The eponymous tea rooms sit in the heart of the historic downland village of Ditchling just across from the ancient church. If you’re looking for somewhere cosy and comfortable for a pot of tea then this is your place. It may be slightly worn around the edges, a bit confused in its sense of decor and with a rather lived-in feel like a comfy pair of slippers but it’s the home of the giant scone. I wonder if this USP will be enough to brave off the stiff competition for a cuppa in a world where latest styles and trends hold sway.
All within spitting distance of the tea rooms there’s the recently opened Mr Magnolia’s coffee shop right on the crossroads as well as the brand new Ditchling Art and Craft museum’s cafe by the pond. For such a tiny village it’s become a bit of a cafe hotspot all of a sudden. Is there a bun fight for the competition or will they all attract their own particular clientele?
We’d taken the train to Hassocks and walked along the small lane past the restored Oldland windmill and then the contour-following footpaths with views to the South Downs before dropping into the village. It’s a restorative 50 minutes walk and and an easy way to escape the city, breath in lungfuls of fresh country air and soak up loads of Sussex village charm.
The original beamed tea rooms have a bakery attached with many of their cakes and a wicker tray of their famous giant scones on show in the period bow window. There’s a lovely aroma from the log fire burning slowly in the grate in the back room. During the summer the walled patio garden is my favourite spot but on a cold winter’s day inside was a preferable warm and cosy choice. They’re very much traditional tea rooms and seem as if they’ve always been here. Although no longer called Dolly’s Pantry, long-standing regulars like myself occasionally slip up in its nomenclature. You can tuck into soups, toasties, jackets and specials of the day and absorb some of its old world allure while facing off the inclement weather outside and refueling for the afternoon’s return walk.
The tea rooms have braved off competition before but the two new kids in the village come with their shiny stylish interiors and the vigour of just-opened new businesses. Only time will tell if there’s room for all three cafes in Ditchling. So even if it’s not buns at dawn there’s bound to be at least a battle of the cupcakes or maybe those giant scones will flatten any challengers.
With Christmas just around the corner it was time to escape the frenzy of the shops and indulge in some cycling with a well planned tea stop en route. Half an hour’s bike ride away is Shoreham airport along Sustrans route 2, winding its way through Portslade, Southwick and then Shoreham. The Adur was at high tide as I crossed over the Old Toll Bridge then turned south onto the airport perimeter road. The bright orange wind sock was showing a strong south-westerly wind though I knew that already on cycling the five or six miles to get here.
The airport cafe was reinvented as the Hummingbird some time ago, bringing out all the best of its art deco features with the huge windows overlooking the airfield being the prime ones. You get wonderful views out towards the South Downs with Lancing College in the foreground with merry clouds scudding across the wintry blue sky.
It’s a huge roomy space with light oak flooring and chalky walls offset by the dark wood tables and chairs. There’s a touch of greenery from the huge sprouting pot plants and there’s even a mini grand piano with a programme of live music to look out for.
Given the season there was the ubiquitous sparkling tree and uplifting Michael Buble soundtrack of all the festive hits. It’s a place for families, friends and work colleagues to meet up, it’s got a bustle and an air of conviviality about it.
As it’s Truffles Bakery who are the new operators, the freshly backed scones and cakes make a terrific spread and are very keenly priced. My pot of tea and delicious fruit scone came to just £2.80. Lunches are tasty too and they were doing a brisk trade. The friendly staff are kitted out in black with the white hummingbird logo and were busy keeping their customers happy.
Shoreham Airport has stacks of history surrounding it with the first flight taken by Harold Piffard on his self-built Hummingbird bi-plane on the 10th July 1910.
On the way back I cycled over the new Adur pedestrian and cyclists bridge and now with a bit of a tail wind behind me the homeward journey was a bit easier.
My daughter arrived back home for Christmas later in the day so it was business as usual with loud music blaring from her room and racket as she and her friend stumbled back in the small hours after clubbing. Or so she told me. I slept through it all, sound asleep after my blustery cycle ride to the Hummingbird.
Just when you thought Brighton and Hove had every kind of cafe going, up pops yet another one assured of its own quirky, indistinguishable style. Arriving so complete and perfectly formed you’d think it had always been here on this previously unremarkable stretch of Church Rd. It’s got that mix of shabby chic with just the right amount of panache and style that makes for a very relaxed feel. Everything is for sale here, from the distressed and extremely comfy leather sofas to the cabinets, shelves and plethora of knick knacks and lamps furnishing this offbeat cafe. There’s an expert eye at work here though as this is no higgledy-piggledy interior but an artfully arranged ensemble complete with an autumnal colour theme displaying their wares to best effect.
With the chilled out jazzy music and those sink into sofas it’s all very laid back. All the cakes are home baked daily so come as fresh as can be and you won’t get them anywhere else in town. Displayed in a lovely vintage Cadbury’s wooden and glass case their baking looked very tempting and can include New York Style Baked Cheesecake and Chocolate Cake with Fresh Whipped Cream and Mordello Cherries. Their cash till is an original aluminium antique which has been brought back into service and rings with that unmistakeable brrrrrng when the keys are pressed and the drawer opens.
