Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Den at 23, 23 Crouch Street, Colchester - Vegan Cafe

Nice new places seem to be popping open in a steady stream around Colchester Town at the moment. Yay. And this type of Cafe is a new one even for me, someone who has eaten her way around the world. Yesterday, the March Hare experienced her first Vegan lunch, and you know what, I liked it!

Last Friday The Den at 23 opened its door's for the first time to a wondrous reception. Even though they have been open less than a week they have been selling out of some dishes completely and on Saturday (their 2nd day!) had a queue out the door and down the road! If there was proof that the Vegan market was in dire need of attention, this is it. I'll be honest, I am extremely ignorant in the ways of the Vegan diet but after such a wonderful experience in this little place I think I will be coming back here very regularly. I love the fact that there is now so many great places to eat in town these days (Three Wise MonkeysEast Coast DinerHudson + Hudson etc etc), but, I'll be honest, one doesn't always fancy meat and actually as a society I think we are realising that perhaps it is not good for us to eat so much of it, not to mention all the Dairy products we consume. I have been on a bit of a mission since moving here to try and persuade some healthy restaurants to come here. I miss the choice you get in London for healthy options, salads, sushi, and the like. But now that little gap in the market looks like being filled.

The Den is a great name for this place as the space it occupies is quite small, however, they have made a good job with the room hey have and it doesn't feel cramped at all.  It may be small, but it's perfectly formed. I think the danger would be to stuff it full of tables and chairs but then it's not a relaxing environment to be in. My son and I had a lovely time, sitting in the window, in the sunlight, waving at the people walking past. 

They do also have an upstairs area, which is bright and clean and a lovely place to sit.

These guys have got things spot on, which I am sure will mean they are a great success. I predict they may grow out of this space pretty quickly if the last few days are anything to go by:

* The couple that have opened The Den are very friendly. As well as having lunch there yesterday, we also popped our snouts in on their opening day to say 'hi'. (We like to do this when new places open as we are total nosy parkers but also to show our support. I think it takes big balls to set up your own business so anyone that does it deserves a bit of a local pat on the back). Both times, they have had big smiles, have been very chatty and are extremely personable. It's super important to make your customers feel welcome and although not rocket science, a few other places around here might do well to remember how critical this is in building a regular and supportive customer base. The more places that open up, the more choice people have of where they want to spend their money. No one needs to put up with bad customer service anymore. There is one place in town in particular which does a very nice cooked breakfast but we don't go there anymore as the owner is a douchebag.

* They have made great use of the space. It isn't cluttered, it's clean, bright and relaxing. A simple interior but well done. They also commissioned an sign writer to paint the sign on the exterior and its these little touches which make this place special.

* The food we had was tasty, fresh and good value. As the pictures show, we did only have a sandwich and cupcake but that was because the Chilli and the Salad had both sold out (must get there earlier next time). Any preconceptions I may have had about Vegan food were eradicated here. It's going to sound a bit of a stupid thing to say, but I'll say it anyway, I wouldn't have known it was Vegan!

So there you have it. It's a must for Vegans but also non-Vegans. It's an education in a different type of cuisine for me and one that I am grateful to be able to experience on my doorstep.

Thank you The Den, I would wish you luck but I don't think you're going to need it.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Pump Street Bakery, 1 Pump Street, Orford, Suffolk, IP12 2LZ

54 minutes away from Colchester lies the pretty village of Orford. It is our little family tradition to go there on Mothers Day and eat delicious food.

I say it's a tradition but today is only the second time we have been as my son is only 2 and 3/4. The first time we went there, last year, I decided I would like to retire there. It's beautiful. There is a lovely church, 2 pubs and a post office but what sets it apart from many other rural villages is not only the added bonus of a Castle (Orford Castle), an award winning Smokehouse (Pinneys of Orford ) and a wonderful fish restaurant (The Butley Orford Oysterage) it is the gorgeous (in every sense), Pump Street Bakery.

It really is a must visit place for anyone traveling through Suffolk. It has had lots of super reviews from some very highly regarded food critics (including Jay Raynor and Thomasina Myers) and it was even mentioned in a thank you speech by one of this years Oscar Winners! (Mat Kirkby offered free Pump Street Bakery doughnuts for life ).

