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Today’s lunch outing in Ashbourne. Fab place with a great menu and frequently changing specials. They also have a lovely deli. Worth checking out if you’re in the area.


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.