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.
Central park has just as much buzz as the rest of Manhattan albeit in a more spacious setting. The park is a massive patch of green space in the heart of the city and the New Yorkers come here to jog, cycle and play baseball with typical zeal and earnestness. After all this is their small slot of time and space to exercise and they’re going to make the most of it. Then there are the horse and carriage rides and the bike carriages too taking tourists on trips around the park’s inner route adding to the general throng. All of the city, as well as the park, has an air of familiarity about it somehow, probably because New York has been the backdrop to so many films and TV series.
A morning visit to The Met, which sits on the east side with its breathtaking views over the park from its roof garden, satisfied any cultural urges. A more prosaic need was to find a cafe for lunch. There are a few cafes dotted around the park and after getting slightly lost in this vast area with its woods, rocks, tiny paths, reservoir and turtle filled lake we came upon Le Pain Quotidien. This is an artisan bakers with a great array of tasty sandwiches and pastries. The outside terrace is perfect to take in the Manhattan skyline behind a foreground of trees. The park’s huge perimeter mean that you can’t hear or see the traffic on the nearby Avenues.
For observing a different side of Manhattan, a prime spot on the cafe terrace held my attention for ages. From young Latino girls pushing their privileged charges about in their prams while mom is out working to the young women in their gorgeous designer shift dresses immaculately poised and groomed with their Chanel handbags hanging effortlessly over their arm. Preppy boys actually exist, coiffed and sporting dashing blazers with the requisite brown brogues and straight legged chinos direct from a J Crew advert.
I remember reading in Alain de Boton’s wonderful Art of Travel about a philosopher who liked to just sit at train stations or ports rather than traveling through them himself. It was more about sitting and observing and imagining the stories about all the lives moving in and about the scene before him, thereby saving himself all the stresses and discomfort of travel. I can identify with his point of view and observing Manhattan life from the parks, High Line walkway and cafes were some of the best parts of my trip.
Spotting what I thought looked like a film shoot just a short way away I wandered over to see that it was Kevin Bacon doing a jogging scene for an upcoming Warner Brothers production. So my impressions of New York being like some huge film set are not so off target. Real life will seem very tame on my return home.
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.
I’ve now got a few hours work a couple of days a week so I’m regularly in Brighton town centre on the look out for a cafe to chill a bit once work is done. On my way to Angel Food Bakery walking along Bond Street I passed Catwalk cafe which looks remarkably similar to the cafe I was heading for. A concept Imported from New York some years ago, the cupcake cafe idea has obviously taken root in Brighton. It looks like Angel Food has some competition champing at its heels now. Cupcake wars are afoot.
Set in the narrow old town quarter of the Lanes, Angel Food Bakery in Meeting House Lane can be spotted by its bold cupcake signage as you browse along the shops in the narrow red brick paved passageway.The sweet aroma of sugar wafts over you when you first walk in. Make the most of the scent as after a few minutes your sense of smell grows accustomed and you barely notice it. The staff tell me that they don’t notice the sugar rich air at all now. They had however noticed the new competition along the road and commented on the prices which were at least 20% higher.
Inside there are bright white painted walls with one chocolate brown one flaunting their cupcake logo. The tall tables and chairs are all white painted too and a nod to the heavenliness of the morsels on offer. There’s a great counter seating spot by the window where you can sit and watch tourists getting lost in the maze of alleyways outside. Fresh yellow daffodils in white ceramic tea pots on each table hold the promise of Spring with their jaunty, bold colour.
But its cupcakes that are king here and what a display there is on the counter. There’s chocolate orange, cappuccino, red velvet, rocky road, carrot and even choc choc cupcake. There are some baby cupcakes too if you just want a tiny morsel as well as huge multi-layered sponge cakes straight from the bakery if you want even more than just a cupcake. The Victoria sponge had a cream filling at least an inch thick. Everything is baked on the premises and you can peek through the large glass window at the back and see the baking live in action and the reason for all the wonderful aromas.
