Trying to keep fit and eating cake

A review of Rhubarb, the cafe at the Glass Mill gym, Lewisham

I never expected to review a cafe in a gym. A gym cafe always felt like a slight upgrade from the vending machine back when I had swimming lessons. (I was never ever allowed anything from the vending machine.)

Rhubarb though is a real surprise, one sleek corner of the light bright reception of the Glass Mill Swimming Pool, with a counter piled with cake. My advice? Don’t touch the flapjack. It looks good and is sitting next to a brownie, which always helps because in the effort to choose between traybakes, you find yourself imagining good flapjack in your mouth. Do this at Rhubarb, and you will be disappointed. Sorry Rhubarb, the truth hurts.

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I don’t think that this will cause too much concern. The Earl agree tea loaf is excellent. The lemon and blueberry cake melts in the mouth, soft and crumbly and neither too acidic or too sweet. And the other cake options look just great- all the traditional list blooming with a bakery haze. The blackboard says that they had baked all the cakes on site. Where did they find this baker and how did they convince them to work in a swimming pool?

It took us ages to identify the breakfast menu, but it is there and it is not tack. I’ll be honest, having to find the menu amidst the burger filled (and cake) menu in a GYM, and seeing only oats-so-simple with 25% sugar (people do know that oats are simple even when they come out of a sack, right?) led me to expect microwaved bacon and cheese rolls. I was judging harshly. Thick cut white or wholemeal bread swamped in mushrooms and herbed scrambled egg arrived on our place. We’ve even gone so far as to ask if they will do poached eggs (like i said, this is a health suite) So far we’ve been refused.

Tea pigs darjeeling Earl grey in a pot with a glass, was very refreshing. Which is strange, because I seem to remember being quite mean about it at Giraffe. sorry Teapigs, we should chat and make up over a cuppa.

Is it newness? It might be, but I have to say that the bright daylight lit interior with neon pops of colour is wonderfully clean. Which is more than can be said of the changing rooms later in the day… But I am veering dangerously off piste. I’d tell you about the swimming pool, or justify my food choices after a swim but that would take this blog toooo far from it’s titled home. I’d have to start reviewing computer hardware next.<

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The window experience differs depending where you sit.

A review of cream tea at the Clarendon, SE3

You’ll have seen the Clarendon. It’s that impressive Georgian hotel right on top of the Heath. Looks like you’d have to be a millionaire to stay there right up until you see the room prices

The Clarendon has been branching out lately: jazz nights, afternoon tea. I approve of all of this, it’s bars and restaurants are always on the quiet side and the rest of the village can be a struggle to find anywhere to sit- especially for a genuinely quiet drink and chat on a Saturday evening…. If a little clincal.

This visit was to investigate the afternoon tea. Also reasonably priced at 12.90 per person – non sparkling (the tea menu, that is, not the person. Both my husband and I are very sparkling thank you very much). And they have “load of teas” according to the enthusiastic waitress, “absolutely loads”. English breakfast, Earl Grey an and loads of fruit teas to go with our “grub” . Lapsang? Oh she’s heard of that one from Costa, but the Clarendon is not as exciting as Costa.

Now aside from her tea expertise, I’d like to add that this waitress deserves a paragraph in her own right for being switched on to customer needs. She gave us the window table (definitely the best table in the hotel… I’ll come back to that), but then had the wherewithal to go and check first if she should close the window, and whether the table was too cold. How many better meals in my life would I have had if they had not been spent shivering?

The window experience differs depending where you sit. If you face the window, you get the vista of the heath, framed by a book case of heritage titles. If you face the restaurant, you look at the shabby navy curtain separating the rooms and keep wincing with the thought that surely it couldn’t be too expensive could it just be to buy new ones from eBay. It just seems so rude to such an elegant building.

Afternoon tea arrived with the standard supply of sandwiches, scones and cake. Oh, and tea, Darjeeeling from Twinings- a basic model for success unless you want to offer a seat of your pants teatime experience). The sandwiches of ham, salmon and egg were in brown bread which surprised us, and the scones too had a golden hue- very different from the bleached white picture in the advertisement. And everything had fresh strawberries scattered over it- a nice touch, as were the attention to detail of removing the crusts, and the fact that every ingredient was notably fresh to the extent that you commented on it. There had been no attempt to hide slightly aged cucumber in the salmon sandwiches. There had been an attempt to hide margarine in the ham sandwiches, with the use of mustard. This wasn’t entirely unsuccessful, but why would any self respecting restaurabter ever cond themselves having to hide margarine? At least stale food started off fresh.

