Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Whistable: Coffee Bike

Whitstable is a very affluent town with some great independent shops and provides a thoroughly enjoyable spot for an afternoon of browsing and eating. With tummies full of chips, fizzy, doughnuts and coffee from The Forge, we had a lovely stroll along the sea wall admiring the ramshackled buildings, the boats on the beach, fishing boats in the harbour and the general hubbub of life by the sea.

Constructed in 1831, the tidal harbour is still a busy working harbour today. Used by the fishing and shellfish fleet, fresh off the boat fish can be bought from the stalls in the fish market. Not a fan of shellfish ourselves, it's still an experience to wander through seeing what's for sale and getting the smell of fish up your nostrils.

Never one to pass up an opportunity to test out coffee, we came across a coffee shop on a bike. Owned and run by Nick Chasteauneuf, this converted 1940's Dutch delivery bike offers espresso based coffees with a view.

Ordering my favourite coffee style, a flat white, the coffee machine sprang into action and Nick rustled up a good looking coffee for £2.20.

It was adorned with some lovely latte art but by the time I had walked down the beach and jiggled about a bit, it had blurred. However it tasted absolutely fantastic, velvety smooth and silky and I would say the best flat white I have ever had, sorry Brown's Coffee House and Loaf. The coffee beans used are from a micro roastery based in Canterbury called The Micro Roastery, an independent artisan coffee roaster where Nick is Roastmaster. They only use high quality 80+ Arabica's and roast in small 2 Kg batches to ensure quality and freshness and from my coffee experience I can give it the thumbs up.

This is the view from the coffee bike and sitting on the beach watching the boats and drinking my coffee was such a great way to spend half an hour.

The Verdict? Thumps Up!
Super duper coffee by a man who knows his stuff. Nothing amateur about it, you get fantastically smooth tasting coffee whilst being on the beach. The coffee beans come from a truly sustainable model that is The Micro Roastery, what more could you ask for.

Most weekends along Reeves Beach

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Whitstable: The Forge

Found on the North coast of Kent, the town of Whitstable is world renowned for its oysters which have been collected here since the Roman times. This quaint seaside town with its distinctive character has been a favourite spot of ours for years. We ventured over on a quiet weekend for a spot of lunch and to have a wonder along the harbour. After a stroll along the beach, we stopped off at a little corrugated tin building called The Forge and ordered some chips and fizzy.

There were chalk boards everywhere, leaning against the building, on the hatch flaps and against the sea wall. All had different food and drink options chalked up and proved to be very confusing.

Seeing as the sun kept popping its head out of the clouds, it quickly became very busy with a long queue snaking its way from the ordering hatch. Receiving  a number upon paying, we bagged a wooden picnic bench and plonked ourselves down, people and seagull watching for the 15 minutes it took for our number to be called.

Up I hopped to collect our chips from the side doors (which had even more chalk boards proclaiming even more food and drinks options) from a flustered young lass who'd obviously had a very frantic lunchtime.

The large portions of chips were served in cardboard boxes, and we tucked in with wooden forks. I went for straight chips while he went for beer battered Kent sausages. Proving too much for me to eat, Ol polished his off in no time! Although a good standard of chip, they were slightly on the greasy side.

For puds we just had to try out the claim that they make the best doughnuts in Kent. The aroma of them wafting from the little hut made it rather impossible to resist anyway, claim or no claim. Swapping £2.50 for 5 doughnuts felt like a good deal, and having two other testers with us was helpful in finishing them off. Still warm and coated in sugar, they were fantastically light and fluffy, especially washed down with a good strong white Americano. The coffee was nice but not top notch, more like on par with The Pop-Up Café.

The Verdict?
Honest grub from a rustic, weathered shack on the beach. The staff were run off their feet with keeping up with the busy lunchtime surge and were a little short on friendliness, but hey it's not a stylish little café, its a tin shed on the beach. Compared to Herbert's though, which is a similar set up but with a fantastic lass serving, the customer service at The Forge rather let it down. Mostly good value, there is plenty of seating either on picnic benches, deck chairs or by wandering down to the beach. We were lucky with the weather, but it wouldn't be so good if it had been raining with no covered seating available. Just being by the sea made the whole experience feel like we were on holiday and we all really enjoyed our seaside lunch.

