We all have our little weaknesses don’t we. For some its handbags, others shoes and for quite a few of us it’s chocolate. My weakness is great cafes. I’ve been known to plan holidays and outings around a fab little place that serves a decent cup of coffee, pot of tea and something to eat, whether it’s brunch, lunch or a big slice of hugely calorific and equally delicious cake. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy a meal in a restaurant or pub, I absolutely do, I just feel more at home in a cafe instead. I think it has something to do with that not only do you drink and eat there, but it’s perfectly ok to read a paper, a book or a magazine. In fact, the best cafes positively encourage you to do so by providing big piles of reading matter. Cafes are a place to meet up with friends without having the rigmarole of booking a table. If someone joins you late, then it really doesn’t matter, they can just pull up a chair and go and order at the counter. Nor does anyone need to feel like Billy No Mates in a cafe if they happen to be on their own. Would I feel comfortable eating alone in a restaurant or pub? Absolutely not. Would I be happy to grab a table in a cafe if I’m on my own? Absolutely yes. Who can resist the hiss of the coffee machine, the aroma of freshly ground coffee, breakfasts being cooked to order and counters that are laden with cakes, salads and other tempting goodies.
Every day it seems that a new coffee shop is opening especially in the cities. Take Bristol for example, a city close to my heart as it’s where I grew up and still yearn to be. I like to keep an eye on what’s happening there by following Bristol based feeds on social media. Not a week goes by without at least two opening. Most are pocket hankie sized with nothing more than a counter and a tiny space for drinking in. These cater mainly for the grab and go customers, rather than a place to take your family or meet up with friends for Sunday brunch, or refuel and catch your breath after a busy few hours shopping. Yes, these little coffee shops serve a purpose but they aren’t true cafes. There is most definitely in my eyes, a difference between the two and they shouldn’t be confused as being the same thing. Coffee shops focus on the the beverages rather than the food. The food and drink are equally important in a cafe. You can eat a meal cooked to order in a cafe. You get to grab a sandwich or something from the chiller in a coffee shop.
I love quirky, stylish and comfy cafe interiors.
Our high streets are sadly dominated by the big coffee shop chains serving their identical menus of drinks served in an assortment of sizes. How anyone can drink a full strength Americano in a cup that requires two handles without bouncing off the walls with all that caffeine flowing through their system is beyond me.I like a caffeine hit but not one the size of a small country! Not for me either are prepackaged paninis, salads and sandwiches and mass-produced cakes put together on a production line in a factory miles away from where they will be eventually consumed. I like to think that independent cafes would go out of their way to use locally sourced produce, something chains just can’t do.Unfortunately I need to hop in my car and cross town to reach an independent cafe or go further afield. Within a five-minute drive from where I live there are two Costas and a Starbucks almost sitting side by side of each other. Maybe it’s hypocritical of me to admit that I use them considering that I’ve just criticised them, but I’m hardly going to refuse meeting my friends there for coffee if they are the only choice I have. Maintaining those friendship is ultimately far more important than having principles about where I drink my coffee, but I wish that I had the choice to choose between the “big boys” and the little independents.
There is a little cafe at the far end of Cornwall in the village of St Just that I discovered on one of my internet searches for cafes to visit whilst on holiday. It’s called The Cook Book and to me, it’s my perfect little cafe and I wouldn’t dream of a trip to Cornwall without visiting it at least once. My ideal cafe isn’t just a place to eat or drink and sure enough The Cook Book doubles up as a second-hand book shop upstairs with bookshelves spilling over into the cafe.It’s a very friendly, very popular place full of locals and visitors alike. We try to grab a couple of stools and sit around bar like communal table near the counter if it’s free. It’s an unassuming cosy little place. Apart from its yearly new coat of paint, I doubt if the interior has changed much over the years.You don’t go to The Cook Book because it’s stylish and trendy, you go because the food is simple, home cooked and absolutely delicious. Nothing fancy but definitely not plain and most produce, including the tea, is locally sourced. The cafe is very much part of this small community, but when you walk through the door, no matter where you come from, you are greeted as a guest and not just a customer. On our first visit we got to talk to David, the owner, a very friendly, happy to chat to you, man. That was three years ago now and I can’t remember how it came about, but we have been Facebook friends since. We spent last Christmas in Cornwall and on Christmas Eve we drove along to St Just looking forward to our Cook Book fix, but alas we were too late and David wouldn’t let us in because they were closing early so that his staff could start their Christmas break. Of course he didn’t know us from Adam,he meets lots of customers, but we could hardly stick our foot in the door and announce that we were his Facebrook friends from Swindon and we’d come a blooming long way for a slice of Della’s delicious cake! Although we live many miles away, we’re kept up to date with news from the cafe by reading its excellent newsletter. It would be brilliant if all cafes copied The Cook Book’s example and did the same. I’m not surprised that this remarkable little cafe does well in “best of”award competitions. To me, it’s an absolute winner and I can’t wait to go back at Easter.
When I was little I dreamt of being a ballerina, now that I’m big I dream of owning a cafe. Becoming a ballerina was never going to happen. Owning a cafe is achievable but have I got the vision, energy, business acumen and finances to make a dream come true? I would have to say yes to the first two, but no to the last two.Will it ever happen? Probably not, but never say never! Dreams are free though, so what would my dream cafe offer?
1. A comfortable attractive space with good seating. No distressed wooden benches or anything with an industrial look. Saying that, chintz, homely or pseudo vintage would be out too.
2. Great food obviously. I’d mix the popular favourites with dishes with a modern twist. All homemade and locally sourced. Presentation would be really important. Fabulous coffee is a must!
3. Family friendly and accessible to all.
4.Happy and well-trained staff with great customer care skills and loving what they are doing.
5. A multi functional space with a community feel and a possible space for events. It could be used by book groups, knit and natter circles, poetry evenings, talks and much more besides.
My perfect cafe food
I’m off to London tomorrow on my own. I have a day to fill and at some point I’ll need to stop for lunch. I’m hoping that I’ll find a great cafe to refuel and while away some time, so I’d better stop here and start researching to find my cafe in the capital. I think that I might have one or two to choose from!
Some of my images are curtasy of Pinterest