As there are only twelve seats inside its just as well that chalked up blackboards list the takeaway deals and any specials. While I was there the baker came through with samples of a wholemeal banana, nuts and seeds muffin for those that were looking for a healthier option. This alternative might seem a bit counter-intuitive as once you step in here all thoughts of healthy choices are at the back of your mind but there is something for everyone now. My day’s work might be done but the good people of Angel Food Bakery are still busy developing their range and easily staving off any competition.
My interview was over and I was going through the usual mixture of nerves and post mortem of how I’d responded to questions and my thoughts on the role on offer and thought I deserved a treat. The Real Patisserie bakery cafe was just below the office where the interview had taken place so it seemed like an obvious choice.
I’m a huge fan of Real Patisserie bread but hadn’t visited their cafe before. The two south-west facing doors were wide open allowing the fresh air in and the regular stream of customers too. Its a busy place and not in the slightest a chilled out spot but with lots of bustle and people coming and going. My gaze took in the wonderful spread of pastries both sweet and savoury, the fresh fruit tarts, the freshly baked quiches, the filled baguettes and placed my order.
There’s one long oak table opposite the serving area with a bench running down either side giving a communal feel. I grabbed a corner of the wooden seating and took in my surroundings. My cappuccino and pain au raisin were delicious and I hungrily devoured my choice of pastry and supped on my hot drink.
The small bakery area towards the back was a hive of activity as dough was pummeled and shaped and cheese topped croissants were put in the oven for baking. There’s a great yeasty aroma filling the space and a magnificent line up of bread, crusty and fresh ready for choosing from: white sourdough, chewy brown, artisan baguette. Presently there is a display of coloured wood cut prints of Sussex on the walls of familiar scenes such as Birling Gap and Firle Beacon giving a local feel.
My appetite sated I bought a large loaf to take away of their wholemeal rye and walnut bread which is one of my favourites. I think I’ll be coming back here more often to buy their sumptuous produce as, by the way, I got the job!
Cafes continue apace to open and you begin to wonder if there will come a point when Brighton and Hove has sufficient numbers of them to meet the demand of its residents and visitors. That point doesn’t seem to have been reached yet as the newly opened Flour town bakery and cafe was doing a roaring trade on my first visit there. It’s been open about four weeks and it was time for me to pay a visit.
The look is clean and modern with a bit of retro and industrial thrown in for good measure. The walls are light grey tongue and groove and the flooring pale grey wood effect. Its the seating that is a bit different from the norm, I remember this style of chair from my own days of having school dinners. The wooden seating and back rest parts have been restored and varnished but the metal frames have been left naturally distressed adding a touch of character contrasting with the simple formica topped tables.
A mum with her two young daughters had ordered toast and were making use of a startlingly bold orange Dualit toasters, one of two on each of the longer tables in the centre of the room. It’s all very hands on here with the jam and marmalade in china tea cups ready for customers to dig into.
A tall aluminium rack displays the Infinity Foods artisan bread which is the first time I’ve seen Infinity bread being sold this side of North Road. The rest of the pastries and cakes on offer are all baked and put together on the premises and displayed temptingly on the counter top next to a gorgeous vase of tall fresh flowers. From the savoury breakfast mushroom pastries to the home made cupcakes and amazing looking Oreos oozing with cream filling there is plenty to be enjoyed here. It was still early enough for customers to be tucking into muesli with raspberries and pecans as well as granola with Greek yoghurt and fruit compote, both served in white enamelled metal bowls with dark blue rims. Black coffee seemed to be served in glass tumblers.
There’s a great range of salads and sandwiches for those seeking something a bit different in the middle of the day. Outside there is plenty of bright white seating on the wide pavement with the tables adorned with not flowers this time but growing herbs in shiny aluminium planters. One of the chefs popped out to pick some fresh Rosemary from the pot on the table just through the window where I was seated to add to one of the dishes he was preparing.
As well as friends meeting for breakfast there were a few business meetings going on along with the mums entertaining their kids off for the summer holidays. Flour town is in a great location just at the point where Church Road turns into Western Road and looking westwards towards Palmeira Square. So fingers crossed that this is one of the cafes that will make the distance and become a firm fixture on the local cafe scene.