Saturday, 6 April 2013

Tutti Pole Tea Shoppe – Hungerford

Today, we ventured along the M4 as far as Hungerford in search of cups and saucers! Sounds strange, but I’ve decided that I would like some vintage/antique tea cups and saucers to use when photographing my cakes. Hungerford is full of antique centres and shops so it seemed like a great place to start the search.

After a bit of a late start (didn’t wake until 12.30!), we didn’t get to Hungerford until about 15.00, so we decided to head straight to get a bite to eat. I’d spotted the Tutti Pole Tea Shoppe sign as we drove through the town and I’m a bit of a sucker for old-fashioned “tea shoppes”! Unfortunately, once inside, the décor was more shabby than chic: the first page of the menu tells that the current owners took over in 1981 – it doesn’t look like they have changed at all since then.  The walls are a rather garish pink and the tables and chairs are dated pine. The cake display on the front counter was also quite unappealing – rather than having whole/partial cakes on display, there was a small, lonely looking slice of each type of cake out as display.

However, walking to our table, I was tempted by the display of huge meringues in an old-school chilled display cabinet and I remained hopeful that the food could be good. The service was a little over-keen, I had barely taken my coat off when we were asked if we were ready to order. We asked for a couple of minutes but were then asked again when we were only half-way through the menu. We had skipped lunch and so we decided to share a sandwich and then have a cake each.  The menu itself did not particularly inspire (both the dated and rather grubby leatherette folder and inserts and the choice of food), again it very much seemed that it hadn’t been updated since the 80s. At this point, I was tempted to get up and leave, but we hadn’t seen anywhere else and it always feels a bit wrong to leave, having sat down at a table and looked at the menu. We decided to stick it out and hope that the food was good.

The sandwich choice was very traditional – cheese, ham, egg, tuna etc and not much tempted. In the end, we decided to share a tuna melt toasted sandwich, EHH went for one of his favourites – bread pudding and I chose one of the huge meringues on display, accompanied, of course, by a pot of tea for two.

EHH's bread pudding
The food and drinks arrived promptly. The pot of tea (expensive at £1.95 per person) came in a 80s style tea set. It easily provided 2 cups of tea each and the extra pot of water would have done an extra cup each, except there weren’t enough tea bags in the pot and so the remaining tea was very weak. We were amused that our toasted sandwich had clearly been done in a 90s toasty-maker, not that we have any objection to this, but it just isn’t something you see very often these days, and very much fitted with our overall impression of the place. The tuna melt toasty itself (pricey for what it was at £4.75) was fine and came accompanied with a little side salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and cress – we liked the fact that we had told the waiter that we were sharing and so they had given us half each on our own plate.  

My meringue
EHH’s bread pudding (cheap at about £1.75) was ok but nothing special – it had a good stodgy texture but could have done with more fruit and a bit of spice. My meringue (cheap at £2.75) looked amazing but was really quite disappointing - it was over-sweet and very crisp all the way through, missing the lovely chewy centre that I always look for in a good home-made meringue. It came with a huge amount of cream but only half of a strawberry – would have been nice to have more fruit to balance the extreme sweetness of the meringue. There was no way I could have eaten the whole meringue and so EHH ended up eating half to help me out!

Overall, I was disappointed with Tutti Pole Tea Shoppe – it has so much potential but missed on nearly all aspects.  The pricing of the food and drinks seemed odd – some things quite cheap (particularly the cake) and some really quite expensive. It has a really interesting history, is in a great location and appears to be very much part of the local community (we were touched by a number of pictures on the wall that were given to the place in memory of others) but we spent much of our time in there discussing how it could be updated and improved. We enjoyed our next couple of hours in Hungerford, pottering around the antique centres and will definitely return to the town, but not to the Tutti Pole.

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