tea, light and refreshing with a splash of milk. The perfect pick me up after a day of exploring new sites. We soaked up the magical atmosphere and enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon sun as it shone through the glasshouse.

It’s hard for words to do this place justice, I feel even my photos don’t convey the experience in full technicolour. I often find cities claustrophobic, with towering concrete, exhaust fumes and people – oh so many people! Petersham offers an oasis of calm where I could almost feel the fresh oxygen emanate from the plants all around us. Wandering back to the tube riverside the sky opens up above you and you can’t help but smile. Richmond is a place you want to be, on or off the water it’s somewhere to slow down and enjoy what we have, for it is magic and cannot be taken from us.

“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, TW10 7AB       TEL: 0208 940 5230 

Cake Diary: Cakestand & Crumb

Cake Diary: Cakestand & Crumb

Todays venture into cake lead me out of Hertfordshire to the small town of Ampthill in neighbouring Bedfordshire. With a quaint village like feel and a fascinating history Ampthill is littered with boutique shops, antique stores and pretty tea rooms, one of which being Cakestand & Crumb. I was first introduced to this hidden gem pre-blog so I simply had to return and share it with you.

Tucked away through an archway this vintage tea room catches your eye with it’s pastel frontage and multicoloured outdoor furniture. As it is away from the main road it can be pleasant to sit outside in the fresh air as to say it’s cosy within is an understatement. With just half a dozen tables it is an intimate affair, natural light floods through the gorgeous bay window preventing a claustrophobic sensation. As if welcomed into someones own dining room vintage dressers display old books and crockery and a record player fills the space with the unmistakable crackle of vinyl.

We had reserved a table, which I highly recommend doing, and ordered the full afternoon tea. We were running late but the staff were very accommodating and welcoming as we arrived. Our table laid out beautifully with classic vintage crockery and cutlery, linen table clothes soften the rustic wooden furniture and there is no holding back on doilies; chintz with all the trimmings. The glass display counter imprisons delicious cake creations including gluten free lemon, chocolate fudge, white chocolate and raspberry and a selection of cup cakes. Their slices are not for the faint-hearted, triple tiered, laden with thick buttercream icing and topped with the fresh fruit or thick chocolate drizzle. Choose wisely as there will be no room for seconds!

I was pleasantly surprised that the afternoon tea is brought to the table in courses. As divine as the tiered stands look they can also be intimidating; foothills of sandwiches to wander through before clambering up to the boulder like scones then the final push to the sugary sponge summit. Instead a delicate selection of sandwiches was placed before us, delicious triangles of ham & mustard, egg & cress and cheese & chutney. The bread was fresh and soft, each mouthful met with a flavoursome filling. With no time pressures upon us we were free to graze and top up our teas.

There was a respectable list of loose teas to choose from that included all the favourites but one in particular caught my eye, “Lost Malawi”. I believe the blend is from the Rare Tea Company who source the leaves from one of the oldest tea farms in Malawi called Satemwa. This is essentially a black tea, similar to english breakfast, but the fact it is hand crafted in small batches with such care taken over the harvest each cup fills with a rich smooth flavour you can’t find in a high street bag. We also ordered a pot of Assam so we could both try and compare each brew. As expected the Assam was malty and soft, slightly creamier than the Malawi leaf but equally enjoyable.

As we talked and topped up our second course arrived, traditional fruit scones with jam and clotted cream. In contrast to my recent scone encounter I was presented with two mini scones, delightful morsels on which I balanced cream and jam (I have now decided I am firmly in the Devonshire camp…….subject to change!). Four bites was just enough to bridge the gap from savoury to sweet.

With empty pots we decided to change our brew for the final course. Each with the lasting sensation of clotted cream on our palates we opted for a cleansing pot of lemon verbena. Served in modern glass pots the leaves swirled before our eyes as the tea brewed. A light golden green in colour it tasted as fresh as it looked. The perfect accompaniment for the sweet and sticky course that followed.

 

Our final plate consisted of bite size chocolate brownies with a sticky layer of fruit jam running through the centre. Mini lemon and mascarpone tarts, encased in buttery, crumbly pastry aside a gooey meringue topped with whipped cream and fruit. Each bite was delicate in texture but heavy in flavour, sweet, soft, crunchy, zesty, rich and fruity, the summit had it all. I was beaten by the time I reached the meringue so it was kindly boxed up for me to take home. Unfortunately I was a little careless as I got in the car and the box tumbled from my hand, bouncing off the car to land face down on the pavement!!!!…..oh well, now I have eaton mess!!