Run by a family team of Meg and her dad Barry hailing from California and Tazz, Meg’s business partner, their list of previous work experience is eclectic ranging from building, movies and even catering. If you manage to get into conversation with Barry it’s a chance to hear some Hollywood tales first hand from his early days in the movie business. He’s more than an aficionado and has that easy, loose way Californians have of talking and makes for engaging company while sipping on your coffee or tea. Tazz prides himself on his coffee making skills and my cappuccino was pitch perfect.
In the evening it’s planned to hold classes such as baking, upholstery, sewing and even some speed dating so worth keeping an eye on their website. There’s also a function room downstairs if you’re holding a private party.
So Cafe and Salvage might be the new kid on the block but it’s sneaked in unobtrusively and looks like it’s already part of the fabric of Brighton & Hove’s cafe scene. They’ve now got a great little film too.
Houses aren’t just homes, they say a lot about our aspirations, our dreams and how we see ourselves. As the French leave the rural towns and villages so the incomers take their place. The Brits, the Dutch, the Canadians are all part of this influx, staking their claim in a new French way of life. They’re mainly retirees and mainly couples though sometimes there are families and singles but the one thing in common to them all is this new phase to their lives.
I’ve just returned from a few days staying with family in the Limousin region of France. My sister moved to Bellac some four years ago and along with her husband has successfully established a Chambre d’Hotes in the small town of Bellac. Maison Bellachonne is a 400 year old town house just across from Le Mairie with five gorgeous en-suite guest rooms. History oozes out of every wall with original dark wood flooring throughout. The central staircase is in dark wood too and rises up to the fourth floor. Each guest room in this small boutique hotel has been individually designed with much flair. Views from the rooms at the back are of the ancient church and the rolling countryside beyond the town while at the front towards a fountain by the town hall. It’s a lovely place to stay.
When the UK house prices are so exorbitant the chance to buy property at just a few thousand euros is a huge draw. My sister showed me around some properties in Bellac that were bought by some of the early retirement diaspora from the UK and beyond that were now back on the market. Circumstances change and maybe the reality of that particular dream no longer held sway. Being already at least partly refurbished these properties are a bargain compared to the UK. A large town house with shop/business premises on the ground floor and sited on the main pedestrianised Rue du Coq and overlooking a small square can be purchased for offers around 75,000 Euros. Some properties, albeit very rundown, are even given away free with the purchase of another. Buy one get one free is not advantageous as it may appear given the restoration required but for some an offer too tempting to turn down. The property market in France compares favourably to the UK and that’s why so many Brits and other Europeans are moving there.
Hearing my two nieces speaking fluently in French was hugely impressive and they continue to move successfully through the French education system. This is one family that have built their dream into a positive reality and have overcome the myriad of difficulties of establishing a new life in a foreign land.
Maison Bellachonne is located deep in the heart of France in the Haute-Vienne department of the Limousin region. You can fly to nearby Limoges airport with flybe and Ryanair from the UK. As well as running the Chambres d’Hotes my sister is also unofficial property guru for the town and knows what’s hot and what’s not.
Manhattan is amazing. It’s like a film set with its iconic tall buildings, the ubiquitous yellow cabs and of course the New Yorkers themselves with their verve and style. Just around the corner from where we were staying on the Upper West Side we found this great little bakery. The colours are cream, pistachio green and pink to match the sweet confections produced within. The staff work tirelessly around the clock in the open kitchen mixing, stirring and baking everything fresh. The counter is heaped with an incredible array of fresh cupcakes, round cakes, tray bakes and muffins.
My choice of walnut, apple and cinnamon muffin was packed with fresh fruit and delicious. But really it’s all about the cupcakes with the PB&J – Peanut butter cake with grape jelly filling and peanut butter cream being the September special and the most requested. Sitting there watching the customers come in and line up along the long counter to order their cakes was endlessly fascinating. The New Yorkers are loud, brash and completely entertaining. The style was smart casual and being Manhattan most also carried a carrier bag filled with freshly bought purchases from the nearby designer stores.
Outside towards the sidewalk the Upper West Side area was heaving with life. On the wide Columbus Avenue yellow taxi cabs, cyclists and trucks were all vying for space. Calling down a cab the New Yorker has to venture into the middle of the road with arm stretched up pleadingly as the yellow cabs hurtle by downtown.