When we went to Orford last year unfortunately there was no room for us to sit in, it has just one long refectory table for those wishing to eat/drink in, but today we were in luck. I know not everyone is a fan of communal tables but I find it a great opportunity to chat to people. The family next to us had moved to the area from South West London so were in a similar boat to us. It always makes me feel a bit better to meet other people who have moved out of London. Communal tables also give me the opportunity to eye up other peoples food at close range. The South West London guys were having the French Toast which looked amazing. If we weren't about to have lunch over the road at the Oysterage I would have ordered a couple of portions and probably passed out.

However, we opted for a coffee and a Cinnamon Danish instead (although we did bring doughnuts and sourdough home for an afternoon treat...), which was delicious of course.

Then as soon, as we had finished our mid morning pitstop we walked across the road to the Butley Orford Oysterage.

It's a no frills fish restaurant which serves lovely fresh seafood from the local area. As with the staff in the bakery, the staff here are very friendly and its another 'must visit' if you are in the vicinity although you may have to book a table in advance. It gets very busy.

When we looked through the menu we realised, if we ordered everything we wanted to eat we would have been ordering 5 starters and 6 mains for the three of us, it was very hard to choose which dishes to have! However, we eventually settled on the Brown Shrimp, 3 Oysters and Whitebait to start . Delicious. My son only ate the heads of the whitebait and I only wanted the bodies so it worked out pretty well.

Then we moved onto the mains and had an amazing spot of good luck. There was nothing remotely unusual about the insides of my delicious smoked trout but inside one of Wig's mussels, he found a tiny pearl!I think I'm going to try and get it set into a little ring.

It really was a perfect day out made even more memorable by our little pearl. I feel after all the upset of 2014 this is our little symbol of hope for 2015. Thank you Orford, for a really wonderful Mothers Day. See you next year.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Centre Parcs, Elveden Forest, Suffolk

I feel like we have just been let in on a secret that loads of people knew about but we didn't. Until now. Centre Parcs. What a revelation! We have just come home from a great 4 night break in the Elveden Forest. After we had booked our trip (last minute, 2 weeks ago) loads of people we knew remarked "Oh, yes, we go there all the time". Well, thanks for not telling us.

We chose the Elveden Forest location as its only an hour from Colchester and was £100 cheaper than the same holiday in Longleat. I have no idea why as I think they are all pretty much the same. Anyway, it was great and we'll definitely be back. Our son had a wonderful time being driven around in a bike trailor, flopping around in the awesome indoor pool (complete with rapids, slides, waves, complimentary life jackets) and being given balloons at every meal time. Sometimes I am really jealous of my son.

We stayed in one of the hundreds of 6 person 'lodges' deep in the forest, actually furthest away from the main 'plaza' but we needed the exercise frankly. The lodge had 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, another WC, a main living area with kitchen, dining table and lounge area. Outside, all the lodges have their own patio with barbecue and table and chairs. All lodges come with 1 highchair and cot as standard so its perfect for anyone with young kids. Some of the larger places to stay have their own saunas and hot tubs which would have been brilliant if we had stayed in the summer time, and they also have tree houses.

The plaza had places to eat if you didn't want to go completely self catering (Cafe Rouge, 3 Starbucks, a couple of burger places, an Indian Restaurant, and most bigger restaurants had softplay areas in them!). There is a well stocked supermarket (complete with Krispy Kremes), a top shop and they offer a food delivery service if you are feeling super lazy.

We saw this peacock sniffing around one of the coffee shops.

Aside from the pool and the bikes (which you have to pay extra to hire), softplay areas, out door playgrounds, Birds of Prey, there were loads of other things we could have done, but my son is still a little too young. Archery, Quad biking, badminton, zip wire....They did have little kid events on and a creche where you could leave your children for a few hours, but being helicopter parents we didn't like to.

We did try to enjoy a nice family 'treat' of pottery painting but I don't think it was that successful. 2 hours painting a side plate was not my son's idea of a good time. However, I painted this plate which I am pretty happy with:

Overall, it was a triumph and I would recommend it to anyone that has small children, and even anyone that has big children. The only downside was our terrible sense of direction. We lost the car on the first night, the bikes on the second day and trying to get out on the last day was reminiscent of 'Picnic of Hanging Rock' as after I dropped my bike off I tried to locate the car again. And failed. But we eventually found each other and the Exit and reluctantly headed home.

On the way back we popped into the Elveden Estate and saw a chicken. The perfect end to a perfect week. We are all still knackered, hence this rather brief post, but looking forward to planning our next visit.