“ Cuisine: Cafe 7 Address: Elvet Bridge DH1 3 Durham „
Really awful! The owner is rude and will come over and ask you to leave, or make your friends order more, if he feels you have been there for too long without ordering enough. I sat at a two person table and ordered lunch and two coffees over a period of 6 hours, but apparently that was not enough. I have also seen him ask other students to leave if he feels they have been at a table for too long. He will do this even if there is still plenty of space in the restaurant - it's truly bizarre and quite bullying. Really disgraceful customer service! The food is also mediocre and overpriced by Durham standards. Would really not recommend it, especially not to students trying to find somewhere to study! There are so many nicer independent coffee shops in Durham.
[Following a brief period in administration: Chapters has re-opened under new management. Most of the comments in the review below still apply. The main difference is that it is now slightly more expensive, but many of the meals now come with delicious handcut chips (which are also available to buy as a side order)]
The last thing Durham needs is another coffee shop, but that's exactly what it got when Chapters Restaurant (previously located on the edge of the town centre) moved to a more central location within the city.
This relocation certainly makes it a lot easier to find. Elvet Bridge is one of the main bridges crossing the river that flows through the city and just off the road which leads up to the Cathedral. It's also located close to many university buildings, so is ideally located to catch both the passing tourist trade and staff and students of the university. This does mean that it can sometimes get quite busy, although only once have we ever gone and not been able to get a table.
The layout of Chapters is rather nice. The downstairs is very open plan with a large plate glass window providing lots of natural light and a bench at which you can sit to eat, drink and people watch. A short flight of stairs leads down to a small room set out with a number of tables for around 4-6 people. This is the room that most people tend to gravitate to, so it can get quite busy and noisy, and we tend to avoid it if possible. It does, however, have a nice friendly buzz to it.
If you want a little more peace and quiet, head up the separate staircase to the upper room. Although this room is bigger (and has tables for slightly larger parties), it's usually less busy and quieter. It's nicely set out with a couple of tables near the window (again, ideal for people watching - this time without being seen, since you're above street level!). There are even a couple of booth-style tables, where you are hidden from the people around you by high backed benches, if you want even more privacy. Wherever you choose to sit, the whole atmosphere is quite laid back and relaxed. Photographs of old Durham are scattered around the room to add to the atmosphere, and whilst the interior can sometimes appear a little bit dark due to the wood panelled walls this mostly adds to the atmosphere, rather than making it seem dark.
In terms of its menu, Chapters is essentially a sort of middle ground between a coffee shop and a full-blown restaurant. It serves slightly more by way of hot food than just cakes or sandwiches, but doesn't offer full meals. It's the sort of place it's nice to visit if you fancy a light snack.
The menu at Chapters is nice and straightforward, covering just two sides of a laminated piece of A4 (menus are on each of the tables, so you don't have to wait to be brought one). The first side of the menu contains things like homemade burgers (these are Chapters' speciality and well worth trying), whilst the reverse contains other items like Hawaiian Ham & Pineapple Ciababatta (another favourite well worth trying!). There's also a small selection of cakes available, listed on the menu and whilst we have tried these less often, they have always proved tasty and fresh. Overall, the menu offers a reasonable amount of variety and choice, without being overwhelming and virtually everyone should be able to find something they fancy, unless they are seriously faddy!
Over a series of visits, Mrs SWSt and I have tried a number of different menu items and have never experienced any problems. Whatever you have ordered it always arrive at your table nicely presented and hot. Each dish we have tried has been delicious - full of flavour and with generous amounts of ingredients used, and although we have our favourites, there is not a single thing we have had there that we would not happily order again.
One word of warning, though: don't expect a full meal. As noted above, Chapters mainly does snacks, so servings are fairly basic. Usually, a plate of food consists of the main item (e.g. the burger) served with the usual token side salad and a few vegetable crisps. None of the dishes on the menu are served with things like chips or potato wedges, and they aren't available to order as side dishes either. This is not a problem as long as you go in expecting this; if you are ravenously hungry and expect a massive plate of food, you will end up disappointed.
For this reason, you could argue that Chapters is slightly over-priced. Although the servings are relatively small in comparison with other places, their prices are not noticeably cheaper. A typical item from the menu costs around £6-8£ which is not overly expensive in itself, but when compared with some of our other favourite haunts, it perhaps doesn't offer as good value for money.
The quality of service can also be dependent on who you get. Some staff are very friendly; some are a little more abrupt (although never rude). Some will smile and have a bit of a chat with you as they take your order or bring your food; others will simply plonk the food down on the table without a word. Of course, there's nothing wrong with this, but a friendly smile would probably help to make life better for everyone! It's clear that some people work here purely for the money, whilst others genuinely enjoy what they are doing.
Service is usually pretty quick and efficient. Since most of the dishes served are relatively simple, it's rare to wait more than about 10 minutes before your food arrives, even at pretty busy times. This makes it an ideal place to pop into if you are on a lunch break and need to be guaranteed to be back in work for a certain time. There are some places in Durham I just don't go if I am a bit pressed for time. With Chapters, I can always rely on the fast service.
Although it is yet another coffee shop at heart, Chapters does fill a bit of a gap in the market. Within Durham, there are plenty of places you can buy a sandwich if you want something cold; there are plenty of places where you can go and get a full meal. There are, however, only a handful of places where you can sit down, have a cup of coffee and a light snack. In terms of what you get, Chapters might be a little more expensive than some of its counterparts, but if you are looking for a snack, rather than a meal, it's worth a look.
0191 386 0649
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