Saturday, 30 May 2015

Tea Tour - Berkhamsted

For some time now, Tea-Rex has wanted to take me to Dar Papillon - a vegan cafe and tea room in the centre of Berkhamsted.

Located within a complex that includes activity and treatment rooms (yoga, massage etc), a florist, and a small health-food shop, the cafe itself has that relaxed attitude towards space and organisation reminiscent of many a vegetarian eatery, with some window seating here, a shelf of books to browse there, a little bit of this and a splash of that. The decor has a Moroccan flavour, and indeed we were immediately served complimentary glasses of Moroccan apple tea with fresh mint.

Our primary reason for visiting was their impressive tea selection, which, whilst mostly teabags, is served in small teapots with mismatched cups (minus the saucers!). However, as we had arrived at lunchtime we decided to eat there. As a long-time vegetarian I love finding a restaurant or cafe where I can eat anything on the menu, and I was interested to see what was on offer.

Sadly, it turned out, the answer was 'not much'. The menu board carried just two options, both of which were mostly vegetables, without the requisite protein to make them well-balanced meals. And at £13.50 per meal, for what amounted to a few bits of sometimes-charred veg, a piece of flatbread, and a dip, we weren't at all impressed. I know that Dar Papillon prides itself on being Fairtrade and organic, and maybe the veg is locally sourced and the staff paid a living wage (I'm surmising here) but £13.50 seemed a tad excessive. There was the option of adding a burger to the meal for an extra £2.50, but frankly, if I'm going to pay £16 for one course I expect it to be full of flavour and cooked to perfection. Most of my group ordered the same veg meal, none of them were impressed, and all of them came away hungry.

Next to the teas I had seen a board advertising an all-day breakfast for £9.50, and since this came with sausages for protein, and included tea in the price, a couple of us went for this option. It was, on comparing notes, deemed to be somewhat more filling than the veg meal, because of the addition of the sausages, and of a bean-stew. It was actually a rather enjoyable meal, and seemed to be much better value than the other veg meals on offer. However, I couldn't help but notice the stinginess of serving it with just half a slice of toast. Were they keeping the other half in the kitchen for the next person who ordered?

The tea that came with the meal was, to their credit, a choice of any tea on offer. But I decided to get an extra pot afterwards, and ordered a flowering tea, which I had seen served to someone else - appropriately - in a glass pot. However, when mine turned up it was in a plain white teapot, rather defeating the point of ordering a flowering tea. I had to fish it out and leave it in my cup to unfurl its blossoms.

On the whole, this wasn't a great experience. The best of intentions come to nothing if the service and food quality don't match the cost. I so wanted to like this place, and didn't want to give it a negative review, which is why I held off publishing this for so long (and merely backdated it to reflect the date that we visited). As I was checking their website today (5th November 2015) I saw that Dar Papillon is in the process of closing down. Which, I suppose, makes this review of only historical interest to myself and a few others.

Our next stop was Cafe In the Attic on Berkhamsted High Street.
Located on the top floor of an antique centre, it's a bit of a slog up several flights of fairly steep stairs, whilst making sure that you don't brush against any antiques and send them flying in the process!

Once we got to the top we found a large, airy space and a buzzing atmosphere. Still hungry from our previous stop, almost everyone ordered food: toasted sandwiches served with salad, cream teas served on pretty cake stands. And of course tea, from their selection of loose-leafs, served in pots and with cup and saucer. A pleasant place, and one that I would visit again but for the long climb.

Rather a mixed day really. I leave you with a photo of the pretty flowers on the table.

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