The golden scones were delicious. Really so, fresh and warm and crumbling. I had to ask what made them different, and received the reply that they were really were normal scones but had sultanas in them. Who’d’ve thought it sultana’s in scones? (We had the suspicion that a brown sugar had been used instead of white, but are otherwise at a loss for the difference in flavour and taste).

Clotted cream came in mini jam pots which raised suspicions but it was faultless and there were no dodgy substances in the ingredients list, perhaps clotting was a process to preserve cream anyway? Portions of jam and cream were a little on the mean side. The mini fruit tarts were the only disappointment. Defrosted, or just out of the refrigerator and hence lined with cold custard. We should talk about this sometime- he appropriateness of custard in all fruit tarts. The exotic looking mini cakes on the flyer, coated in chocolate they were not. I don’t mind missing those by the way, they’ve being touted everywhere. Anyway, by this stage in anybody’s afternoon teas I have moved from needing something to soak up the tea to something with which to wash all the food down.

I’d call it a good value and good quality afternoon tea. Is good value what afternoon tea is supposed to be?

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Mouthful of cake, swig of coffee. Savour. A Review of Mara Interiors

Now there is a mini-review of Mara Interiors on my blog already. They are actually an interior designers who happen to sell cake and coffee to chat over rather than an actual coffee shop. So it always felt a bit like cheating to write about them. Also, the owner worked out that I am the that coffee shop blogger, which always felt a little intimidating. It’s so much easier to let my opinion run free when no one knows who you are.

However I have had such consistently pleasant visits there that I thought it was worth a revisit. especially as recently they have been moving their cake selections from solely Boulangerie Jade (which you know I love) to one made no other vendors. In particular this week we discovered these tea cakes (I believe the name is)

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Why have I only got a picture of half of a tea cake…? Because I couldn’t stop myself diving in. This blog, you followers, I forgot you all when faced by the tea cakes and the knife to tuck in… So I don’t even have any evidence of the raspberry one to share with you.

Was it good? Yeeeess it was good. But the one you do have a photo of is even better. The honey and lavender one that was in the words of the baker’s husband ‘less elaborate’ with only a layer of thin icing was fabulous. The best, full of subtle flavours and sugar. I liked. Mouthful of cake. Swig of coffee. Savour. Do something else for a couple of minutes. Repeat. It is necessary to get the balance between enjoying the cake and making the experience last as long as possible.

Very good coffee by the way. And sitting in an interior design shop you do get much nicer seats than in many of Blackheath’s options.

180 Westcombe Hill
Blackheath
London
SE3 7DH

‘Let’s all eat chocolate icecream because it is so much better than it used to be’ a review of Black Vanilla, Greenwich

A review of Black Vanilla in Greenwich

I don’t think the staff at Black Vanilla in Greenwich are very happy with me.
And that’s without even knowing about this blog.

It went like this: We arrived after a bit of a tourist outing in Greenwich. This had featured the Queen’s House (good art in parts) and the exciting Greenwich market. I’d just been sat by the Thames eating a South Carolina (err, or it might have been a different southern America. state…) hotdog followed by the market’s Churros. Both of these deserve comment, so please see the footnote below.

Needless to say, I wasn’t hungry when I arrived at the oft recommended Black Vanilla cocktail ice cream bar in Greenwich.

Also I was designated drinker. It is imperative to drink when you are designated drinker. Otherwise you would be depriving your other half of the next opportunity, see.

Then you have to consider that I really love Black Vanilla’s coffee; and an affogato (did you know that meant drowned? I only learnt it from the menu at Black Vanilla) would be great with a brandy.

Affogato after

Affogato after

But the hot chocolate kept catching my eye. The hot chocolate came with chocolate icecream in steamed milk. Wowee! We all know that the UK was slow on the uptake with chocolate ice cream, so when people actually started making the real stuff here, everything became a bit ‘let’s all eat chocolate icecream because it is so much better than it used to be’. And some of those Belgian chocolate ones were what we always knew chocolate ice cream should have been.

