Tag Archives: cafe

Review: The Wilson Cafe

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I make the worst cheese sauce on the planet. No, scrub that – I would make the worst cheese sauce on the planet if only I bothered! I rarely have flour or milk in the house, and I can’t get past the fact that soya, rice or almond milk just doesn’t seem to make very good sauces. The only time this culinary black spot bothers me is when I want macaroni cheese.

My mother made the best macaroni cheese on the planet – a tasty, cheesy sauce with a dash of mustard in that was thick enough to coat the pasta properly and to stay on the fork, and crunchy breadcrumbs coating the top. It was her full-proof method of bribing me to do something: “I’ll make you macaroni cheese on Wednesday night if you give me a lift to a meeting afterwards.” Shazza Cabs was always there like a flash!

There are some fairly decent supermarket ready meals available, but macaroni cheese isn’t one of them – the sauce is always tasteless and too thin. So I end up going without and periodically resolving to have a go at making cheese sauce.

So you’ll excuse my excitement when I spotted ‘Mac ‘n’ cheese’ on the menu at the Wilson Café in Cheltenham. I’m even going to forgive them that glaring Americanism, as it was the best macaroni cheese ever. I dragged a friend there several days later so I could make sure the first time hadn’t been a fluke. It hadn’t. The sauce was perfect, the topping crispy and it came with a stack of bread lightly brushed with garlic. I think I took the glaze off the dish making sure I hadn’t missed a trace of sauce!

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The Wilson Café is a good little find – it’s part of the revamped museum and art gallery in town. The previous café was up lots of stairs and was full once four people were in there. The new one is on the ground floor at the front of the building and has a couple of tables outside. There’s not a huge menu, but what there is seems to be decent quality, and there are always a couple of veggie choices there (even if they’re heavy on eggs, particularly for the breakfast choices). Vegans will struggle, though. The coffee and cakes are yummy as well, and the staff seem friendly. A few people have moaned to me about the slow service there; it’s been fine on the four or five I’ve visited, although the place doesn’t look over-burdened with staff.

I have a nasty feeling the café changes its menu periodically. So I could be OD’ing on macaroni cheese for a while!

The Wilson Café

Clarence Street

Cheltenham

GL50 3JT

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Review: The Garden Cafe

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Please welcome a very good friend of mine and Anth’s – Angharad Brewer Gillham. She might not be fat, 40 or a vegetarian, but she knows a good veggie restaurant when she visits one, even if it is a tad lacking on vegan food. OK, over to our intrepid correspondent …

Gentle reader, I have a confession to make: I am not actually a vegetarian. But even a hardened omnivore can appreciate a vegetarian meal occasionally, and I think that those of us who eat meat should probably eat less of it, so I try to eat vegetarian meals as often as possible. This is a resolve that usually falls over when I’m out to eat, because there don’t tend to be a lot of vegetarian options on restaurant menus. So I was interested to discover The Garden Café, which is in the Garden Museum, right next to Lambeth Palace. It serves only vegetarian meals. Disappointed carnivores will have to turn around and go and find a Pret on the other side of the river.

I and my parents are not disappointed carnivores, so we ordered lunch instead. The Garden Café serves a smaller weekend menu, with just three choices of main meal: when we turned up, these were a carrot soup with crème fraiche and chilli garnish, a butternut squash and feta tart, and red peppers stuffed with bulgur wheat, Gruyère and olives. The peppers and tarts were accompanied by a trio of salads, one plain green, one coleslaw, and one chickpeas, feta, and several different varieties of tomato with a lemony dressing. The soup came with fresh bread.

I had the stuffed peppers; my parents both went for the tarts. The stuffed pepper was delicious, tender and vivid, and the stuffing was perfect, fluffy and full of flavour. The green salad was crisp and fresh and the chickpea salad excellent, sharp, peppery and lemony. I can’t stand coleslaw, so didn’t touch mine, but my parents reviewed it highly. Similarly, the butternut and feta tarts came in for high praise.

The Garden Café offers more options in terms of dessert, probably because it mostly sells people coffee and cake. There’s a nice selection of the usual sweet things – brownies and frangipane featured when we were there – but also a couple of cakes with more interesting flavours. We chose a slice of courgette, lime and ginger cake. It was delicious: imagine a carrot cake, with all the moistness and lightness of a really well-made carrot cake, but with a less obtrusive vegetable flavour lending depth to the mild spice of lime and ginger. I nearly went in and asked for the recipe.

