Food Spy at the Willow Tea Rooms, Willington
Our spy samples the treats on offer at the Willow Tree Tea Rooms.
JUST occasionally you find a place that is so pleasant you want to keep it to yourself to ensure there is always a table free when you drop by.
That's how your spy felt after visiting Willow Tree Tea Rooms at Mercia Marina, Willington.
Perhaps it's because we live so far from the sea but there is something extremely therapeutic about being near water and the tea rooms look out on to the marina packed with brightly coloured boats of all shapes and sizes.
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Inside it is warm, cosy and comfortable and, if the sun shines, which surprisingly it did for us just a few days ago, you can sit outside.
In these hard times, people are looking for an affordable treat and coffee and cakes or a light snack provide a great informal option.
The menu choices are simple. You can choose from a wide array of drinks with everything from espresso and cappuccinos to vanilla, caramel or hazelnut lattes, a big selection of cakes, both homemade and bought-in.
There is a range of snacks such as homemade quiche, sandwiches, paninis, toasted sandwiches jacket potatoes, free-range scrambled eggs on toast, toast and jam or a full English breakfast (£5), which includes bacon, sausage, eggs, black pudding, grilled mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and beans. There is even a veggie breakfast available for £4.
But it is the cakes that take your eye and whet the appetite for what's to come. If you've a sweet tooth this is the place for you.
Your spy and companion plumped for afternoon tea for two, which comes in at an affordable £8.25. For this you can choose one sandwich and a slice of cake and also get a scone with jam and clotted cream and a pot of tea for two. It's a case of sharing and tucking in together.
We chose a tuna sandwich and a slice of homemade coffee and walnut cake.
Service was prompt, even though the place was busy. It was that rare thing, a sunny Saturday afternoon in early March. Clearly, we were far from being the first people to discover how nice this place is.
Everything arrived swiftly. The sandwich was freshly prepared and was served with a generous mixed salad and hand-cooked crisps. There was plenty of tuna filling in the sandwiches and, even though you split the sarnie between two, both of us were satisfied before the cake finale.
Some people may prefer to plump for one cake or the other each but, in the interests of this column, we shared both. The scone came with mountains of clotted cream in a small side bowl which you could heap on, or scrape on, depending on your preferences.
The coffee and walnut cake was light, moist and delicious. Everything got top marks from us. And it was lovely to enjoy an al fresco treat in a rare moment of winter sunshine. A perusal of the menu showed that everything was pretty good value for money with coffees from under £2, rolls from £2.70, sandwiches from £3.25, toast and jam at £1.40 and a variety of cake options.
Two people can easily enjoy a snack or coffee and cakes for under a tenner, which is probably a key reason why the place seems so busy. That and the fact that the food and drinks were good. People want quality as well as value.
The cafe itself is smart, there's plenty of free parking outside, disabled access and clean loos. The only downside we noticed was no fault of the cafe itself.
The place is popular with dog walkers and, despite a poop scoop bin nearby, we came across dog dirt on a grass verge near the cafe.
It's a pity some dog owners let the side down time and again.
But that was the only criticism your spy could muster in what was a great eating out experience all round. The Willow Tree Tea Rooms deserves its success.
WHERE: Willow Tree Tea Rooms, Mercia Marina, Findern Lane, Willington, DE65 6DW
THE BILL: £8.25 for afternoon tea for two, which includes a pot of tea, one sandwich, one cake and one cream scone.
CALL: 01283 703700.