Sea Wall

Friday, 25 April 2014

Winchelsea: The Red Pig

Making the most of the Bank holiday weekend, we decided to try out a mobile food van that we had heard great things about. Called The Red Pig, it is located in a lay by down near Winchelsea beach, on the South coast of East Sussex just along from Hastings. 

After a fairly lengthy journey there stuck in traffic we pulled up and parked, hungry and keen for lunch. Even though it is situated along a main coastal road, there are stunning views surrounding it and the beach is a stones throw away. 

A very rustic looking vintage railway carriage crossed with a shehards hut trailer conversion sits proudly behind a landrover, it's quirky charm is innovative...especially with a giant red pig greeting you outside! On the day we visited it was freezing, but hey it is only April. On a warm sunny day it would be ideal to grab a coffee and food to laze on the beach for an afternoon. 

It was a friendly greeting, with all staff being very attentive. There was only a small queue but someone still came straight out to take our order whilst we waited so that it was ready when we got to the hatch. Customer service like that makes the whole experience stand out and feel very polished.

The menu is simple - sausage with slaw, roast pulled pork or a veggie broth, along with cakes for afters if you still have room. We both opted for the pulled pork with Ollie having a can of fizz and me going for a latte to wash it all down. 

Whilst waiting we noticed the humorous anecdotes chalked on doors painted in blackboard paint with a regular Q&A section for customers. This humorous addition made us immediately warm to The Red Pig and what it stands for.

Served in a cute brown box, the pulled pork came with some crusty bread, salad and slaw. It was very good although a little pricey, but the pig is good quality and I don't mind paying for that at all. The coffee was middle of the road, no way as bad the The Cupcake Cafe but not up there with Loaf. It seems the focus is more on their range of teas...which will have to be sampled another time along with the delish looking cakes. But we didn't come here for the coffee, its all about the pig for us.

If you fancy sitting in to eat, there is a teeny amount of seating available which would have been ideal to get out of the cold if there had been space. It would also give you the chance to admire the stunning views behind.

The Verdict?
A fantastic concept, we love the whole street food revolution. If you want a good quality, amazingly tasty pork then this is definitely the place. We can wholeheartedly recommend that the pulled pork is a must. The service is equally top notch with friendly proprietors and location wise you can get a beach trip with top nosh in one. If I lived near by I could see myself being a regular customer, maybe not for the coffee but definitely for the food. We will definitely be back. 

Most days between Winchelsea Beach and Pett Level in lay by. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Margate: The Cupcake Cafe

On a very blustery Bank Holiday Friday we found ourselves with friends in Margate and decided to stop off for coffee and cake in one of the many cafes. Quite a few were closed, one that I especially wanted to try out, but we came across the girly looking Cupcake Café with its candy pink lettering and pink painted door which was open.

Upon entering what feels like a young girls bedroom - lots of flowers, pinkness and clutter, we headed to the counter where a delicious selection of cakes were displayed. The lass on the till took us through the cupcake options - curly whirly, crunchie, lemon, chocolate and many more. I was tempted by the coffee cake but went for a cupcake as they looked divine and it seemed apt. All coffee options are espresso based and the usual selection available, with some cold drinks available too. Settling ourselves around a table near the window, we awaited our order while gossiping and taking in our surroundings.

Although the café has a large inside area, the seating is rather cramped and we squashed the four of us around a dainty little table by the window. Surprisingly for a Bank Holiday it was very quite with only three other tables occupied and we noticed many tables had not been cleared of empty cups and crockery. The décor however had been planned and thought about, the colours vibrant pinks and blues, the tables and chairs mismatched with lots of posters, bunting and retro styled wares on display.

Our order arrived promptly, hot chocolate with Baileys and an Oreo cupcake for Tester No 1, white chocolate with raspberry cupcake and cloudy lemonade for Tester No 2, hot chocolate for him and a flat white and pecan and maple syrup cupcake for moi. It all looked scrumptious, the latte art on my flat white was very professional with the cupcakes all presented on dainty vintage plates.

