Tag Archives: Rickmansworth

#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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Two takes on a Ploughman’s lunch

Take a certain route on the back roads between Rickmansworth to the Chalfonts and you’ll pass a curious old pub called the Dumb Bell. We’ve spotted it a few times and have long intended to pop in to see what this somewhat remote hostelry has to offer.

At the weekend we finally did just that. Inclement weather drove us to escape the house but not venture too far, so recalling this pub we drove the three miles or so for Sunday Lunch. It’s a somewhat rambling establishment with a sizable beer garden and a front dining room capturing all the charm of an eccentric’s living room.

A particular attraction of the Dumb Bell was its Ploughman’s Lunch. Tara is already a fan of the Ploughman’s in the Old Orchard pub in Harefield, and we were keen to see how this alternative offering compared.

The Dumb Bell Special Ploughman’s Lunch: £6.95
Menu description: “A hearty platter of freshly prepared salad and coleslaw with mature cheddar cheese and honey glazed ham, spicy pickled onions and homemade chutney all served with the bread of the day”
Tara’s view: Plentiful portion, nice salad, tasty homemade bread

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The Old Orchard Ploughman’s: £8.95
Menu description: “Mrs Appleby’s White Cheshire and Colston Bassett stilton with bread, ham, pickled onion, apple, celery and chutney”
Tara’s view: Good cheese variety, nice thick ham

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So two rather different culinary interpretations of a classic, each with their strengths. Which would you prefer?

The Dumb Bell is also worth mentioning for its generous Sunday carvery. £7.95 for slices of as many as 4 meats, if you like, and all the trimmings. Great value.

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The Fat Aubergine

A new café has recently opened on Ricky High Street, adding another option to lunching options. We already have Cinnamon Square and Brown Sugar established as firm lunch time favourites on the High Street, with Neros for coffee and snacks and Cafe in the Park at the Aquadrome. So how does this latest contender fare against the existing choices?

The Fat Aubergine makes much of its shakes and smoothies. There’s a bewildering variety, although Brown Sugar already offers a strong selection. As with Brown Sugar there are several menus around which makes it trickier to make a choice than perhaps it should. We both intended to have dairy free options and went for fruit smoothies and shakes, however missing the small print from each menu ended up with yoghurt and a milk shake respectively! They were tasty enough, but you don’t necessarily want to have to spend a good deal of time reading to make a simple choice.

We were more disappointed by the food, which is already prepared and not made to order as in Cinnamon Square or Brown Sugar. This meant that some of the choices were already sold out, and we felt there were relatively few fresh options available; something the competition does well.

On the whole, although it’s nice to see new businesses on the High Street, we didn’t feel Fat Aubergine offered anything that wasn’t already available from other cafés. It’s not the easiest of markets either, as Cinnamon Square uses its award winning homemade breads and is better than ever in its recently expanded form, while Brown Sugar’s deli format offers a superior selection of fresh food. For the moment at least we’re likely to stay with our current regular favourites for weekend lunches.

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Rickmansworth Victorian Evening & Christmas lights switch on 2009

As it’s our first Christmas in Rickmansworth we decided to make the most of the local seasonal events. This involves the customary Christmas lights switch on which is combined with a Victorian Evening. This is a nice community event with stalls from local organisations, businesses and rides for the kids. Here’s a selection of snaps from the evening:

Mulled wine available in exchange for a donation to charity
Mulled wine available in exchange for a donation to charity
Entertainment and crowds
Entertainment and crowds

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In search of Sunday Lunch

Over the few weeks we’ve lived in Rickmansworth I’ve been in search of a decent Sunday Lunch. So far I’ve tried two of the swankier, but nevertheless reasonably priced pubs in the area in my search.

The Feathers, Church Street, Rickmansworth

Open just four months in its current incarnation, the Feathers is probably my favourite hostelry in central Ricky. The pub is a part of oldest Rickmansworth and has the fine stone and wooden beam clad interior you’d hope for. The Feathers has been given a modern refurbishment, giving a comfortable mix of dining, drinking and outdoor areas in very pleasing surrounds. The service is good, with the staff clearly having been training to ensure guests enjoy the new venture. The Feathers, price-wise and in terms of appearance, places itself at the classier end of the pub food spectrum while not straying into Gastropub territory.

The Sunday Roast is £9, which to my mind is mid-to-high for a non-Gastropub. Unfortunately the Sunday Roast I had last weekend was distinctly mediocre. The beef was not at all generous in quality and was clearly of the ‘been sitting there for sometime and overdone’ variety. The trimmings were fine but of a similar unremarkable quality and quantity. It’s the quality you might expect at Wetherspoons but which you’d only expect to pay similarly £5 for.

This is, I feel, where The Feathers may have trouble in terms of retaining food custom, as I love my Sunday Roasts but I certainly wouldn’t rush back for this one. When you have a new venture and you’re pricing and presenting yourselves as being reasonably well presented and classy, the whole product needs to delivery to estabish a customer base and here it simply didn’t. Others around us were also unhappy with their food; a table who ordered burgers and had requested how well it was cooked along with expecting the cheddar topping and potato wedges promised in the menu instead received standard well-done burger with a processed cheese slice and what can only be called a stingey number of standard chips. Again, if you’re promising quality in the menu the product has to deliver.