Let me make this clear: hot chocolate made of cold chocolate ice cream, melting in the cup. And that is chocolate ice cream with promise. Are you getting me?

I’ll never know if Black Vanilla chocolate icecream was as rich as it would need to be to make a really good hot chocolate. I didn’t choose it. (Well, I say never… I do after all have to keep visiting new places to keep you lot happy…) I just let it keep on short circuiting my brain from making any non-hot drink decision.

So in the end, I ordered brandy in Affogato because that would also be great and tick the alcohol box.

I leaned back as the waiter walked away and said, I can’t believe I haven’t picked a cocktail- they make ice cream versions, you know. To which my husband replied he was also in disbelief. That was the catalyst. What had I done? I’d missed ice cream mojito. It was the hot chocolate’s fault for diverting me.

I had to change the order to a coffee and the ice cream mojito. Hence their annoyance.

 

Ice cream mojito

Ice cream mojito

They are very civilised service there. We were offered water in elegant glasses with our order, something that I have only seen at l’Artisan despite all of my travels. It is also a very pretty upstairs room. It’s nice to see the opulence of the original building being enjoyed. And BV have chosen design rather than ‘shove ’em all in’ tables’, possibly to their detriment given the number of people being turned away.

 

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So the coffee arrived, and I won’t bore you on the subject of how great the Black Vanilla coffee really is again. See my review of the non-alcoholic Blackheath branch. But the mojito…. Ahh, the mojito. It wasn’t a long drink; it was served in a martini glass. It was refreshing, green, hapifying. I kept saying “I’m so sorry that I am designated drinker today” to my husband as I licked the sugar from the bottom of the glass.

Note on Greenwich Market Food: Since discovering these churros, a visit to Greenwich Market really means an excuse to eat the Churros with cinnamon sugar and chocolate (nice as creme du leche is, chocolate is a needed low note). There is no such thing as “I am not in a mood for Churros now”. Ever. The hotdog was also pretty pizazz- spicy sausage and all the trimmings in a half wholemeal baguette. I didn’t think I could eat it all, I couldn’t stop myself.

Ham sandwiches with jam- A Review of With Jam and Bread

http://www.withjamandbread.com/home/4567838228

People have been raving about With Jam and Bread. It’s a good title, you have to admit, echoes of the nostalgia of Nigel Slater’s toast. It’s a bright studio space with pops of art and uncomfortable red seats and is a welcome addition to the Lee high Road.

Interior if With Jam and Bread

Interior if With Jam and Bread

It is in fact an art gallery coffee shop, with the sort of art I would actually buy as opposed to strange collages that started off with a good corner, but had to make up for the rest with thick confused splodges of paint. Nine out of ten for atmosphere. I think this is why it is is such a favourite.

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With jam and bread turned out to be a description of the sandwiches. I did anticipate that my ham salad sandwich would come with bread, but I was taken aback by the oodles of strawberry jam soaking through it.

Ham sandwich with bread... And jam

Ham sandwich with bread… And jam

Actually, this proved a rewarding combination. Afterall, people eat honey roast ham. I could even see it working with goats cheese, egg (maybe I’m getting carried away), but I just would have preferred to know before I ate.

They have the decency to name their coffee source on the chalked up boards. Which tells me that they respect coffee. The 2:20 charge said they respected it a touch more than maybe I did. But the flavour suggested that respect was a distant affair, a conceptual respect for coffee that did not get close to intimacy. (It wasn’t bad, just wasn’t amazing),

The cakes also were so so. Particularly the almond croissant. Croissants are not to be messed with, they should be light, crumbling and crunchy. By no stretch of the imagination should they be squished, stale or made with margarine. Like I said, the almond croissant at With Jam and Bread was so so, possibly on the squished side. The lemon poppy seed was no better. It was a generous slice, but it was kind of stodgy.

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The tea, on the other had made up for it all. But not all that respected, appearing on the menu as leaf tea, with no variations led me to expect nothing but English breakfast until I ordered, and a vast array was rattled off. The pot arriving was both sophisticated in look and taste. There’s nothing like pouring endless cups from fresh steaming leaves and thinking, just thinking.