This bijou bakery has a world of passion within and every drop is poured into it’s bakes and although there is a compromise with space there is no such compromise when it comes to flavour. Enjoy a monstrous slab of indulgence or a platter of miniature delights, either way you wont be disappointed as you devour every morsel from Cake-stand to crumb.Cake Diary

Cakestand and Crumb, 7 Kings Arms Yard, Ampthill, MK45 2PJ        TEL: 07843 574379 

Cake Diary: Brownlow Cafe

Cake Diary: Brownlow Cafe

Having a cheeky weekday off work can mean only one thing, time for tea and cake. With my other half and our four legged friend in tow we heading up to the Ashridge estate. I have been visiting this national trust site since I was a child. Memories of school trips to go pond dipping and collect soil samples, climbing trees and getting lost away from the beaten track. No matter the weather I have enjoyed long walks around the acres of forest, secluded meadows and rolling hills.

We parked up near the Bridgewater Monument, named after a historic Ashridge resident, the third Duke of Bridgewater. The imposing granite column towers above the surrounding ancient trees allowing stunning 360 degree views from the top, thats if you can handle the 172 steps to get there!

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We stayed at ground level venturing deep into the forest, soon the groups of ramblers, horse riders and young families were far behind us. The dog ran free, picking up sticks far to large but his perseverance meant they were dragged for several meters. The spring canopy was filling up with new green leaves and a carpet of bluebells softened the forest floor. With wildlife all around us we walked and talked, building up an appetite for lunch.

Brownlow’s cafe is situated between the monument and the Ashridge visitors centre where you can pick up walking maps, books and gifts. All the seating is outside so opening times vary between the seasons but large umbrellas protect you from the worst of the elements if required. Dogs are welcome and lay strewn between tables or looking hopefully at their owners plates, wide eyed and waggy tailed.

On offer is locally sourced produced on a varied menu of hot and cold dishes. An all day breakfast, or a jacket spud laden with tuna or cheese, baguettes and panini’s, fresh chilli con carne with crusty bread or home made quiche and salad. The portion sizes give exceptional value for money but you have to leave room for cake!

Slabs of the classics such as lemon drizzle and carrot cake are on offer alongside chocolate brownies and muffins with plenty of tea to wash it down. Hearty brews to warm up walkers rather than dainty cups and saucers. I saw several people opt for the hot chocolate which comes pilled high with mini marsh mallows. I chose a cup of english breakfast to go with the locally renowned scone with jam and clotted cream, which didn’t disappoint. To say it was giant is an understatement, it was a scone on steroids!! Huge and fruit filled it bulged with enough cream to feed a hoard of ramblers. I felt the ratio of cream to jam was a little unbalanced and as they are preprepared you cant personalise the toppings. Never the less it was light, creamy, fruity and delicious! Despite the miles we had walked the scone beat me, but having polished off his more reserved slice of brownie my other half stepped up to assist.

All the fresh air, exercise and cake made for a sleepy trio heading home. The dog, free from human chores, snored as preparations were made to head back to work tomorrow. In fact he still snores as I type…….it’s a dogs life!!!!

Brownlow Cafe, Moneybury Hill, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire HP4 1LX 

Tel: 01442 851670 

Cake Diary: Three Wise Monkeys

Cake Diary: Three Wise Monkeys

Last Friday I celebrated my Thirty *Ah-Hem* birthday. Having the day off work was the perfect opportunity to visit a little place that had caught my eye. Each day my journey into work takes me down a narrow country lane on which I often get stuck in slow traffic. Although the lack of speed can be frustrating it does allow you time to notice things that often pass you by. Just the other week a sign caught my eye for “Three Wise Monkeys, Vintage Emporium”. The first thing that springs to mind is that we don’t have enough emporiums these days. Imagine a world of food emporiums, shoe emporiums, wine emporiums! Sounds like a wonderful place doesn’t it?
I am aware of a chain of opticians called the Eye Emporium which conjures up such amazing images of glass cabinets, weird and wonderful trinkets and drawers full of eye balls (FYI it’s your standard opticians but one can imagine!). This was not a sign I could turn a blind eye to.

Off we went down rain soaked lanes to seek out the emporium. It’s hard to spot at first as its part of a large Osprey outlet center and the Three Wise Monkeys sign was not obvious from the road. Tucked around the back of the high end barn conversions is a treasure trove of all things vintage. Welcomed by a small tea room your eye is immediately caught by the bespoke furniture and shelves of antique crockery. Chunky wooden tables surrounded by beautifully upholstered farmhouse chairs. The stools at the breakfast bar are converted tractor seats, stark and metallic against the natural wood and kitsch finishes. A door in each direction beckons you to explore but which way first?

