Time for Tea: Mark Davison visits Seasons Cafe at Squires Garden Centre
Time for Tea, By Mark Davison
Feeling distinctly peckish while out and about in Leatherhead and Bookham the other showery afternoon, I decided to pull off the A246 for a bite to eat.
No sooner had I arrived at Squires Garden Centre in West Horsley than the skies turned ominously dark.
I quickly parked the motor and made a bee-line towards the entrance of the centre, passing some bags of well-rotted stable manure and some beds of winter pansies which were cherishing the soaking they were receiving.
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Indoors, the din of the rain beating down on the roof was quite alarming.
One of the kitchen staff in the centre's Seasons Cafe cast his eyes outside and moaned under his breath about the inclement weather.
I wandered towards the servery, perused the snacks menu and saw they did Welsh rarebit.
It was a special variety with a rasher of grilled back bacon on top.
A pleasant waitress arrived and I enquired whether this dish was still available. Happily it was, despite it being mid-afternoon.
I also placed an order for a pot of tea and took a seat in the bright and breezy spacious eatery.
On the next table, two rather sullen grandmothers were nattering about problems they had encountered while looking after their grandchildren.
"I had him for five weeks and all he did was whinge, whinge, whinge."
The Welsh rarebit arrived, sizzling and golden. The cost was £5.45 and there were two slices and a salad accompaniment.
The grans continued to complain.
"The other day, I wanted him to sit in the back of the car and he wouldn't. I kept asking him, but he refused. In the end, I yelled at him: 'Get in the back of the car! Now!' They have to know who is in charge."
I perused the menu and noted that there were quite a few hot snacks available throughout the day.
The selection included tuna melt panini (£4.95); goats' cheese focaccia (£5.45) and Squires' club sandwich (£6.95).
I saw there was an opportunity to "swap your garnish for chips" for £1 extra.
I gazed around at the café and reckoned there was seating for at least 100 customers.
After a while, I noticed a leaflet displayed on a nearby table advertising afternoon teas.
It was obvious that group bookings could be catered for as the pamphlet included a form with squares to tick for the various options offered: coronation chicken sandwich; egg mayonaise and cucumber; gammon ham and dijon; smoked salmon and dill. And there were various options for scones: plain, fruit or cheese.
The afternoon tea for two costs £14.95.
All these mentions of scones left my mouth watering and I got up to go to the counter to order a slice of Bakewell tart and a latte (special cake and a drink price £3.95).
There was another roar as a lively shower of rain hammered onto the roof.
A couple of ladies with a small toddler came in. The little boy began to grizzle but after a while amused himself by staring at the other customers and studying their reactions.
Another lady customer picked up a copy of The Guardian and settled down to a coffee and a read.
There was a steady trickle of customers throughout my visit, all attended to by a polite and personable staff.
A grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter, all wearing purple jackets, arrived and took a seat near the window overlooking the wet car park.
A smart young mother with immaculately combed blonde hair, a white jacket, tight denim jeans and knee-length boots turned up with her three well-dressed children. The boy was in school uniform and was helping to place a currant bun, jam and cream on a tray with a pot of tea.
Near the window, the small grumpy boy was now quite content and was emitting quite shrill exclamations.
Sitting in the corner on black leather sofas were a young couple sipping tea from a pot for two. She wore a maritime striped top.
Back at the counter, a slightly exuberant man wearing a blue and cream beige jumper strolled in with his two children. Their hair was wet and he told the staff that this was because they had been swimming and it was not from the rain.
"Can you still do a jacket potato?" he enquired. Unfortunately, this line was finished for the day.
"What about a sausage roll?" he was asked.
"I'll have a spaghetti pasta," he decided, adding: "Been busy today?"
"Yes," came the reply. "Always when it rains."
I pondered that it was good to see that here in Surrey, the effects of the recession seemed to be quite insignificant for many. Happily, there was still a penny or two left over for afternoon tea out and that most local cafés were still flourishing.