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I am going to get a lot of stick for this… A Lament for a Lost Starbucks (and some alternative recommendations)

I am pretty sad to see Starbucks bite the dust in Blackheath. I would have been sadder to see it go had it actually been allowed to use the downstairs for seating.

Ok, so it sold chilled cakes and thought that coffee was interchangeable for brown coloured perfume.

But it started the whole cafe culture thing. There were the days when I would sneak out of my creative writing college in my 15minute break for nothing less than a Starbucks latte to bring back to the classroom and slurp to the annoyance of my more grown up colleagues. And while I am obviously far to cultured to ever err… regularly buy a high street coffee now I have aged, I’ve still been known to pop in for a gingerbread latte (with even more subterfuge than when I go for a McDonald’s breakfast.)

Starbucks still has a few gems: eggnog lattes, and cinnamon rolls. it was in Blackheath Starbucks that I first read of the ‘Save the Con’ campaign.

Apparently the closure was all over licensing. Which at least means that, despite all appearance to the contrary, the village is not going to die in the strangle hold of betting shops and estate agencies. But it will suffer. It is hard to get a seat in the village at the weekend and sometimes you think you might not be bothered if the trip does not come with cake and coffee. (Because all trips are really about cake and coffee… or haven’t you been listening?) And another high street women’s clothing chain feels soulless, even as a woman, who really likes clothes.

And i would also like to note the good grace with which it departed, (even if it was a PR ploy)offering the residents of Blackheath free coffees in its dying days.

I hope the other coffee shops have hired baristas with skates on to meet the morning commute requirements of Blackheath station. Recommendations for alternative coffee for commuters I received from fellow tweeters:
Most like Starbucks: Giraffe (I have not reviewed Giraffe)
On the way to the station from Lee: Petit Boulangerie Jade (rumoured to open 7:30) My first ever coffee shop review!
Good Coffee: but differs from Starbucks Hand Made Food (you’ll laugh at the title of this review) and also Chapters
Exceptionally Good Coffee, but not open early, Black Vanilla
I’ve tweeted Black Vanilla that earlier opening hours would go down well (and probably make them a huge amount of money), bu t they do not fear my coffee shop reviewer power and haven’t actually replied. I was about to do a glowing review of their Greenwich location too. Sniff!
Highly recommended (but yet to be reviewed by me): Blackheath Deli
Coming from Blackheath Standard, Mocca
Costa has also been mentioned, but I can’t really side with that I’m afraid…

The Neon Counter Base Glowed Pink in Appreciation. A Review of the Coffee Shop at the Maritime Museum

Yet another surprising addition to the reviews that i had not expected to have much to say about. but the cafe at the Maritime museum is jolly jolly nice, and worth a visit in its own right.

It takes some finding. We emerged from the Ansell Adams exhibition determined to find the coffee shop for sustenance to keep going in out long evening out to come.
Distressed, we found that upstairs was closed and I concluded that the coffee shop no longer existed.

Not so, my hungry husband who insisted that we were too far from Rhodes for the coffee smell to be coming from anywhere else and located a map, only to find that it had been hiding behind the entrance to the exhibition.

What a magnificent vista from a large open space (locals will know that ‘large’ is an achievement in these parts). You can overlook Greenwich Park. Suddenly the months of boarded up maritime museum ruining the views from the park made sense. This was what they were building.

Winters day view

Winters day view

We purchased a dark chocolate lemon tart. The neon counter base glowed pink in appreciation of our choice, then red, the purple… Actually it just rotated through the visible spectrum.

Pink Neon Glow

Pink Neon Glow

I have to respect what is going on in the aforementioned lemon tart… We get good quality shortbread base, we get high content cocoa chocolate layered sneakily above it – in a kind of grow up, paid attention to detail sort of way, and we get luscious oozing lemon curd- you know how that is (see Boulangerie Jade review), plus a lightly brûléed top.

I do respect it. But I don’t agree with it. With the exception of bitter midnight lemon club bars (last seen in school lunch boxes of the nineties) lemon and chocolate don’t go. It’s the rules. They take you on two completely different sensory journeys – sorry to sound like an aromatherapist but it’s true. One is deep and bitter and cavernous. The other is sunny and light hearted. They wouldn’t even get on with each other on a date for goodness sake.

