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Review of Jack Rabbits

For those unaware of it I am a huge fan of fantasy fiction and recently started going to conventions to meet other readers and some of the authors whose books I love. The latest was Edge Lit at the Quad in Derby (see my friend Paul’s report here) and it was quite honestly the best I’d been to in ages, a good range of things going on and I had the chance to talk to a lot of good friends and hopefully made a few new ones as well.

I started the day with a group of my favourite people at Jack Rabbits cafe in Derby city centre. Between us we had a variety of breakfasts, lots of odd conversation and much coffee. It’s a beautiful cafe with a farmhouse atmosphere, mismatched chairs and tin crockery.

I had a latte and a toasted Crich fruit square. The foam on the coffee was a good consistency but there wasn’t really enough and sadly the coffee was actually quite weak. I was reliably informed by my sidekicks that the black coffee was much stronger. Tea came with a tin mug of hot water and a tea bag separate, I love tea like that because you can make it quite weak but it would be hard to get a really strong cup from it. The tin mugs are lovely and keep the drinks very warm although they could be very hot to the touch.

Mid-way through our visit an arrival of bread marched in and looked completely wonderful. You can have a look on their website to see all of the local suppliers that they use and browse the menu in advance. Our table (or rather the people sat around it) also had bacon sandwiches, toast, bacon and scrambled eggs. All passed with merits! The cakes were a little disappointing, none really grabbed my fancy and the fruit square I had was a little dry. The portion sizes were huge and good value for money though.

The staff were friendly and helpful without being too over attentive. There was quite a mixture of customers but early on a Saturday morning, unsurprisingly, there were quite a number of small children. It isn’t an easy place to negotiate and there is little room, it would be quite tricky with a wheelchair and it was quite hard to get around people.

Jack Rabbits is a lovely cafe and a great find in Derby (which really needs more good foodie places). This is a really pretty little place with great staff and atmosphere. It was a shame that the drinks were not really strong enough for me. This is definitely somewhere to go for a meal rather than coffee and cakes and I am really looking forward to going back soon to try out more of the meals because all of the ones that I saw there looked amazing!

The Apple Tree

We had to battle through sudden cloudbursts and patches of enthusiastic flooding to reach The Apple Tree (ironically enough on Flood Street) in Ockbrook but it was the perfect remedy to a wet, stressful day.

I had read about the cafe online and had been looking forward to investigating further. It fits quite perfectly the idea of a very charming, independent tea shop. The front half of the store is a craft and card shop with some lovely gifts and a great range of very unique cards. For saying that there are only five tables it has a lovely atmosphere and there are little details that make it welcoming. They use a range of very eclectic crockery and the menus have a note in them encouraging people to donate their old cups and saucers to the shop to be used again rather than thrown away.

Even though it was late afternoon but the time we arrived there was still a good range of cakes, cookies and muffins to choose from. I had a piece of the dark chocolate rocky road, which was wonderful, not too sweet and with an unexpectedly good texture to it. The date and walnut cake was likewise beautiful with a loose crumb and bags of flavour served with plenty of butter.

The drinks menu is extensive with lots of Twinings teas and a large coffee menu as well. I had a flat white, which is a rarity around here anyway, and it was really quite good. I could have done with it being stronger (definitely go for the flat white over a latte here) but it had a nice taste and was a good blend to be made into a range of drinks as it still had enough character even in a milky coffee. Mine was made to a good temperature although it needed to be made with a little more texture in the foam to be a true flat white.

The food menu is quite limited but has a good mix so even without a lot of choices there is probably something for everyone. This is very much a cafe that does some food rather than being a real lunch type place. There is also a kids menu which I would imagine is popular here. The prices are very reasonable and I had a large coffee and good sized piece of cake for £3.

The layout of the cafe is quite snug but when sitting down it doesn’t feel cramped and it wouldn’t be too hard to fit a wheelchair inside. The toilet is tucked away behind the counter and is accessible but cramped for space so might be a tight fit. The chairs are simple but cheered up with lovely kitschy cushions. While we were sitting it filled up, an after school rush with an equal mix of parents and kids. The walls have antique photographs and paintings, mostly for sale as well. It would be very easy to drive past without knowing it was here and the parking is rather tricky in the village but I’ve very glad to have found it.

