Thursday, 10 June 2010

Walnut Grove, Dorchester

Thomas Hardy loved Dorchester, and immortalised it as Casterbridge in his novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge. I don't know if Hardy liked a good cup of tea, but if he did it's a shame that Walnut Grove wasn't around in his time, because he would have loved it.

Nestling down a side-street, just off the pedestrianised South Street, Walnut Grove is a relatively large café/restaurant with a biggish menu and keen prices. The decor has a very distinct style, and that's always a good thing, even if the style in question isn't to everyone's taste. The dark walls and silver accents do work, in my book, and give the place a very contemporary look. One side-effect though is that it can look a little dark in there. Or maybe it's just that I visited on a gloomy, overcast day.

A pot of tea for one will do two cups comfortably, and it's decent tea - just about strong enough, yet with subtle flavour. Another plus point is that prices are pretty keen - we had two buttered scones, a pot of tea for one and a glass of milk, and that came in at under a fiver. There's a choice of teas too, with fruit teas and decaff available.

As you would expect from an establishment that bills itself as a café and restaurant, the food menu is extensive, with snacks and more substantial meals on offer. The latter looked substantial and, from what I could see, were popular with the locals, and that's always a good sign, right?

What really makes Walnut Grove stand out though, that little bit above many other tea shops, is the level of service. The staff are friendly and helpful to the point that they really can't do enough for you, though fortunately not to the extent that it gets to be too "in your face". But it's these things that make a difference - there are lots of places in Dorchester, and anywhere else for that matter, that will serve you a good cup of tea. However, it's not just quality in the cup that is required to elevate this to great tea.

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Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Pop's Place, West Bay

The purpose of this website is to guide you towards a good cup of tea, as you know. And rest assured anywhere that serves a poor cuppa will not get a write-up. But it's not just the tea that gets a place on here - it's helpful if the café in question offers a little something extra, or has a unusual selling point. And Pop's Place certainly does.

Pop's nestles on the estuary wall in Bridport's West Bay harbour, the last in a line of similarly painted fish'n'chip establishments. I say establishments, but these really are (and I don't think the proprietors will mind me saying) not much more than sheds. Nicely decorated and very well maintained sheds, but sheds nonetheless.

Let's get the tea out of the way first. It's hot, strong and served in a good sized mug - it's not high-falutin' (it's PG Tips, as it goes), but it tastes good as you sit at the little table next to Pop's and survey the harbour scene. You help yourself to milk from a jug, and put as much or as little sugar in as you like whilst at the counter, so you can tailor the tea to your exact preference. There may not necessarily be massive choice, but the tea they serve here is great tea.

The service is great too, friendly and welcoming, from the proprietor and, I'm guessing, his daughter. Yes, this may be a tiny establishment, but it feels big-hearted.

So what are the unusual selling points I mentioned earlier? Well, it's the range of food accompaniments to have with your tea, all of which are perfect seaside fare. First is the fish'n'nchips - I am reliably informed that the cod is excellent: skinless, boneless and in a wonderfully light batter. Then there are the Dorset pasties: locally made, with locally sourced ingredients, these are excellent. The lamb and mint is good but the steak and stilton is spectacular, and I would recommend this in an instant. Then there's the volcano ice - a dessert confection consisting of a warm doughnut with ice cream, sauce and sprinkles. This, I think, is bound to keep the kids happy.

So, you're at the seaside and you want a decent cup of tea, and while you're about it you fancy something to eat too, something suitably decadent, unhealthy and, let's be honest, seaside-y. Pop's Place covers all these options in some style, and serves it all up with a friendly smile and a bit of a chat. What more could anyone want? Great tea from a great shed!