We all tried a bit of everyone's choice and the hot chocolate with Baileys was OK if a bit watery. However the Oreo cupcake just tasted of vanilla and was very boring. The plain hot chocolate that Ollie had was so awful and wish-washy that he went and asked for a shot of Baileys to pep it up. Even then it was no way as good as the hot choc we had at Brunch, which tasted of velvety rich chocolate and came with whipped cream and a flake.

My cupcake looked amazing but tasted of vanilla with no flavour of the pecan or maple syrup whatsoever. I know its only a cake but I was disappointment as I would have gone for my fail safe coffee and walnut had I not been tempted by the great presentation of the cupcakes. The flat white was even more of a mistake, obviously they think a flat white is a latte and definitely need to take a trip to Loaf or Brown's Coffee House to experience what a flat white should taste and look like. The Cupcake cafes coffee was stale, watery and tasteless so much so I left it after only two sips, such a waste.

Now the White Choc & Raspberry cupcake had by Tester 2 was the best of the lot, very white chocolaty and the fresh raspberry on top added a fantastic sharp bite to the smooth icing. The lemonade was great, but it was in a can so nothing to do with the cafes expertise.

On the other side of the cafe was more seating, but again quite squashed in the corner to make room for the items on display. It felt that it didn't really know whether this area was a cafe or a gift shop, and as such no one used this area in the hour we were here.

The Verdict?
The actual decor of the cafe once your in and have taken it all in is great, very well designed with fresh colours, wooden clad walls, chalk board menus and good looking cakes. However, the flavour of our cupcakes were bland (apart from the White Choc) and the hot drinks were honestly terrible. It seems such a shame that they have gone to so much effort with the style and layout of this cafe, but haven't back it up with good coffee, flavoursome cupcakes or good customer service. It most definitely appeals to gals rather than blokes, which if you were a solo lass you would feel very comfortable coming in here on your own. Overall we will not be coming back here, but will be finding somewhere that does good coffee and cake instead.

4-5 Market Place
Town Centre

Monday, 14 April 2014

Axminster: River Cottage Canteen & Deli

A weekend away in Devon allowed a visit to a favourite haunt of ours, the River Cottage Canteen & Deli in the market town of Axminster. Built on a hill overlooking the River Axe, the town still holds a weekly market and gave its name to a type of carpet which is now made all over the world. Entering the deli we chose a table along the wall and plonked ourselves down. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's fantastic approach to offering the very best in seasonal, local and organic produce is immediately obvious as we browsed the breakfast menu.

Run by a fantastically friendly and chipper team, our drinks order was taken whilst we pondered our choices of grub on the clean simple menu. Being a Sunday morning, we went for a couple pots of English Breakfast tea and ordered a Banger Sandwich for him and the Dorset Mushrooms and Poached eggs on brown toast for moi.

Whilst the kitchen team rustled up our breakfast, we browsed the great selection of books on display along the wall. Being a chicken fan, I flicked through the Chicken Handbook divulging snippets of poultry related facts whilst drinking tea from chunky white china. The seats are very comfy, padded bench seats along the wall with old fashioned farmhouse style chairs as well.

Breakfast arrived promptly, the banger sarnie made with chunky wholemeal bread on a rustic wooden board and my shrooms and eggs on a massive round plate.

After a generous dollop of locally made tomato sauce, the banger sandwich was polished off within ten minutes. Mine was equally as good, the mound of mushrooms complementing the poached eggs perfectly on a slice of brown toast, heads above the dismal breakfast we had at Bay Laurel Brasserie. Being strong believers in using local good quality seasonal ingredients, the menu is ever changing with the seasons and we truly appreciate what they are doing here.

Serving breakfast until 11.30 am, this spot is very popular with locals popping in for their morning brunch, local staff on their breaks stopping off for coffee and cake as well as curious visitors coming to see what all the fuss is about. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed, with a buzz of conversation from the open kitchen. You can easily sit as a group happily chatting or sitting solo sipping on a latte doing a spot of people watching. The layout is open with a selection of seating from a large farmhouse table to smaller tables and cosy corners.

Happily the prices are all very reasonable for the seasonal, local, organic and wild produce used and our portions were of good size. Only ever having had breakfast here, we cannot comment on the lunch or evening meals but the menus look very tempting. In the evening, an area at the back called the canteen is open for business with its stripped wooden floor and metal ceiling beams, so another visit is on the cards to try this out.