The Apple Tree is a delight, rather hidden away but worth visiting both for the cakes, drinks and as a relaxing bolt hole away from nearby Derby and Nottingham. I’ll certainly be going back again.

Open Monday – Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturday 10am to 4pm. http://www.theappletreegiftshop.co.uk/

The Bottle Kiln

The weather was so muggy that even the radio presenter commented on it, luckily I was headed to The Bottle Kiln in West Hallam to try out their coffee and their website advertised a Tranquil Garden. There is a good sized car park with an overflow signposted and inside the cafe there are plenty of seats.

The cafe is attached to an open plan shop selling a range of home, gift, craft and jewellery pieces. There was a nice mix of bigger names and smaller British designers. The shop is quite cluttered, not a place to take small kids or to try and get a wheelchair through. There are plenty of ramps instead of steps and it would be easy to get a wheelchair into the Tranquil Garden although the cafe itself is harder to navigate around. The garden is peaceful until someone starts talking and then the noise really carries. It is non smoking outside but this didn’t stop people from lighting up anyway. The tables are beautifully arranged in a circle around a central garden with all of the tables and a lot of the stools built out of stone to match the kiln chimney. The stools were comfortable but because of the solid base of the table it was extremely hard to sit around with no room for even my legs (and I’m only 5’3″). Inside the cafe there are mostly booths which looked good and made it seem cosy.

There was a rather limited selections of cakes when I was there at about 2.30pm, with only a few cakes and tray bakes as well as three types of scone. There were no gluten free cakes or biscuits available which was a shame. Also the cake display case was open at the back and there were flies on the cakes, which is quite off-putting as you stand in front of them to order.

I ordered a skinny latte, which I was hugely looking forward to. The Bottle Kiln and their staff have won awards for their drinks although I’m not really sure why. The coffee I had was weak and not hot enough, the foam on top was distinctly lacklustre and there was very little, certainly not the right ratio to the amount of hot milk I had. It left a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth and tasted a lot like a very average high street coffee rather than an award winning independent retailer. If you do decide to take your food and drinks outside you have to walk through part of the shop which seems a little strange but other people were doing it so I followed suit.

The food menu was limited but appealing and they had an extensive coffee menu as well, welcoming custom drinks with decaf, syrups and hot/cold options available on request. They also have a really good tea selection with good brands and plenty to choose from.

The surroundings were very pretty and relaxing and the craft shops are definitely worth browsing around if you are nearby but I’d avoid the coffee, I’ll definitely have tea if I go again!

This was the coffee shop I had been heading to when I was diverted to Newark because they are closed on a Monday.
The rest of the week they are open between 10.00 and 5.00. Check them out at http://www.bottlekiln.co.uk

Newark & Strays

Heading fast down a dual carriageway and being repeated told to turn right in 80 yards gets wearing very quickly. It sort of set the tone for the whole of my day out though.

As plans to try out one of the coffee shops I had been looking forward to visiting was scuppered by surprise Monday closing I set out rather late for Newark. I had heard of a little coffee shop that made great lattes and planned on looking around the church in town as well. Despite my sat nav having a mid life crisis on the A52 I managed to find my way to Newark without too much trouble. I have a rather old fashioned habit of navigating by churches when I don’t really know where I am going and so I ended up parked in the shadows of St. Mary’s.

Newark strikes me as a very strange place all over, there are so wonderful shops and for a market town it has been surprisingly well maintained with lots of independent retailers and fewer chains than I had been expecting. Naturally it has not been entirely left alone and there are still quite a lot of charity shops and the usual brand stores but it still feels like a little local town. One of the things that I am sure has helped to keep it tied to its past is the layout of the streets, the Market Square in the centre with a large number of streets winding around it mean that you seems to be in a maze of smaller, less pedestrianised streets most of the time.