The whole cost about £10 a head; I’d allow £13 if you wanted cake with your lunch, just to be on the safe side. This is still good value for a tasty, freshly-cooked meal in central London, and it’s in a gorgeous setting; you can sit inside the museum, which is a former chapel, de-consecrated, re-purposed, and full of light, but if it’s a nice day you’re much better off outside in the lovely garden. If there’s one criticism I’d make, it’s that this is not a guaranteed meal for vegans, which is a curious choice when you’re a small veggies-only restaurant. The website says that their recipes are often vegan, and that they change daily depending on seasonal produce and what’s coming out of the vegetable garden. This is laudable, but if I were a vegan turning up to the Garden Café on spec only to discover that everything contains animal products – including two out of three salads – I would be seriously annoyed. (And hungry.)

That said, this is a pretty restaurant that serves tasty vegetarian food for reasonable prices in central London. It’s got a lot going for it, and we’ll definitely be going back. Maybe this time I’ll remember to ask for the courgette cake recipe.

The Garden Café

Lambeth Palace Rd

London SE1 7LB

Tel: 020 7401 8865

http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/page/cafe

Review: Loungers

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Chain restaurants are a mixed blessing for vegetarians. You’re probably going to get something edible, but the chances are it won’t be very thrilling. Cue risotto or variations on pasta with sun-dried tomatoes …

So it’s worth celebrating when you come across a gem. And based on two visits this weekend, Loungers is somewhere to return to time and again. It looks like there are currently about a dozen branches in England. Not only do they have a good vegetarian menu, there’s also a vegan one which restores your faith in restaurants (mind you, Loungers call themselves café bars). And if you need gluten-free food, there’s a choice for you as well.

The only slightly odd thing is that the vegan and gluten-free menus aren’t out on the tables, and I suspect most people wouldn’t think to ask for them. We only found out in advance because my sharp-eyed partner in crime Anth had found the website.

Three of us visited the Westbury-on-Trym branch of Loungers for a Friday night meal, then again on the Saturday for brunch. The decor is all wooden tables and chairs, and comfy sofas. You find a table and then order at the bar.

As you might expect, Friday night was busy and we nabbed the last free table upstairs. Saturday we sat downstairs by the big open windows. The place had a nice buzz to it both times and we all commented on how cheerful and friendly the staff were.

Friday night’s choice boiled down to my guilty pleasure of a burger and fries (funny how I’d never have dreamed of eating one back in the dim and distant days of meat), or a selection of the tapas. Eleven out of 16 of the tapas choices are vegetarian, and seven are vegan. The dishes are £3.25 each or three for £8.50, and come with ciabatta bread. Three is a good amount for one person, based on my friend Linda’s choices. She went mainly for meat, but we did sneak a taste of the potatoes with smoked garlic and wasabi aioli which were very moreish.

OK, so both Anth and I went for the burger – butternut squash and nutmeg falafel, served with grilled halloumi, chipotle salsa, cos lettuce and tomato (it becomes vegan with the disappearance of the halloumi!) And very good it was too, with a decent texture and subtle flavours. The chips met with universal approval, as they were proper chips and not skinny fries which turn into twigs after ten minutes. A small side salad completed the ensemble.

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We didn’t have dessert, but Linda claims the warm chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce is to die for. And I fully intend to try the vegan dark chocolate and ginger torte.

The next morning we turned up at about 11am for breakfast. Linda went for the full range of pig products, Anth had the vegetarian option and me the vegan. Apparently they will substitute items, which solves my usual problem of not eating egg in any shape or form. But I wanted falafel and hummus for breakfast …

The vegan brekkie came with falafel bites, warm hummus, grilled red pepper (not something I’d think about for breakfast, but very nice), button mushrooms, grilled tomato and baked beans, plus a generous slice of toast. The rather unusual combination worked really well, and it was only much later that I realised it hadn’t come with the advertised diced crispy potatoes! The vegetarian version comprised mini sweetcorn fritters, hash browns, tomato, beans, mushrooms, peppers and toast, together with two fried eggs. I didn’t hear any complaints from Anth.

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Oh, and there was freshly-squeezed orange juice and very respectable coffee. And some more chatty staff kept up with the busy Saturday morning comings and goings. Loungers is definitely a good find whether you just fancy lounging around and drinking coffee, or want something a bit more substantial.

http://www.thelounges.co.uk (this is right and not a typo!)