Every nook and cranny here has been thought about, even down to the loos. I loved the mismatched vintage mirrors adorning the wall above the exposed plumping of the taps, similar to the loo in Miss Mollet's High Class Tearooms!

At the front of the shop is the deli counter with a large range of pastry goodies, dairy and cheese products, cakes and brownies, meat, beer and wine. Again everything is locally sourced and reasonably priced. Stocking up for the journey home I picked up a massive sausage roll, a steak and ale pie and a chunky slice of coffee cake along with the chicken book and got 10% off as we had eaten in the cafe. On later consumption, the sausage roll was middle of the road and disappointingly the cake was little dry and not as delicious as the coffee cake at The Dolls House.

The Verdict? Thumbs Up!
Putting our admiration for Hugh aside, this place offers decent food along with great atmosphere. If you haven't already gathered, we love that all produce is local and seasonal. There is a good choice of food, the serving times are very generous and the overall atmosphere is informal and relaxed. All staff were brilliantly friendly, attentive, smiling and chatting as they went about their jobs. We really enjoyed the hour or so that we spent here, this is a brilliant stop off if you happen to be in or near Axminster.

Trinity Square
EX13 5AN

Monday, 7 April 2014

Sandgate: Loaf

Sandgate is a quaint seaside town a little along the coast from Hythe. Home of the best fish and chip shop by the far in our opinion (The Little Fish Shop, their crinkly cut chips are lip smackingly good). It also has a cafe called Loaf, Ollie's favourite coffee stop off, which we visited this weekend. Easy to miss as you wander along the high street, this cafe is unpretentious and welcoming with outside seating and a retro look.

As it was slightly chilly and after a quick peek inside to see if our favourite leather sofa was vacant, we ensconced ourselves in the comfy corner and awaited our order. All tables are solid oak farmhouse style with various designs and colours of wooden chairs tucked around. The menus are etched on chalkboards hung along the wall, advertising a delicious selection of breakfasts and lunch options which I have yet to try but Ollie assures me are incredible. His previous indulgences have included pulled pork in a crusty roll with homemade slaw as well as a pastrami, emmental and gherkin ciabatta.

We didn't have to wait long for our coffees and chocolate brownies to arrive. I went for my favourite flat white to wash down the brownie while he went for a latte. The flat white was very good, smooth, silky with a great flavour most definitely on par with Brown's Coffee House in Canterbury. 

The brownie, although a bit pricey, was also delicious with a prefect consistency and a very generous portion size. We did however get food envy with a couple on a table next to us who had some amazing looking rolls stuffed with juicy meat which smelled divine.  

Sitting in the comfy sofa, the whole place has a very relaxed, friendly and laid back atmosphere. There were quite a few other customers enjoying a drink and something to nibble, and a pleasant chattering filled the room. The cafe is adjoined to a bicycle shop through which you can enter from the cafe or from outside, making it a bit different from your average cafe. 

The overall lighting was very soft and not at all harsh, and various types of seating are available from a full on dinning table, to our comfy sofa to seats in the window to watch the world go by. The block tiles behind the counter and interspersed pillars around the cafe give a slight industrial look which is balanced out with a smooth wooden floor and a simple paint scheme. 

A great feature were the vintage mirrors hanging on the walls along with the old fashioned standard lamp, but I do have a weak spot for all things vintage! 

The Verdict? Thumbs Up!
A really super little cafe serving some darn good food with equally great coffee. We will definitely be coming back to try out the flower teas and for me to try out the lunch options. One little niggle was that the waitress was way to quick to clear away our drinks and plates, even though we had ten minutes until closing time but we did feel rushed which was a shame. However, the staff were friendly, its an easy place to get to (you can just park on the street) and we are already planning our next visit as it's that good.

No 61 High Street

Friday, 4 April 2014

Our Pick: Top 10 Classic Vans For Sale

Seeing as neither of us have managed to squeeze in any tearoom tastings lately, we decided to do a round up of the best classic vans currently for sale seeing as it is National Classic Car Day (4th April) today in little old England.

