Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Paignton, Devon: The Boathouse Cafe Review

Preston seafront was looking lovely on 9 Jan 2011.  The sea looked mirror calm and the rare appearance of the sunshine had strangers stopping to remark on it to each other.

My daughter and I went for a stroll along the waterfront and then decided it was time for hot chocolate and tea.  I had heard that The Boathouse was a decent cafe, but I was a little put off by this:

Well, it's out-of-season in Devon and I guess businesses need to drum up custom, but still....

Despite cheery greetings from the waiter, an overpowering stench of bleach, peeling paintwork and filthy sticky bits under the wooden table slats made me realise that this place must be primarily a Fri / Sat night bar rather than a gourmet cafe hangout.

The morning pastries didn't look very appetising under their cellophane wrappers so we had tea and a hot chocolate with all the trimmings.  Except one.

I'm not keen on tea in a glass (unless I'm in Spain or France where I don't care cos I'm on holiday), but I really do care about getting a carton of UHT milk with my tea.  Yuk.  That's what I would expect at a motorway service station or.....I'm not sure where....on a budget airline, but not in a beachside cafe that has a fully functioning fridge and everything.

This cafe was not really my sort of place at all.  The UHT did it for me. It was out-of-season and needing a bit of a revamp  - it looked lovely outside, so that's where we went!

Sorry, Boathouse, get well soon!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Exeter Cafe Review: SW Food Bloggers at Boston Tea Party

We had a get together of some South West UK food bloggers at the Boston Tea Party cafe in Exeter at the weekend.  It was the first time in the cafe for Choclette (choclogblog), Liz (feastsandfestivals) and Matthew (matthewsfoodblog), but I think they were impressed by the place - for its sheer size and great place for meeting up with people.

The downstairs looks like this - rather small and always hectic, but in a buzzy way:

And everyone gets a BIG surprise when they get up to the top of the staircase (tray, teapot, cake all in one piece - phew).  The upstairs room is vast and has a huge array of mismatched furniture, some enormous long refectory tables, sofas, original artwork on the walls and posters advertising everything cultural that's on in the Exeter area.

I suspect that some of the student frequentees actually live here.  They know which seats have access to the sockets for when their laptop batteries fade. They can make that drink and muffin last for many an hour.  I have on occasion spent a lovely afternoon here with a cuppa, a piece of rhubarb and custard cake and a favourite novel.  Simple decadence.

OK, so that's the ambience sorted.  They have loads of types of tea on offer - all served as leaves in clever tea pots with built-in strainers.  The cakes are great - my faves are the Portuguese custard tarts pictured above, but also good are the Devon apple cake, chocolate brownie, chocolate fridge cake - a fellow blogger reported that the coffee and walnut cake was average rather than mind-blowing.

Thanks to Choclette and Liz for coming up from Cornwall to have coffee and cake with Matthew and myself - really enjoyed having an inspiring chat about food and our blogs.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Posh Devon Cream Tea at Lewtrenchard Manor Hotel

We were treated this week to a 'posh afternoon tea' at Lewtrenchard Manor Hotel.  In the middle of stunning Devon countryside (bordering on Cornwall) that feels like it's miles from anywhere, this is an oak-panelled Jacobean mansion with a roaring log fire that was just right for a cold winter's day.

The ten of us were celebrating my Dad's birthday and we had a huge circular table in a panelled room to ourselves.  The children were determined to run around and around the outside of the table.  So they did.  We were brought out freshly baked (sultana) scones and small bowls of clotted cream and jam.  Rather embarrassingly (they didn't know about our distended Christmas bellies) we had to ask for more cream and they brought us a cereal bowl full.  The finger sandwiches weren't dainty, but the smoked salmon and cucumber ones were tasty.  Too much mustard on the ham version.

We ate all the chocolate cake, most of the lemon cake and only one piece of the seeded carrot cake.  We're that kind of family.  Shall I mention the member of our party who brought out their freezer bags and pocketed the remaining cakes to take home.....?  (wasn't me!)

Top marks for the scones - difficult to get right, superb when they are; sandwiches pretty good and the cakes were good, but could have been smaller and a little more....elegant... to fit in with the surroundings, rather than hefty big rectangles that looked straight out of a tray bake.

A lovely afternoon with family - thanks, Mum!

Lewtrenchard have the interestingly named 'Purple Carrot' experience where up to eight diners sit in a row and watch their meal prepared for them on flat screen monitors in front of them.

Chef's commentary is apparently optional.  Wouldn't be my first choice of a gourmet night out, but I suppose if I was getting bored of my dining companion, or needed something different, eating gourmet food whilst watching a kitchen on CCTV cameras might be a fun way to spend some time...

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