Ingestigator: Grand Cafe

By Meg Trainor
Sometimes the traditional pre-lash is just not the way to go. Sometimes another bowl of Coco Pops just won’t cut it. Sometimes you need to pretend that you’re not a student quickly devouring your maintenance loan. It is at times like these that you should saunter east down the High Street to The Grand Café. From the name to the décor to the fancy martini glasses this plush establishment is full of airs and graces – and it’s all the better for them.
Referring us to the diary of Samuel Pepys, The Grand Café claims to be the oldest coffee house in England. Its current incarnation, however, is more akin to Versailles than a seventeenth-century coffee joint.  Flanked with columns, the majesty of its exterior will catch you off-guard, tucked as it is in the midst of dusty antiques and games shops. The gold trimmings continue inside, surrounding the towering mirrors and adorning the various candelabras. The former allows the café to play the classic trick of expanding the room until it seems to extend through archways into further dens of decadence, tempting each customer to walk into a mirror or at the very least squint at their own reflection until they recognise their face as their own. Once we have identified the mirrors as the devious ploy that they are, we are ready to take on the menu.
We find that until 5pm The Grand Café offers a standard array of brunch, lunch and tea items. With soup, salads and many, many sandwiches the food selection is really very good while no expense seems to have been spared on the high tea front. Being decidedly after 5pm, however, we witness the transformation of this quaint dining spot into a cocktail bar. Gone are smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, the lapsang souchong tea and the roast rump of beef; in comes the elderflower Collins, the white peach Bellinis and the ‘Grand Margaritas’ complete with gold tequila. The raspberry Cosmopolitan is our particular favourite, the Bloody Mary less so. So long as you are wise enough to steer clear of anything involving Tabasco, this should be your new go-to for tea in the afternoon and cocktails in the evening.
If you need distance from the stresses and strains of student life then this should be your hang out. That is assuming, however, that you have a few bob to spare. History and hospitality do not come cheap. Cocktails are apparently half price between 7pm and 11pm Monday to Saturday, but even with this rather pointless gimmick in place they are £4.25 each. A locally made pork pie is a fairly reasonable £6.25, however the Grand High Tea will set you back £16.50. The Grand Café is a place to splurge, to indulge and to resign yourself to using that overdraft.
Score: 4/5
Food: Sandwiches and scones
Drinks: A wide range of teas and cocktails not to be missed
Service: Prompt and polite
Price: £££££

Liked reading this article? Sign up to our weekly mailing list to receive a summary of our best articles each week – click here to register

Want to contribute? Join our contributors group here or email us – click here for contact details