Getting your travel reading just right is quite a skill. .Recommended by a friend, The Love Affairs Of Nathaniel P. was perfect for a Manhattan trip. The lives and loves of 30 something New Yorkers is excruciatingly examined with wit as sharp as the tailoring of an Upper East Side woman’s clothing. Here this group of friends living in the micro bubble of the Manhattan literati angst over their relationships and their privileged lives. You don’t have to read this book while in New York but having the vibrancy of this city around stokes the atmosphere even more. Life imitated art at the Magnolia when I overheard a conversation which could have come straight out of this Manhattan relationship bible: She asks’ Do you have a girlfriend?’ With the reply from him ‘No, I just have lots of girls I date.’ Adelle Waldman, the author, had clearly been listening in to more than a few conversations before crafting her astutely written tale.
Magnolia have five stores in Manhattan all open right though the day to usually 10pm at night. The store was featured in an episode of Sex & The City. So, if it’s good enough for Carrie and the girls then it’s definitely good enough for me.
London Road is undergoing a bit of a transformation at the moment including a revamp of the open market and re-building of the Co-op site to student accommodation. The building work and constant heavy traffic with all the noise and fumes that accompany the congestion can be a bit unappealing so I’m not often around this part of town. This is likely to change now with the kind of transformation that interests me most -the opening of a new cafe. The blackboard outside the former Methodist church by the pavement tables states ‘First cup of the day before 10.30 just 99p’ Inside the lobby and through to Emporium a vast space opens up that’s undergone a metamorphosis into a wonderful vintage cafe with loads of natural light and not a sound from the traffic outside.
The reclaimed wooden counter is heaped with all manner of goodies from locally supplied cakes, muffins and tray bakes with pies, pasties and sausage rolls from I’s Pies and Guy’s Pies for those looking for something more substantial. At lunchtime there’s a home made salad buffet for £5.95 with all ingredients locally sourced and seasonal. I ordered my bargain mug of tea and took my choice from the loads of recycled sofas for somewhere comfy to sit.
The over riding sensation here is one of space. A clever use of muted colour with the high wooden ceiling sporting dangling bare light bulbs further accentuate the simplicity of the shabby chic style. Long copper coloured drapes hang by the huge long windows and there are fresh flowers and plants on tables. The pistachio tongue and groove rises to window ledge height with white plaster or bare brickwork on the walls above. Some of the original stained glass windows remain as a reminder of the building’s former use as a church. Organised religion and church going was a theme of my childhood and early teenage years but this is more the kind of church I’m happy to sit around in now. paying homage to a great mug of tea.
There is also a theatre and performing space here with a programme of events already lined up for the autumn including Morlington Mysteries, Burlesque Life Drawing, Arias by Candlelight and the Ragroof Tea Dance. Movie memorabilia fans will appreciate the current display of copies of signature Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe dresses in the exhibition area. It’s the sort of cafe that you can settle down in to appreciate and enjoy the large space. One that makes it well worth stepping away from the busyness of London Road outside to the vintage sanctuary within.
Emporium events, contact and more.
As if in retort to the homogenisation of contemporary modern life we have the independent cafe. Just opposite the behemoth that is Hove Tesco and its never ending stream of cars driven mindlessly through the car park entrance is a gem of a cafe sitting on the other side of the road. Quietly confident, knowingly and as if somehow claiming a defiance against uniformity and corporate culture Treacle & Co’s individuality is its singular dissent.
Treacle & Co appeared a year or so ago and is justifiably making its mark on the Hove cafe scene with its creatively designed windows reflecting the season and with its truly amazing cakes. Inside the look is deceptively simple. Alyssa, one of the partners, tells me that the day they uncovered the original tiled walls from the former butcher premises was a special one. The white, blue and cream tiles remaining on the walls from way back in the day were like finding buried treasure.
Vintage mirrors hang around the room with fresh flowers sitting on every table in heritage milk bottles and vases. Wooden tables and chairs are recycled and perfunctory leaving the focus of attention to the cakes and food.
In most cafes I just usually have a tea but whenever I’m in Treacle & Co I invariably succumb to one of their sumptious cakes baked fresh on the premises by Melody the owner. Would you be able to resist such distinctive creations as Pear in Whisky Crumble cake, White and Dark Chocolate, Kirsch Cherry and Lemon cake, Salted Chocolate and Pretzel cake served with caramelised cream or Espresso, Whisky and Chocolate cake with Maple Frosting?
Salted Caramel seems to be in vogue at the moment and this was my first opportunity to sample. Along with my pot of loose leaf Yorkshire tea served with vintage china I was in not doubt that I’d made the right choice in my individual Salted Caramel and Chocolate tart. Gooey salted caramel topped with dark chocolate powder in a tender pastry case is a combination made in heaven. It doesn’t surprise me that Melody now supplies some other local cafes too with her exceptional cakes.
You can get breakfast and lunch here too with all manner of wonderful choices. Last time I got the Welsh Rarebit on Real Patisserie bread with roasted vine tomatoes. With the menu changing regularly reflecting available seasonal produce it’s worth checking the blackboards for the day’s specials.
There is a bit of a buzz about this cafe as people come, chat, drink and indulge before leaving their table for some other lucky customer. The corporates may think they have a stronghold on Britain’s High Streets but the good people of Hove know something special when they see it.