Review: Coffee7

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Please welcome a guest blogger. Let us introduce you to Yvette Elliott, who’s a schoolfriend of Sharon’s and an amazingly talented feltmaker and textile artist. Go and drool over her creations at Starjump Arts. Yvette has found us a new veggie cafe in East London to explore …

In January 2013, Coffee7  vegetarian cafe opened its doors to a grateful and expectant Forest Gate clientele. An attractive and welcoming place, with vintage furniture and crockery, fresh flowers and genuinely friendly staff, it has a small menu of simple, well-made dishes (with the ‘special’ changing each day), good coffees and teas, and delectable cakes.  The atmosphere is relaxed, with a children’s play corner, a little outside sitting area and a snug side room with comfortable sofa and shelves of books to browse.

I recently visited for lunch midweek, and was pleased to see the place busy.  I chose roasted pepper stuffed with cous cous and served with green salad and butterbean and celery salad, while my friend went for the houmous  with wholemeal bread and salad.  Other choices included a salad platter and sandwiches made with your choice of speciality cheeses and relishes.

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I didn’t have the chance to photograph my friend’s meal as she tucked in enthusiastically while I was snapping mine!  She found her homemade houmous garlicky and delicious, while the wholemeal bread was moist and had a light, open texture.  She was especially pleased to find avocado in her accompanying salad!  My peppers were nicely gooey and softly collapsing, and generously stuffed with cous cous gently flavoured with onion, cheese and parsley – and extremely well-priced at £6-00.  Sadly, we had no room for pudding, but chocolate brownies, sponge cake and huge home-baked cookies are typical sweet offerings.

The café has quickly established itself as a popular meeting place and is particularly lively at weekends.  When we visited, it was hosting an exhibition of work by a local artist, and it acts as an information hub through its ever-growing noticeboard. I’d recommend it whole-heartedly.

 

Coffee7

10 Sebert Road, Forest Gate, London E7 ONQ

www.coffee7.co.uk

02085347774

Review: Pie & Vinyl

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You’ve got to love a place with a cunning plan and a niche idea – and Pie & Vinyl in Southsea has both in spades.

And it does what it says on the tin – pie, mash and mushy peas served in the congenial setting of a retro record shop. I’m all for supporting independent record shops – particularly when they serve me one of my guilty pleasures.

This isn’t fine dining – the pies are bought in, and the mash and peas are served from a hotplate. But the food is well-chosen; decent Pieminister and Buckwells pies, which can be eaten alone, or accompanied by a £6.50 meal deal (pie, mash, mushy peas and gravy or liquor).

There are a couple of dozen pies on the menu, but not all are available every day. Vegetarians get two or three to choose from – the three cheese, red onion and spinach pasty is tasty, as is the oozingly-rich Wildshroom and asparagus (wild mushrooms, asparagus, shallots, white wine and cracked black pepper). And the gravy’s good as well – thick, well-seasoned and yay, vegetarian!

Half of Pie & Vinyl’s charm is the setting. It seats no more that about 16, and it’s snug to say the least. So save your secret business deals for another setting. Tables, chairs and charmingly-mismatched crockery look like they’ve come from your gran’s parlour. And the cordials – served in eccentric teapots – are the kind of thing you’d have taken on your picnic in the 1950s. These include dandelion and burdock, rhubarb and rosehip, and the intriguingly-named sarsaparilla, which was described by my rather brisk friend as tasting like cough medicine. Whatever, it definitely cleared my tubes, matron! And for £1.75 you’ll get three or four glasses out of the pot.

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The front part of the shop has poster art for sale (I know I’m going to end up buying that PJ Harvey and John Parish one before too much longer), and the records live in the tiny back room. And yes, it’s vinyl, which has never really gone away in certain quarters. If you’re desperate for a new turntable, you can buy one of those as well.

The guys who run Pie & Vinyl are friendly, and have clearly found their clientele – the slightly bohemian Southsea crowd, with a preponderance of students who gravitate towards cool new places to hang out, along with the 40-somethings who remember vinyl from the first time around. They’re also promoting the café for meet and greets for musicians who might be playing the Wedgewood Rooms that evening. A colleague of mine is still hyperventilating after being no more than a foot from David Gedge of The Wedding Present … Takes all sorts!

 Check the website for opening hours, which do vary, including a later closing time on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Pie & Vinyl

61 Castle Road

Southsea

Portsmouth

PO5 3AY

http://www.pieandvinyl.co.uk