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An introduction to Rickmansworth

The blog has been unusually quiet in recent weeks, however with good reason, as the Mule has been on the move. While remaining in the heart of Metro-land, we’ve ventured further up the Metropolitan line, beyond the bounds of Greater London and into the Hertfordshire countryside. In a search of that elusive combination of rural idyll and urban convenience at a price that’s affordable we’ve ended up in Rickmansworth. A smallish town of some 14,000 or so, it’s nevertheless home to the district council, has a decent selection of shops and eateries, good connections to London while being just 3 miles from the megastore shopping of Watford. Being beyond the London sprawl the countryside is on the doorstep, in the form of lakes, rivers and the Grand Union canal.

We’re hoping it will suit us nicely. It’s true that while Rickmansworth lacks something of the charm and fancy restaurants of Pinner, there’s a strong population of young professionals and we’ll not object to decent, reasonably priced meals out plus a couple of fine old pubs given a modern twist.

Regular visitors to the blog will know that the Mule is fond of snickets; those often little know alleys and paths linking streets. Metro-land is prime territory for snickets, perhaps owing to the preponderance of inter-war housing. Rickmansworth is no exception and we quickly discovered a handy snicket for accessing Waitrose:

Rickmansworth snicket to Waitrose
Rickmansworth snicket to Waitrose

We’re still very much in the early stages of exploring the area, however, and we’d much appreciate any local recommendations of eateries, hostelries, shops, services, walks, entertainment etc.

More from Dara Towers and Rickmansworth to follow!

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Final post from Dara Cottage…

Well, it’s moving day tomorrow and we’re off to Dara Towers in Rickmansworth. At 8am tomorrow the Aussie Man with a Van team will be round to pack everything up and cart it up two or three flights of stairs at the other end. Full packing is the best thing since sliced cheese. photo4

We’ve had a tough week painting the new flat ready for occupation. I had a crazy fool idea to paint three of the walls in the living room with stripes in the manner of the decor at Delisserie in Hatch End (one finds inspiration in the strangest of places). While Dan and his parents attended to the rest of the flat (three shades of coffee in the bedroom, green hall and bathroom), masking tape and careful edges were my territory for three days. Provided you use decent masking tape (the blue stuff from Homebase is good) and have a reasonably steady hand for the touching-up, it’s not too difficult.

It’s a bit sad to be leaving Pinner with its snickets and strange assortment of people, but semi-rural Ricky awaits with the promise of lakes and a lovely Waitrose!

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Rickmansworth Canal Festival

This weekend sees the Rickmansworth Canal Festival; two days of music, activities, stalls, rides and dozens of canal boats. We went along on the Saturday to see what was going on. It’s an impressive event for a town of some 14,000 and the festival was suitably heaving with people. It was fine to see many local groups present and greater range and variety of stalls than normal present as these type of events. Although there was a period stand with an archery demonstration we would have fancied the chance to have a go ourselves, or other traditional fare such as a coconut shy. Still, those with a destructive streak could have had a go on the crockery smashing stall, pictured below. The festival certainly provided a good day’s entertainment for us and had we chosen we could have stayed late into the evening with a number of music stages and beer tent to provide entertainment.

Here are some highlights of our day at the festival, mostly from around the canal area, which offers a feast of sights, scenes and shapes for the camera lens (click thumbnail to view full-size photo):

Other bloggers have also been talking about the festival:

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Walking the Chess Valley

Making the most of the fine, summer-like weather yesterday we headed over the border to Hertfordshire for a walk along a stretch of the Chess Valley. We began at Chorleywood station, walking north through Chorleywood House Park to the river and then roughly following the river past the M25 to Rickmansworth, where we picked up the tube home.

Chorleywood houses
Chorleywood houses

Chorleywood is a compact place; one of the relatively small settlements on the farther flung reaches of the Metropolitan line which, through the vision on the railway’s founders has nevertheless a station to its name, and so became a popular, yet rural, commuting location. We began by exploring Chorleywood, heading south of the station to the high street. It was functional and featured some nice delis, cafes and shops.

Chorleywood Common
Chorleywood Common

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Buying in a Recession: in search of a new Dara cottage

We’ve finally taken the plunge and bought a new pad of loveliness. Yes, bought. Despite these times of financial horror, we’ve taken advantage of the lowest interest rates since 1694 and shall be moving to Rickmansworth (known locally and affectionately as ‘Ricky’) as soon as we get everything sorted.

The search for our new flat took up three days last week, which is probably as speedy as you’re likely to get. We saw eight properties – four flats, three houses and a maisonette – so we had a pretty good idea of what we could get for our money. Some of these places were, er, interesting, to say the least. Let it never be said that we shunned the prospect of viewing the maisonette with the astroturf garden or the flat that could’ve been a set for Life on Mars. One of the flats – the only one with a balcony, albeit north-facing – was pretty lovely, but was sold the day after we viewed it. One of the others had huge ceilings and loads of space, but was a 25-minute walk from the station. The latter was a total lads’ pad. Copies of ‘Nuts’ and smelly ski gear all over the place! The biggest house had nice wooden floors, fireplaces, a decent kitchen and a garden – but the front room opened straight out onto the road and there was a pub carpark next door (nice pub, though).

Tiresome.

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