I often bump into friends in cafes and it’s these unexpected meetings that are often the most enjoyable. On Tuesday having just dropped off some old camera gear at Clock Tower Cameras I was strolling through Pavilion Gardens when I remembered that there was a new cafe through the south archway. The possibilities of somewhere new is always a draw for a cafe lover like myself. Just as I was deciding which tea to have who should walk in but a friend who is a photography lecturer in London.
The Pavilion Tea Co. has taken over the space that used to be occupied by the Pavilion shop which has moved into the adjoining space that used to be the tourist office. It’s on a small, pedestrianised side road that leads onto the Pavilion Estate and lined mainly with other cafes and restaurants.
Loose teas are the speciality here and the look is of a traditional oriental tea sellers. Colourful tea containers in hues of red, yellow and brown are stacked up on dark wooden shelving along the main wall with hexagonal fringed yellow lampshades hanging down. The royal blue velvet seating along by the large arched windows looked very inviting and the bespoke wooden tables and chairs complete the look.
The cakes and savouries all looked delicious and the lunch box deal of one of their savoury tray bakes or quiche with seasonal salad at £4.95 should be a crowd puller.Tea is served in grey cast iron teapots, just like in Hove Museum tearoom, being also run by Peyton and Byrne, and there’s a superb choice if you’re a bit of a tea aficionado.
My friend and I got chatting and soon moved on to photography. Her students were down from London to do a Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’ book cover assignment. I was able to update her on my forays into interiors copywriting with possible accompanying photography and my subsequent digital upgrade. Her wise comment that it’s more about the development of the ideas of the person behind the lens than the camera which is just a tool is worth remembering. It was great chatting photography again and reminded me of my college course taken some years ago.
Clock Tower Cameras phoned later with their quote and it’s just about enough to buy a new digital SLR It will probably take some time to learn how to get the best from it but I’ve always loved taking photos and it looks like a new opportunity is opening up for me. All the better with the support of like minded friends. ‘A happy accident’ remarked my friend at the happenstance of meeting each other. For me too the synthesis of photography, writing and tea too of course.
Find out more about the Pavilion Tea Co. Cafe
I first came across Julien Plumart at a talk held by a local group to promote French language and culture. Julien spoke passionately about his love of baking and and about running his first authentic French patisserie in Brighton. Julien grew up near the French Alps and is an award winning pastry chef trained by Raymond Blanc so he certainly has all the right credentials. Now things have moved on even more and his second venture in Brighton is now open, a gorgeous new Salon de The.
On the ground floor is the showcase for the featured speciality of macaroon creations where we were welcomed with a friendly ‘Bonjour’. The multi-coloured display of hundreds of macaroons can be a bit daunting for a first time customer and it can be hard to decide which flavour to choose. But you don’t need to order right away as upstairs there’s the Salon de The where we headed to make this most difficult of choices. It’s a tastefully stylish space with two huge glass chandeliers, fresh flowers and some pertinent artwork on the walls.
The room is mainly white but with splashes of pistachio and raspberry. These two colours are reportedly the colours of Julien’s two best selling macaroons. They are also the colours used in my living room but mine were just chosen from the Dulux palette and I like to think they do go very well together. If you can grab one of the tables overlooking Duke Street you get to glance through the window to watch the passers by in the pedestrianised street below.
You can now take your time going over all the choices from the menu. How about Tart Tatin, Lavender Toffee, Rose, Sea Salt Caramel, 64% Chocolate Grand Cru or even Bitter and Sweet Orange. But its not all about the macaroons there’s tea too to consider too. Unusually tea comes loose leafed in a small glass teapot with the glass theme continuing for the teacup. Hot water is served in half litre stainless steel flasks which is a style I’ve never seen before but it seems to work very well. There’s a bit of panache about everything at this Salon de The and clearly there’s a Frenchman at the helm.
The macaroons lived up to their expectations generously filled with sumptious gamache and delicate butter cream. As the artwork says ‘Savouring a macaroon is like eating a whole cake all by yourself while sitting on a cloud’. These delights don’t come cheap but at a price worth paying. I’ve never given much thought to macaroons before but that’s all changed what with all those other flavours still to work my way through. All in the interests of French language and culture of course.
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.
I’ve been banned from Marwoods by my teenage daughter. “I don’t want you embarrassing me!” was her proclaim. Well as she was working a long shift at the local gastro pub I took my chance to check out this cafe that is so popular with all her friends while she was otherwise engaged.
Marwoods is not shabby chic, its beyond that. Its downright scruffy. Naked light bulbs, unvarnished wooden floors and bare plaster walls. An estate agent would say it was in need of complete renovation. Its clutter of old furniture, charity shop cast- offs and bric-a-brac detritus make for some highly individual interior decor.
Downstairs it’s all hustle and bustle but upstairs there’s a more laid back feel. I settled into a very comfy leather armchair with the stuffing coming out of one of the armrests. Next to me was a small book case with a mismatch of old books, an ancient wooden phone and a plastic spaceship. If there’s a layer of dust on everything then that’s part of the Marwoods experience, just go with it.
I’d opted for the bargain toastie at £2.50 made from ‘cheap white bread’ and accompanied by a mug of tea at £1.50 has to be the best bargain lunch in the Lanes. There are plenty more pricier options which sounded delicious but I’m still on austerity measures at the moment so a bargain is a bargain. The huge slabs of cake served to the table next to me looked sumptuous and come stabbed with fork ready for devouring.
