Monthly Archives: June 2013

#coffeeshopculturewd3: a response

Rickmansworthweb.com has recently published a post about the many coffee shops in central Rickmansworth. Now, the purpose of this website is to encourage people to frequent the shops, bars and businesses of Ricky, which is an excellent idea. However, the author’s claim to provide a helpful resource to help coffee fans choose which coffee shop to go to isn’t entirely validated by what she’s written, as, understandably, she’s focussed on the positives at the expense of a balanced review of each cafe (and has entirely left out Brown Sugar, which is unpardonable, to my mind).

When we first moved to Rickmansworth in 2009, there were three central cafes to choose from: Brown Sugar, Caffe Nero and Cinnamon Square. Each of the three had (and has) its own distinct character.

Brown Sugar is both a deli and a cafe, serving a huge range of sandwiches (you can make up an almost infinite number of filling and bread combinations), salads, baked potatoes, smoothies and cakes as well as coffee. It’s the smallest of the cafes on offer, with five four-seater tables. It’s definitely possible to get a couple of buggies in there (I’ve done it), but would be a struggle at busy times (i.e. lunch time any day and particularly Saturday). The food is lovely and the cake (watch out for the blueberry muffin cake) on a yumminess par with Cinnamon Square’s less complicated offerings. The coffee, while nothing to write home about, is a perfectly decent accompaniment to a snack or a meal and has woken me up on many a Saturday morning. Service-wise, you order at the counter and then it’s delivered to your table. At quiet times, you may well be asked at your table if you’d like anything else.¬† If you can’t handle all the writing on the walls (and there is a LOT of it), grab a paper menu from the side of the counter and peruse at your table before ordering. Use the numbers on the menu unless you want to customise! Negatives? We’ve often had to walk past Brown Sugar, because it’s been full. It’s also closed on Sundays. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it’s not the cafe I go to if I want to hang out all afternoon drinking coffee and reading. The upright chairs and tables lend themselves more to lunch.

Caffe Nero was the first chain coffee shop to take up residence on Rickmansworth High Street. I used to go in every morning for coffee and was always impressed by how efficient the morning staff were. The service is a bit more variable these days¬† – as in most chain coffee shops, there’s a regular turnover of staff – but they get through a big queue pretty steadily. Nero’s is right in the middle of the High Street with space for a small amount of outdoor seating. It’s quite a big branch with the usual range of seating, although the large number of chairs, tables and sofas does make it feel quite crowded (it certainly doesn’t feel ‘spacious’). It’s difficult to get around freely, partly because of the stupidly-placed pillar right next to the counter. Of the range of high street coffee shops, Nero’s coffee is, in my opinion, the most… assertive. Their claim to be authentically Italian isn’t far off. I’m disappointed that they’ve discontinued their banana frappe, but the new praline muffin is quite nice. Nero’s offers a 10th-coffee-free loyalty card.

Cinnamon Square: Rickmansworth’s cakey-pastry landmark. When we first moved here, it was a tiny cafe with a small amount of seating upstairs. Since then, it’s expanded to more than twice the size and has converted to table service (you even wait to be seated these days!). There’s also a new little foodstuffs and gift-style shop opposite the counter as well as bread, cakes and sandwiches to take away. Cinnamon Square’s business has always focussed on cake-making and workshops for children and adults. We’ve listened to many a children’s baking party (in the ‘Makery’!) and they always sound great fun. If you go, you must have either an eponymous cinnamon square (you WILL need a fork) or the new Ricky sticky bun. On the savoury front, there’re a range of light lunch options. Food availability has improved since the kitchen opened for longer and the savoury options are sound. Breakfast is particularly good and they can be flexible if you want something that’s not quite on the menu. The coffee’s alright, but, again, nothing to write home about. Having said that, I’m told the mocha is the best in town, so you might want to try that! Service used to be pretty variable, to be honest. We’ve waited a few times for our food for a very long time. It’s a bit better now and more consistent, but don’t be afraid to remind them if you feel you’ve been waiting too long. It’s possible to go with buggies on the ground floor, but bear in mind that the main baby-changing facilities are up quite steep and narrow stairs.

A couple of years ago – I think it was autumn 2011 – Costa opened up. As Rickmansworthweb says, it’s a lot more open than Nero’s with a more sensible arrangement of furniture. The decor is lighter and more appealing as well. There’s a patio out the back with a dedicated smoking area, if you like that sort of thing. There’s a decent range of sandwiches and the cake display is always attractive. The coffee’s less aggressive than Nero’s, but definitely stronger than, say, Starbuck’s. The largest size is encouragingly ginormous – it comes in a bowl you could wash your feet in. As for ‘family friendly’, there are certainly always a lot of families in there. Best not turn up with seven friends who also have buggies, though. You get not exactly friendly looks from the staff. One other thing to bear in mind is that hot food is sometimes a little slow in being delivered they forget about it. There’s a loyalty card system with points for each purchase, rather than for specific items. I’m not convinced Costa’s any better for interesting conversations than any of the other cafes. We once encountered an elderly gentleman in Brown Sugar trying to persuade a lady of Indian origin and her son that India had never been better than when under the Raj (partially in Hindi).

That leaves the new kid on the block, Harris + Hoole. The coffee’s best here. Do bear in mind that they serve it warm, rather than hot (it’s deliberate). The sandwiches are also gorgeous (watch out for the halloumi flatbread). I’ve not yet been disappointed by the quality of food and drink, nor the level of service, which are all excellent. It helps that you can sit down at your table while you wait for things to be prepared and then go up when your buzzer starts flashing. H+H have made a concerted effort to engage with local people via their Twitter account and the standard local events blackboard that features in every branch. Of all the chains (and, yes, I know they’re partially backed by Tesco), H+H is most successful at immitating an independent. However, like Brown Sugar, they could do with more space. The old school-style chairs also aren’t the most comfortable (particularly after you’ve given birth). There’re a few different loyalty cards, but make sure you present yours before you pay.

So, that should be a bit more useful, although, unavoidably, subjective. I don’t really have a favourite as such – each cafe has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s nice to have such a range available.

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