One of the things I find continually disappointing about the bakery at my local Waitrose is how little freshly baked bread they have in stock. I initially thought this was because I went at the end of the day, but despite going at different times of day I find the shelves empty of bread. It’s not like that all the time, but I would say 90% of the time I visit, there is virtually no fresh bread.
On my most recent visit I wasn’t expecting to find any fresh bread, I hoped I would, but no there was only a few rolls. Well ni surprise there then. However I needed some bread for breakfast so off to the pre-packed stuff.
Looking over the selection I found Farina Pugliese toasting bread.
This Italian bread is made from durum wheat, giving it thick crust and a golden crumb.
The packaging says that the bread is for toasting and it does need toasting, otherwise it can be a bit dry.
A colleague at work had recommended that I visit The Green Coffee Machine, an independent coffee place quite close to Cheltenham Railway Station. I had seen it a fair few times as I travelled to and from work by train, but until recently had never had the chance or the time to pop in.
I much prefer independent coffee shops to the high street chains, I find that they have more personality, the staff care about the coffee and the food is usually better and more tasty.
Having arrived much earlier into Cheltenham than I normally do, I took the opportunity to give The Green Coffee Machine a try. I was pleased to find that it opened early, it was 7:45 which isn’t that early, but I know other places that don’t open until 9:00am or even later. I was on the Gloucester Road in Bristol the other morning and I wanted a coffee, the local independents were closed, so I had to go to Costa for a coffee. The other morning in Gloucester I was going to grab a quick espresso at the Portivo Lounge in the Quays, but it didn’t open until 9am. So to be honest I was expecting The Green Coffee Machine to be closed, so was pleased to find it was open.
I received a friendly greeting and I ordered a flat white and some toast. I had considered ordering an Americano, which is usually my way of comparing coffee from different places, but I really felt like drinking a flat white. What was really nice was after ordering I didn’t need to wait around, I was told I could sit down and my coffee and toast would be brought to my table.
Sitting down I was able to take in the asthetics and design of the environment. It’s quite eclectic in terms of furnishing and decoration. It in my mind mashes together two different styles that doesn’t quite work. There is a design asthetic that takes slate with (usually lime green) plastic. If you have ever been to the Tea Monkey in Bath you will know what I am talking about and it works quite well, modern, clean and ever so slightly futuristic. The other design style is what you find in somewhere like Coffee#1, wooden floors, reclaimed wooden furniture, comfortable relaxing sofas (preferably weathered leather). What The Green Coffee Machine has done has mashed those two styles together, so you have the modern fresh slate floor complete with lime green plastic chairs, alongside really nice leather Chesterfield sofas and weirdly cable drums as tables.
As a result, for me, it doesn’t work. I think a slate and lime green look would have worked really well, likewise a retro wooden design would have worked equally well.
They are not alone in mashing styles together, Portivo Lounge in the Gloucester Quays has done something similar, wooden inside, and green (and also orange) plastic chairs outside. That doesn’t work either!
So what about the real stuff, the main reason for going, the coffee?
Well I really enjoyed the Flat White, it was great coffee and the milk was exactly the right consistency, not too foamy and not too milky. There was no feather, but let’s be honest that’s just trying to be flash. I really enjoyed the coffee and it tasted of coffee.
The toast, though nice and hot, with generous portions of butter and jam (and no little packs of butter either, which I do prefer) I was slightly disappointed that they were using a standard loaf of Hovis. They had just bought it from the Tesco next door! Okay, so toast is toast, but some proper artisan bread would have been so much more preferable than sliced bread from the supermarket. It looked like they were using rustic French bread on the menu, so not totally out of the question. In a traditional British cafe (as in caff) you expect them to use sliced bread, but in a place like The Green Coffee Machine I had expectations, especially as it was Cheltenham, that they would use proper bread.
Overall I did quite like the atmosphere, the service was excellent, the coffee was great, if you don’t mind a slighty confused design and decor and avoid the toast, then it’s a really nice place to spend time drinking coffee.
I recently wrote about my dinner at the Holiday Inn Expressx and I wasn’t that impressed. You can imagine that my expectations about breakfast weren’t that high, but how badly can you cook a hotel breakfast. As it happens quite badly!
Even though I certainly don’t travel that much, I think you can tell a lot about the way a hotel cares about it’s guests by how it prepares and serves breakfast. When attending events and conferences I like to have a good breakfast so that I am set up for the day and it won’t matter so much if I miss lunch or dinner. To be honest it is also really quite nice when someone else cooks you breakfast.
Most hotels I have stayed at have the breakfast buffet model, you come down, queue, hand over your room number and help yourself. There are variations, in some places you get toast served to you at the table, at other hotels you can burn your own toast!
Once I was staying at the St David’s Hotel in Cardiff and having breakfast in your room didn’t cost anything extra! There was (at the time) no tray charge, usually hotels charge another £5 to bring you your breakfast. So I took advantage and it was a really nice breakfast, still warm too!
Attending meetings in London, I stayed at the Ambassadors hotel in Bloomsbury London a few times I was always impressed with their service and food. The first time I had breakfast, though there was an element of help yourself, if you wanted hot food, you placed your order with the waiting staff and they served you at your table. The breakfast was also very different to your typical full English breakfast.
Not so sure about the lettuce, but the rest of the breakfast was cooked to perfection and tasted delicious. They used “proper” sausages that had been grilled and not deep fried. Too often when eating breakfast the sausages have been cooked in a deep fat fryer! The breakfast I had at Bloomsbury was so very different and was delicious. This was so much more civilised than trying to fight with others around the buffet table.
One piece of advice I would give is don’t leave it too late in going to breakfast, there are two key reasons. Firstly the food is not only fresher and hasn’t spent ages under the heat lamp or in an oven. Secondly, there are usually a lot less people. The other piece of advice I would give about what time to go to breakfast is that people usually go on the hour or half-hour. Most people will say let’s have breakfast at 8:00 or 7:30, no one every says 7:48. Of course what this means is that there are large crowds, and so long queues, just after 8:00. Arriving twelve minutes before means that the 7:30 rush is over and you get not only much better service from the staff, but the experience doesn’t feel rushed and hectic.
One disappointment about the breakfast buffet are the eggs, they have usually been under a heat lamp or on a hot plate. As a result they can be dry and overcooked. I personally prefer my eggs to be freshly cooked, so nine times out of ten I ask for poached eggs, these are cooked to order, so though I have to wait, I get freshly cooked eggs.
As you might expect I am virtually always disappointed with the coffee at breakfast, so much so, that more often than not I will have tea instead!
So what about the breakfast at Holiday Inn Express in Burnley? When I arrived for breakfast, I could just walk in, no checking by staff. Probably because they were dealing with the smoke from the burning toast… I wasn’t that enamoured with the breakfast, the hot buffet was very limited, sausages, scrambled egg and baked beans; that was it, no other choices and certainly no possibility of a freshly cooked poached egg! You could also have fruit and yoghurt, as well as cereal. There were croissants and you could make your own toast. The coffee was from a machine (using instant) so I had tea.
However this isn’t the worse cooked breakfast I have had (it came close though), the worst was at a Travel Lodge in central London. So bad that on the second morning, I went out to get breakfast.