Being a converted barn everything is charmingly wonky, exposed beams and wooden floors. Every nook and cranny is filled with treasures from bygone eras. Each room is divided up into sections for individual stall holders, all with their own unique style. From Old street signs and gardening equipment, glassware and pottery, clothing and handbags, up cycled tables and chairs, artwork and lighting, jewelry and gifts. My eyes couldn’t rest, flitting from one to the next, down low, up high, every inch another discovery. After perusing we took a rest for lunch and cake before going back for more.

The cafe is beautiful and all the furniture is up for sale so if your chair is comfy you can take it home! The menu was comforting, just what we needed on a chilly damp day. A cheese toasty each and a huge sausage roll to share, delicious buttery pastry encased flavorsome pork and chili filling. You can have it served with salad and coleslaw which would be a meal in itself but we had to save room for a slice of cake, it’s my birthday after all! It was disappointing that the cakes aren’t homemade but the site has a trade only license so doesn’t have the facility to cook things from scratch. The brought in selection was vast including coffee and walnut, raspberry and white chocolate slice, chocolate brownie and an array of muffins.

My partner in cake beat me to the raspberry and coconut slice which had caught my eye, so I opted for a slab of the orange and poppy seed sponge. The slice had a firm layer of pastry and ample raspberry jam topped with a coconut sponge, desiccated crumbs tumbled with every bite, it was a joyful mess to eat.

The orange sponge was flecked with poppy seeds giving each mouthful added texture. The freshness of orange was a welcome twist on the familiar combo of citrus and seed. The sponge was heavy but flavorful, mildly complimented by thin layer of zingy icing which could have been so much more indulgent; caterers are perhaps a little stingier with their stock than home bakers! Never the less the serving was substantial and gave me the energy I needed to get back out there and shop!

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The question you have to ask yourself is, when was the last time you visited an emporium? If it’s not been recently, or at all, you must venture out to Three Wise Monkeys, my only advice is to cover your eyes if you don’t want to be tempted by the beautiful antiques on offer, cover your ears if you don’t want hear the stories behind the unique pieces of art and cover your mouth if you want to resist the delicious tea room!

Be sure to check out their WordPress blog or Facebook pages to find out what they have going on.

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Three Wise Monkeys, The Saddlery, Woodcock Hill, St Albans, AL4 9HJ 

Tel: 07886 977420

 

 

 

 

Cake Diary: The Kitchen, Croxley Green

Cake Diary: The Kitchen, Croxley Green

I stumbled across The Kitchen via a Facebook advert (thank you cookies!) and after perusing their website I was keen to know more as there seemed to be a lot going on. Celebration cakes to order, baking lessons and afternoon tea to mention just a few.

Croxley Green is just outside of Watford and Rickmansworth, and it is here town and country sit in juxtaposition. Winding narrow lanes take you past large houses and riding schools, circling to the rear of the Grove Hotel, renowned for it’s famous clientele. Entering Croxley via the green itself all appears unchanged since the 1800’s when a lot of the beautiful houses were built. Folk out walking their dogs and taking in the (almost) spring like air, both pubs on the green brimming with Sunday roast diners, but it was the cake we were here for.

The village-esque feel subsides a little as you approach the main run of shops and the terraces of modern housing beyond. The Kitchen stands understated just meters from the quaint and historic railway station. Part of the Metropolitan underground line it means that within just 30mins you can be transported from the shires to the heart of the city.

The Kitchen differs from other venues I have visited in that everything is simple and paired back. There is no getting away from the fact it is a modern building, there are no original features or open fire places to coo over. In fact it used to be a blockbuster video store!! Now that brings back some memories; spending Friday evenings pursuing the isles, debating which movie to rent and for how many nights! Leaving the house for such a menial task seems very old fashioned now a days. What the building lacks in personality is certainly made up for by the staff. Linda greeted us the second we walked through the door, looking up from the colouring in book she was assisting a young customer with, she smiled and welcomed us in. It was clear from the outset that customers of all ages are a priority here.

The seating area is relatively small, although on this occasion most of the tables were reserved for a Birthday party and a Hen party due in later. Both were having a full afternoon tea so the tables were laid beautifully with vintage crockery and traditional linen table clothes. It may be wise to book to avoid disappointment if there is a group of you.

The cake making talent is clear when you view the amazing sugar work on display, stunning celebration cakes made to order and created in the on site studio. I loved the fact the “studio” was not hidden away, surrounded by glass allowing you to see all the handy work going on behind the scenes. It was like getting a sneaky peak at Santas workshop!

We sat in the window on a sofa reminiscent of the Central Perk couch in Friends, but just for two. It enveloped us into it’s cushions and we were settled. Unfortunately the view is not as stunning as the surrounding country side but you can watch the world go by along and “there’s nowt as interesting as folk” as they say.

