Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Birsay Bay Tearoom, Orkney

How far will I go to sample great tea in great surroundings? All the way to the end of the country, and then a bit further!

The Birsay Bay Tearoom lies at the western tip of the Orkney Islands "mainland", near to the spectacular Brough of Birsay and the remains of the historical Earl's Palace. Both of these are worth some of your time (especially the Brough, which is beautiful, though you might want to time your visit with the tides, so that you can get out across the causeway, but that's another story...) Anyway, once you've worked up a bit of a thirst, why not retreat to the Birsay Bay Tearoom for some light refreshment?

The tearoom itself is accessed up the small lane that runs past Earl's Palace - at one point you come to a little sign that informs you the tearoom is 100 metres further on - well, if so it's the longest 100 metres I've ever walked, but it really isn't far, and is certainly worth the stroll.

In common with much of the more recent building in the Orkneys, the outside of the tearoom really isn't much to look at (see picture, left) but don't let that put you off. Inside, a fine range of tea is served, with fruit and herbal teas offered, green tea available and, yes, decaff too. The nice thing about these is that they are all offered in pots for 1, 2 or 3 people. Other drinks are served as big or "peedie", peedie being Orcadian for small. There's a reasonable selection of cakes to accompany your cuppa too, plus a snack food menu, with jacket potatoes and the like (or baked tatties, as they are called in that part of the world). A word of caution if you opt for a baked tatty - you get to choose three options of accompanying salad, which sounds great. In reality, the portion of each is tiny - one of my choices was cucumber... and I got three slices of it. Oh well. Too much of a good thing, maybe...

In addition to the food and drink, artwork is displayed on the walls - this is available to buy from a nearby gallery. The tearoom also sells produce from the adjacent farm shop too. All well and good...

...but what really makes this place stand out, and quality it for inclusion here, is how it makes the most of its location. Big windows look out towards the Brough of Birsay, and binoculars are lined up along the window-sills for patrons to look out and watch the wildlife. Little guide books are also provided, so you can identify and learn about what you're seeing. You're certainly see plenty of oystercatchers at this time of year, but beyond that it's a real wildlife haven - for some, sitting in the warm and dry with a cup of tea and a slice of cake is probably one of the better ways to watch wildlife.

Pretty fine tea then, in a great natural location, with bincoluars and spotters' guides thrown in. Don't forget to take your camera.

Contact them: 01856 721399 | www.birsaybaytearoom.co.uk

Monday, 22 June 2009

Café Délice, Norwich

Café Délice, as the name suggests, is a lightly French-themed establishment that serves good, honest, affordable light meals and snacks... and, of course, great tea.

Speaking of which, let's start with the tea - there isn't a massively wide range to choose from, but there is, at least, some choice: Twinings Everyday Tea (which I had), Earl Grey, Chamomile, blackcurrant, peppermint and lemon. Green tea and iced tea are also available (though not on the menu, oddly). One notable omission was decaffeinated tea, of which there was no sign. Now this isn't a problem for me, but if you're one of the decaff crowd then maybe you'd better stick to coffee here, as that is served in a jolt-free version.

There are plenty of other alternatives too: there's a decent selection of Smoothies, plus Café Délice stocks Purity Soft Drinks, which are quite refreshing. And on top of all this, there's a decent range of food too: baguettes and sandwiches, pastries, cakes.... I had a croque monsieur (see, I told you it was French-themed). Although basic, it was tasty and filling. They also had some little tarts topped with fresh fruit which looked gorgeous but, since I'm back on a diet and I had only gone in there for breakfast, I can't report how good they tasted, only that they looked great.

Back to the tea though. Served in a proper cup and saucer, with a little of jug of milk on the side and with brown and white sugar cubes in a bowl on the table, this more than met the minimum standard for inclusion on Great Tea. Twinings Everyday Tea is good anyway - a good flavour without being over-strong. A nice touch is that Café Délice serves its tea with a little biscuit on the side - diet or not, I enjoyed that with my cuppa.

Another good sign is that, despite being very busy (a plus point in itself), service was fast, efficient and friendly - something that is increasingly rare these days. And, for a sit-down establishment, prices were very competitive. The only down-side is that it is quite a small sit-down establishment, so at peak times you might struggle to find a table. It's worth a little wait though. Café Délice is, ahem, délicieux...

Contact them: 01603 633912 | www.delicenorwich.com

Monday, 8 June 2009

Station Approach Coffee House, Sheringham

Don't be put off by the name - this coffee house serves mighty fine tea too, otherwise it wouldn't be on here!

Firstly, there's the selection of teas. No, I don't mean there's a wide range of different brews available for the tea connoisseur to luxuriate in. There is plenty of choice though. Besides "ordinary" tea, there's decaffeinated, Earl Grey and herbal tea to choose from. Then each of these varieties is offered in small/cup, large/mug or pot servings. For the purposes of this review (and to slake a thirst) a large mug of the ordinary tea was consumed which, happily, was both strong and full-flavoured. Exactly what you want to wash down your breakfast... the options for which were plentiful, by the way, as you might imagine from the size of the menu chalkbaords in the photo. My partner in tea had a large mug of the decaff, and that looked pretty good too.

The café itself offers a range of seating choices, including a sleep-inducingly warm conservatory and open seating which looks across towards the North Norfolk Railway steam trains as they pull into Sheringham station. Indeed, the size of the seating areas suggests that Station Approach might get very busy in peak tourist season, when the great and the good are piling into Sheringham for its old-school seaside charms.

Service is friendly and the menu, as I've already suggested, is broad, ranging from breakfast specials to lunch meals and all manner of snack items too. It's not going to win any culinary prizes, but it seems to be good, honest food and you can't say fairer than that. My breaky was good anyway.

A couple of other things to note if you're in Sheringham. Firstly, have a wander down the high street. Nice, isn't it? Lots of local independent shops. Well, the good people of Sheringham have been engaged in a long battle with Tesco, trying to prevent the supermarket behemoth from opening a store there, a move that would surely spell the end for the high street as it is now. To support the campaign against this retail empire, check out the TescNo blog. And secondly, when you get towards the bottom of the high street, keep an eye open for Ronaldo's ice cream parlour - they really do have the most excellent flavours and again, as you lick your cone of toffee & banana or raspberry & champagne or whatever, you can bask in the warmth of knowing you're supporting another local independent business. That, and have an excellent ice cream too!>