Fabulous ingredients individually. All wrong together

Fabulous ingredients individually. All wrong together

Fortunately the coffee shop at maritime was all over this and provided orange and chocolate shortbread tarts. I did not taste and cannot vouch for the adequacy of the tart, but consider this a much more acceptable combination.

We were there quite late, so we may have been seeing a depleted collection, but there were at least 2 other interesting looking cake options that I may return to investigate in addition to some very interesting main meals chalked onto the menu board.

And so to coffee. It boded well as the Italian primadonna barista hung over his assistant’s efforts, and it tasted good, arriving with a very romantic latte art. It tasted so good that we went to investigage the make despite closing time hanging over us. It was hard to miss.

Latte Art

Latte Art

But we did not purchase. At £7 a bag, this was indeed the most expensive coffee we had ever seen. So the various grades if strengths remain uninvestigated, and £2.20 a cup sounds like a very good deal.

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Coffee Shop at the Maritime Museum
(Not the 16″ West Brasserie, which is above it)
National Maritime Museum
Romney Road
Greenwich
London
SE10 9NF

Mocca Coffee Shop, It replaced Fosters. Easy to tell.

A Review of Moca, coffee shop and deli in Blackheath Standard

I have been neglecting Moca: I visit. I eat at Moca with friends who ask me if this will appear in the blog … and somehow it never does.

 

Perhaps this is because it took me ages to actually try the coffee. It’s never been a coffee moment when I land there. It feels unjust for a coffee blogger to opine without actually trying the coffee.

Or maybe I just can’t think of anything to say about it. it’s neither ‘out there’ or ‘back here’.

It’s at a sort of at a moderate distance.

Actually, they do serve Portuguese tarts. Portuguese tarts are great.

Actually, they do serve Portuguese tarts. Portuguese tarts are great.

I can provide a brief history of Mocca. Moca replaced Foster’s. It’s easy to tell: it now has a big shiny red banner instead of a run down yellow banner. However more importantly, this change in ownership replaced peculiar little polystyrene cups with some frothy brown and white stuff in with cappuccinos, REAL cappuccinos and lattes. I don’t quite understand why they used to be so bad because the last owners were Italian and did have a propa cappa maka. But I do have the absolute recollection of actually binning a cappuccino from Foster’s one cold morning.

Well, I can assure you all that the change in ownership means that everything has undergone a thorough upgrade, with smart brown seats and semi-deli provisions. I think they even use butter on their sandwiches now. The sandwiches are nice. There are freshly squeezed juices of all mixes on demand and flatbreads with interesting fillings. In fact all of the savoury offerings have proved enjoyable, served by the upbeat staff, albeit in occasionally freezing conditions (because they open the back door to cool down the kitchen).

Moca Interior

Moca Interior

I recently discovered the another reason why I had not reviewed Mocca. Other than the litle bite sized italian sweets, the cakes are nothing special. And cakes are meant to be special, right? Even if you are a Victoria Sponge eater (and I judge you not for your undemanding taste buds) the very name, Victoria (that’s Victoria as in big time monarch of the British empire- wore lots of big dresses) implies special. You don’t want to look at the cake counter and think, yeah well maybe next time. And I do at Mocca. I feel adequately nourished for lunch, and walk away thinking, at least the waistline hasn’t grown.

Two more great places for coffee and more at Blackheath Standard.. With reviews
The Scullery http://wp.me/p2yXJS-gd
Mara interiors http://wp.me/p2yXJS-c7

Mocca Coffee Shop, It replaced Fosters. Easy to tell.
A Review of Moca, coffee shop and deli in Blackheath Standard I have been neglecting Moca: I visit. I eat…

“It’s all going to be ok… I don’t face a moral dilemma”, a review of the Age Exchange, Blackheath

A Review of The Age Exchange, A Reminiscence Centre (with a cafe) Blackheath SE3

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It’s all going to be ok… I don’t face a moral dilemma. I’m not going to have to lie in order to avoid destroying a charity’s reputation. I was attracted to the Age Exchange Reminiscence Centre by the glassy light interior, recently installed following a well publicised refurbishment. I ran in to sit at the atrium at the back, only to realise I’d missed the leather seated, book-shelved (fake) stoved area. So I went back. How cool is that? The reminiscence centre offers cosy retro for winter, and modern glassiness for summer. I’d never imagined that calling it the Age Exchange was a reference to the interior.