Various coffees are on offer from one of those fancy machines I don’t understand, and a lovely selection of Pukka & Fairtrade tea bags. No loose tea here but that feels right for this venue, it’s not about fancy leaves for far flung lands but a simple selection of quality bags and beans. After recently discovering Rooibos and its amazing health benefits (lowering blood pressure, improved complexion, relieves insomnia to mention just a few) I opted for the Rooibos and Honeybush by Pukka. My partner in cake today went for the Peppermint and Green Tea Blend.

Rooibos, pronounced Roy-Boss, really is the boss! It is grown in South Africa and was originally marketed in the UK as Redbush tea, which may ring a bell with some of you. I assume that now we are all about the Quinoa, Kale and Flaxseed tea companies felt we were able to handle the native name. My brew was blended with Honeybush, also South African, it adds a little natural sweetness to the cup. I let mine brew for about 3 minutes until a gorgeous copper, red tone – no milk required. The flavour is subtle and smooth on the pallet, the honey coming through in taste but not smell. It was a very easy blend to drink so I was grateful for the extra mini jug of hot water so I could top up myself.

The cake display was a little light when we arrived but Sunday afternoons can be like that, establishments will rarely over bake, especially if they are closed on the Monday. It was an easy decision to make, we selected a slice of the prettiest Victoria sponge I have ever seen and a slab of lemon drizzle, which I always find hard to resist. Our hearts broke a little when we went to pay the bill and saw they had topped up with Coffee & walnut and some amazing looking brownies!!! But it seems no matter what you choose you wont be disappointed.

As we were having a lazy Sunday we had enjoyed a late breakfast before heading out for cake, boy was that a wise decision. The portion sizes are eye popping and belly filling which put a smile on both our faces. This would be the perfect pitstop after a lovely long dog walk or cycle round the country lanes (we did neither of those things by the way #guiltyface) but that didn’t stop us from polishing off the lot!.

Both sponges were fantastically light and not overly sweet. The Victoria sponge let its thick butter cream coat the palate only to be cut through by the delicious fruity jam adding a sugar hit. It reminded me of a perfectly balanced afternoon scone.

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The lemon drizzle let the fruit do the talking, the sponge being a steady base for the sharp lemon syrup which seeped through every inch, a crunchy sugar topping finished with a little fresh zest. Both light to the touch but packing a punch with flavour.

Satisfied (and ready for a nap) we wended our way back home in the comforting realisation that you don’t always need all the bells and whistles to enjoy an afternoon slice. The kitchen doesn’t hide behind gimmicks, it’s a community hub where children can come to learn how to bake on a Saturday morning, Grown up’s can enjoy comedy & live music evenings, or simply catch up with friends over a tasty brew and a generous slice of cake. To me the Kitchen feels part of something that isn’t about global brands and nameless baristas, it’s about community and a personal touch. So no matter where you are see what’s on offer right on your door step as these are the businesses that deserve our custom.

The Kitchen, 198 Watford Road, Croxley Green, WD3 3DB      TEL: 01923 805896

 

Cake Diary: Timbers in Essex

Cake Diary: Timbers in Essex

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

Missing: The Disappearance of Chelsea Bun

Missing: The Disappearance of Chelsea Bun

via Daily Prompt: Missing

When I was at school I used to see Chelsea Bun every day. Warm and curvaceous she stood out amongst the other sweet treats on offer in the canteen. One of our dinner ladies even nick named me Chelsea after my addiction to this baked delight. Not for the light of appetite she does not leave you wanting, filling you with rich dough and dried fruit. There was something satisfying about picking the sugar crystals from the glazed top and crunching each one between my teeth. Then carefully starting to unwind the swirl revealing a layer of sweet cinnamon dusted over soft bread inside. Flavours of warm spice mingle with sweet currents and candied peel as the swirl wraps you up like a blanket. Licking sticky fingers clean I’d mop up every last sugary crumb, a clean plate every time.

But where has she gone? These days you’re more like to see her gaudier sister, Belgian Bun, dripping in white icing and topped with a cherry. The classy Chelsea Bun is a rare sight in bakeries and supermarkets alike. If I happen across her by chance I have to snap up the opportunity to relive those teenage days when carbs didn’t matter. My senses send me back 20 years and she never fails to put a smile on my face.

I’d love to know what bake or cake reminds you of your youth, please share in the comments below. If they are still available treat yourself to a walk down memory cake lane.

MISSING

chelseabuns
The lesser spotted Chelsea Bun (not photographed by myself unfortunately)

 

DETAILS:

NAME : Chelsea Bun

HEIGHT : 3-4cm

WEIGHT : 60-80g

Description: Sticky, golden top with swirls of cinnamon and dried fruit

LAST SEEN :

Morrison’s 3 months ago

Sainsbury’s over 2 years ago

My Secondary School in the 90’s

IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:

Tea & Happiness