I had a walk around but having skipped breakfast headed to have an early lunch at Strays, a cafe I had heard much about. It turned out that I had gotten the wrong end of the stick completely about Strays. It is not just a small cafe but also a bookshop, tapas restaurant and jazz venue. Now, for people who don’t know me I just listed several of my very favourite things. This should have been a winner from the start but sadly there were a few key things that really let it down.

They serve breakfast, light bites and drinks through the day as well as tapas on a Friday from 5pm and then they also have live jazz on Fridays from 6pm. I had a CBM panini (£4.95) which was “herb-roasted chicken with oven-baked bacon, fresh lemon mayo and a little black pepper”. They have an extensive menu with lots of options for all sorts of diets and specials each day as well. My panini was lacklustre to say the least, the chicken was quite dry, the bacon was nothing special at all with little flavour (also not cooked very much, and I happen to prefer it very well done) there was almost no mayo and if the pepper was there it wasn’t noticeable. It was served with a very lovely portion of coleslaw and a generous handful of salted crisps. The sides were definitely the best part although I perhaps chose poorly because several of the other meals that I saw people eating looked nice, however I can’t honestly recommend it. I had been told about Strays by a coffee lover so I went for a walk around the town to work up an appetite for a hot drink.

The main draw of Newark must surely be the architecture, a town with such history is bound to have lovely buildings, and the streets are crowded with a timeline of English history. I hit upon market day completely by accident but it looked mostly bric-a-brac so I steered clear and carried on wandering around. Although the streets were beautiful it didn’t feel like a welcoming place and is not somewhere that I will be hurrying back to.

Back at Strays again I ordered coffee and sat down, in another section of the cafe. The cafe really is huge and very spread out, it is like a maze although from eavesdropping it seems that It has recently been changed around. The wait for coffee was about ten minutes at lunch time which is perfectly fine for a good cup of coffee, which this was. Breaking the rules a little I had a skinny latte, simply because I felt rather unsettled after lunch. It was well made with just the right ratio of foam to hot milk. The coffee itself was strong without being too bitter and had lovely art on top. It was well blended, and there were no grounds left in the cup afterwards. It was a generous portion which was nice considering that it cost £2.50 for a regular size. According to their website the coffee is ethically sourced and locally roasted.

There are a lot of doors so it’s hard not to end up sitting in a breeze even when not in the contained courtyard. Where I was sitting the second time there were also a large number of flies buzzing around which was pretty off-putting while trying to eat. The chairs are arranged badly and because of a rather strange organisation within the cafe it meant the staff were constantly wandering around people trying to find out whose food belonged where. I didn’t try any of the cakes but they had over twenty different types, two of which were gluten free.

Although there are steps inside most of them are quite low and it was reasonably disabled friendly but it would be very hard trying to get a wheelchair inside due to the room and the counter for ordering was up a few steeper steps. The staff were friendly but seemed quite flustered even when it wasn’t busy. For what I ate I would say that it was a little pricey considering the quality. I’d definitely recommend going for a cup of coffee and perhaps a cake but avoid the paninis at least if you are looking for lunch.

A nice coffee shop with a good atmosphere, if you aren’t there at peak times, great tasting coffee and a large menu but let down by the food a little.


Talking About Food

A very quick update over here to say that I am going to start putting a few foodie type reviews up. I have been talking to several people about doing some ‘real’ restaurant reviews but I want to get some practice in before I try it out properly.

I’m looking mainly at places that are local to me but also will probably write up places that I have been when on my travels. When I’m writing poetry I often go to cafes because I am in-between houses at the moment and so go crazy if I don’t escape in between. This means that there are going to be more coffee shop reviews than restaurants. Also, I like cooking more than eating out most of the time!

The other point that I have been thinking about lately is how important it is for me to make clear that I don’t get paid for the reviews, I am very nervous about accepting review requests when the restaurant would know I am going to be writing it up. This is only a hobby for me, I would love to have a budget but right now I don’t and so I won’t be eating at many top end places but at the same time I know for certain that the best places are not the most expensive and vice versa.

In a related note I’ve been pretty unwell lately and so recipe testing has been put to one side, I’m gradually getting a bit better so I should be able to get back on track and write up some of the cookbooks that I have been sent to review.