1. Austin Morris J4 1974

Considered unusually noisy due to the engine being situated in the drivers cabin between the two seats, this van was a familiar sight on British roads delivering post in the Royal Mail livery during the late 60s and early 70s. This Morris van is currently on eBay and is a late example of the commercial J4 which was made up until 1974, although even at the time it offered a poor driving experience by the standards of the day. Even though this may be the case, we absolutely love the look of this classic van with its snub nose, chrome bumpers and big round headlights.

2. VW Caddy Golf 1988

First released in 1980, the Mk1 Caddy pickup is becoming a sought after classic. This pastel painted Mk 1 Caddy van is on ebay with a high starting bid of £9999. Converted from its original pick up body, this little van is ready to go as an eye catching catering business. The kitchen interior is fitted out with stainless steel along with a serving hatch. It would definitely attracted a lot of attention selling hot dogs!

3. Bedford Utilibrake 1962

The Beford CA type van is a very distinctive looking vehicle with its shelf like bonnet protruding from the bulbous cab. As with a lot of these old classic vans, the engine was half in the bonnet and half in the cab with the driver but unlike the Austin Morris J4, the performance of the Bedford was pretty adequate for the time, reaching a top speed of 60 mph! A popular base for ice creams vans, ambulances and camper vans it was affectionately know as 'the Tilley' and enjoyed a long production span.

4. VW 1973 Bay Window

This amazing pink VW camper has been converted into a stunning ice cream van and is on eBay for a buy it now price of £17500. With its jelly mold roof, baby pink paint work and overall vintage this second generation T2 (1967 - 1979) looks it would attract customers like bees to a honey pot. The Type 2 (Type 1 being the Beetle) had many received numerous nicknames worldwide, one being a 'hippie van' due to its popularity during the 1960's. This van, named 'Pinky' by its current owners is fully equipped as an ice cream van with a Mr Whippy machine.

5. Bedford Light Van 1933

Lots of these trucks were requisitioned by the Army for military use during the Second World War and many were abandoned after the retreat from Dunkirk, rendered useless to the enemy by removing the engine oil drain plug and running the engine. A truly classic looking vehicle with gorgeous sweeping mud guards, metal spoke wheels and sleek metal body work this would attracted attention for whatever it was used for. Currently on eBay with a starting bid of £7000, it has been fully refurbished.

6. Commer Suntor 1974

Commer was a British manufacturer of commercial vehicles from 1905 to 1979. Exported widely, Commer designed and built it own diesel engine for its heavy commercials. The Commer name was replaced by the Dodge name during the 1970's following the takeover by Chrysler Europe. Commer became known in the later years for producing vans for the Royal Mail but this van was considered labour intensive as the engine was difficult to work on. This Commer camper van is on eBay for a price of £5000 and comes with a cooker, grill and pop up roof for extra room.

7. VW T2 camper Champagne Edition 1978

A truly stunning example of the VW T2 camper, this fully restored van is a special Champagne edition. Originally the Champagne Edition was finished in a seventies colour scheme of Fuchsrot orange over a Dattelbraun brown, but this one has been resprayed in an all over gold hue so not keeping to the original model. On eBay for £18500 this is a true collectors item and would transform any camping trip from dull to full on retro.

8. Fiat 500 Furgoncino 1973

This is a lovely example of the baby Fiat commercial van in apple green paintwork, affectionately known as the Fiat 500 Furgo. With a 499cc engine it proved to be an enormously practical and popular vehicle throughout Europe as it was cheap and practical. This model features suicide doors and was the only model to sport this door type into the 1970's. On eBay for £14995, this is a peach of an example having been thoroughly looked after in an elderly Italians collection for many years. 

9. Morris Minor Van

The Morris minor was a British economy car that debuted at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1948. Initially available as a car version, the panel van and pick up variants appeared from 1952. This model is a 1972 van currently on eBay for £8995 in an eye popping sky blue paint. The Minor was a roomy vehicle with superior cornering and and handling characteristics, making it a popular and affordable car for the middle class.

10. Citroen H Van

One of the most used classic vans in the UK nowadays for vintage style catering, this restored van is a fine example of the Citroen's iconic HY van. Currently on eBay for £18,995 it is ready to trade as a coffee van with built in units, coffee machine and coffee grinder. In an original tropic beige paint it has a full years MOT and side and rear serving hatches.