Mulling over my tea I pondered my adjustment to being an ’empty nester’ with my daughter away at university. Now with her return for the holidays there’s the subsequent re-adjustment of having her home again. If the bag loads of washing is a cliche then it’s one that rings true and I’m half way through dealing with the consignment. A relaxed break in Marwoods was the rejuvenating break I needed.
As I was leaving I heard a customer ask one of the staff where the gents was, “Downstairs, to the left and look out for the door with the daleks.” Marwoods do things differently, it’s the opposite of corporate with a huge personality. It’s very Brighton, very outrageous and very self assured. Most definitely not a cafe to leave to the teenagers.
Meet-Up groups are a great way to meet new people and develop new interests. One of the meet-ups I’ve joined recently is the Independent Coffee Lovers group. They didn’t seem to be having many get-togethers so I proposed this Friday at Tic Toc cafe in the Lanes. I made the new-comer’s grave error though of posting the meet-up after the week’s email had been distributed. Consequently by 10.00 this morning I was the only one listed as attending. As I’m quite happy going to cafes on my own I thought I’d go along anyway and you never know who might turn up. I’m really glad I did.
With more and more big chain corporate cafes taking over Brighton’s historic Lanes it’s great to find a gem like Tic Toc, a hidden sanctum down a small passageway that is Meeting House Lane just off the much busier Prince Albert Street. As well as the dual aspect windows there is also a ceiling atrium giving this fairly small space loads of natural light. I was the only one there, apart from the staff, so had plenty of time to have a look around and admire all the small details that make this cafe rather special. The formica topped tables hark back to the 60’s as does the mustard coloured banquette seating along with the iconic painted portrait of a young woman that used to be considered bad taste but is now viewed as stylishly kitsch. The fresh roses on each table were a surprise and a lovely touch. The bookcase of paperbacks with the ubiquitous clocks give a homely feel along with the black and white snaps taken some decades earlier. I thought initially that the Billie Halliday music was coming from the cafe but on more intent listening I realised it was coming from the bar next door. Early morning tourists passed by the windows looking a bit lost as did young international students that make up so much of Brighton’s transient population in the summer months. I listened in to the staff talking some French though I believe the owner is half Dutch. I don’t know who Millie is but chalked on the blackboard covered door was the legend ‘ Millie is tres folie”
The menu has some interesting touches too such as strawberry goat cheese and almond salad as well as bacon butty with Stilton and very rich chocolate milkshake. The cafe is now open in the evenings on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and with a bring your own wine option would make for an great alternative evening out venue.
Just as I had given up on any of my meet-up buddies turning up in walked my mate Christopher with his colleague Ben. They had just come out of a licensing meeting at the town hall just around the corner and were looking for somewhere to have a coffee. With all its city status Brighton is still small enough so that you can bump into friends unexpectedly which is one of the things I really like about living here. It seems Christopher is keeping the other committee members alert and entertained with his quotes from Virginia Woolf about bowling. His own quote that ‘walking along the seafront is democracy in action’ seems to have caught people’s attention as I keep seeing it in local publications. The quote from Einstein en scripted on the walls of Tic Toc is that ‘ Time is there because not everything can happen at once.’ Happenstance was that although my meet-up group didn’t materialise as it turned out I had some very good company anyway.
To see a video of Tic Toc click on the link below:
A few days ago I’d been to the private view of the new summer exhibition called Cluster at Fabrica in Ship Street. Here the artist combines traditional local materials with 21st century design recalling the rural heritage of Sussex. These large sculptural works comprise a series of large scale woven wooden vessels and make full use of the space that the former church offers. There seems to be a bit of a theme here with the Jubilee too calling to mind ideas of more halcyon days in a simpler time. Back on Ship St the other day I was looking for somewhere to stop for a tea and was drawn in by Blackbird.
Step into Blackbird Tea Rooms in Ship St and you leave modern day Brighton with all its hustle and bustle into the more sedate and well mannered world of the 30’s and 40’s. All the tables on the ground floor were taken so I went upstairs to the more spacious first floor and plumped for a table by the large bay window. The light floods in from both sides of the room and you get to watch out over all the busyness in the street below. The attention to detail in recreating the period setting is remarkable. The round light switches are black bake-lite and the walls are adorned with sepia-toned portraits, wood work is dark stained, tables are covered in vintage lace tablecloths with vintage china to match. This isn’t a fusty time warp though, the wallpaper has a colourful bird print pattern and the menu while leaning to the period still has something to offer the customer of the 21st century. My cream tea at £5.00 was delicious and it’s worth taking advantage of the ration book style loyalty card where if you buy four cream teas then your fifth is free. Its great having table service, so used do you get to queuing up to place your order in most cafes in town. Other choices were ample slices of cake accompanied by fresh blueberries and strawberries. Tea is loose leafed as you would expect but cappuccinos and lattes are also served. This new venue has so many unique selling points that it’s sure to be on the cafe scene for some time to come.
On the way out I sneaked a look at the rear courtyard and once the sun comes out this will be a great spot to treat yourself to some vintage indulgence. Have a look at Fabrica’s exhibition first though, just a few yards away, for some modern yet heritage inspired art work and make a full afternoon of it.