Glassy atrium at the Age Exchange

Glassy atrium at the Age Exchange

Both Interiors - compare and contrast

Both Interiors – compare and contrast

Guaranteed, this makes the Age Exchange one of the top Blackheath coffee shop listings for comfortable interiors. For that reason I would go back. Often.

And look at the dinky lovely toys all over the place. Miniature tea sets. I always wanted one of these.

I started young on this coffee shop mentality.

Retro toys at the Reminiscence centre

Retro toys at the Reminiscence centre

20121224-171201.jpgWhich all leaves me morally free to tell you the truth about the coffee.

It was dire. This was despite the presumably ornamental coffee bean machine on the top of it. How can it be possible to order a cappuccino and find black coffee under the froth? And do those machines use fake milk? After the coffee flavour, milk and consistency, is there anything left to grade about a cappuccino?

Fake stove

Fake stove

One of the exciting thing about the Age Exchange is the library downstairs. It’s a real live (a little little) library, forced out of its original home opposite the Post Office and rescued by some die hard campaigners (I do wish they’d rescued the room occasionally used for exhibitions. Us local artists are now bereft.)

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The cake selection is very slight and could be added to, but satisfactory. We ate lemon cake. It was priced at £2 a slice, which means the re-vamped location has seen a 200% price rise, but this is still way ahead of the local competition.

I couldn’t tell if the staff thought we weren’t really supposed to be there but it didn’t say the ‘old exchange’ and my husband is getting on a bit. He spent the visit eyeing up the toasting forks. We needed something to cook marshmallows on our own smokeless fuel, and they can’t be much use on the fake stove. But we decided that stealing toasting forks from coffee shops (not to mention ones run by charities) is bad.

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Address The Reminiscence Centre
11 Blackheath Village
London SE3 9LA
Telephone 020 8318 9105

“I wouldn’t have ordered glacé cherry icecream. You’d have been ashamed of me if I had.” A Review of Black Vanilla Gelateria, SE3

A Review of Black Vanilla, Blackheath. London

Ok, so i am a stubborn character. This is partly the reason i have resisted recommendations from friends and followers on Black Vanilla coffee. Also Black Vanilla is a gelateria, and not having the time and hands to rearrange a cone of ice cream into an Affogato, I have being buying 2 scoop cones. More seems greedy.

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And add to that, the ice cream in Black Vanilla is ok. Yep, ok. And that’s sad for the only local gelateria I have ever heard of. Take for example, sour cherry icecream. I have a quandary here. I have to remember whether it was cherry icecream or sour cherry icecream. But even without the ‘sour’ in the name, cherry is not without a little tartness, right? With the one exception of glacé cherry icecream. And it definitely wasn’t called that. I wouldn’t have ordered glacé cherry icecream. You’d have been ashamed of me if I had.

Lots of ice-cream at Black Vanilla

Lots of ice-cream at Black Vanilla

So the fact that the maybe-sour cherry icecream was all sweet, also made me pretty cynical about all of these coffee recommendations.

However this is winter. No one ponders icecream at 4pm on a December afternoon (although a surprising number of customers were), and I thought- why not try the coffee? No one would ever know I’d compromised my cynic’s principles.

First sip… Wow… Deep and rich and yet again that slight coconut undercurrent that I encountered in Chapters. Caught in the act, I have to admit this is the best coffee I have tasted in the village.

Coffee at Black Vanilla

Coffee at Black Vanilla

I’d arrived wanting cake, maybe cake with brandy… And I was a little disappointed by the selection.. The quite cupcakes may have been ok, and i have heard good things about the pastries. I sadly skimmed and dismissed the possibility of a crepe, waffles, because when I tasted the crepe that was ordered by my table it was fabulous and lemony and crunchy with sugar. I persuaded my husband to make pancakes shortly after to make up for missing them.

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The white hot chocolate came recommended too.
So that’s how it is, if I fancy good coffee and pancakes, I’ll be down at my local gelateria
Still have cold feet though.

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32 Tranquil Vale, Blackheath SE3 OAX