“ Address: Mayes Lane / Sandon / Chelmsford CM2 7RW / Essex „
The Sandon Garden Centre Lunch Café
Just a few minutes away from where I live, and only opened two years ago is a beautiful little café within a garden centre that has been selling plants for many years. Under family ownership the plants and garden accessories are second to none, but the recent addition of a little lunch place has added something rather special to what is a very tranquil and inspirational setting.
First impressions count and in this respect I was impressed. My initial visit found me there on a Saturday afternoon where I was greeted with a smile, despite a flurry of customers who were ordering and eating -some inside the seating area adjacent to the kitchen, and some in the outside decking area overlooking the gardens. My thoughts were that the owners had really gone to so much trouble to ensure that the décor and atmosphere were just right. Inside the sturdy wooden tables were complimented by rustic French inspired furniture and elegant ornamental touches. The walls were beautifully painted, and the servery was light approachable and most importantly was a showcase for my favourite freshly baked cakes and treats! Following this first visit I have become a regular customer as I feel this place offers something rather unique.
The decking area is really pretty outside and offers a place to sit with your dog who is welcome to accompany you. This is a real asset to me as I try to take my dog Molly on these outings in reasonable weather.
The menu is absolutely perfect in my opinion for the time of day and the setting and has been kept simple, but specific, so that it allows locally grown produce to be incorporated. Called the Lunch Café it is catering really for the early bird and the late diner with opening times from 9-30 to 4 during the week and on Saturday and 10-4 on Sunday. The emphasis is on freshness and so you can expect beautiful Mediterranean salads, freshly made soup of the day, various sandwiches and at the weekend a brunch menu. All credit to the place as they offer a full list of drinks including a wide range of specially prepared coffees.
I have visited both at the weekend and during the week. Weekdays are much quieter, as you would expect, but at no time have I been unable to find seating. The food on both occasions has been of a very high standard, especially the home made soup which is served with freshly baked walnut bread which I think is delicious. Care has been given too in the way that the crockery reflects the high standards- it is pure white and the teas are served in large Bodrun pots allowing three cups from each which is lovely. The cakes too are delicious with all my favourites including Victoria Sponge oozing with cream and jam!
What I really love more than anything about this setting is that it feels intimate. Nestled in a quiet lane but only minutes from the A12 it is an oasis of peace and tranquillity. The garden centre itself seems to me to offer something completely different to the busy main plant sales places like Wyevale and B&Q. This offers something completely different and just walking round is peaceful and the addition of this café is something rather special.
The prices too in the café are excellent and especially when you also consider the fresh nature of everything- even the cakes are hand made on the premises. The teas for example are £1.95, and as I said earlier this provides three cups. Diners preferring something more substantial can order a lunchtime platter such as a ploughman's board, and I especially value the opportunity to have a vegetarian option -chickpea and coriander pate with lemon and chilli, pesto, sun blushed tomato, olives and toasted pitta. There are also options based around meat or fish and all of these options are served with a dressed salad and a fresh granary roll - all priced around the £7 mark. There are plenty of sandwich options including toasties which are cheaper, and children are also catered for with smaller portions and ice cream treats.
This garden centre is unique in the area offering a free border design service, which offers customers the benefit of a planning session either in the centre or at home, and there are many events through the year too when gardening experts give talks. Additionally there are opportunities to experience art exhibitions and various stalls from visiting companies, and a calendar of these appears on the website which incidentally is of a very high standard.
The website is where I first made contact with the centre as I had seen a sign on the road pointing to it when the café first opened two years ago. On seeing the sign I decided to look for the website which was highly professional, and I knew then that it was somewhere I would like to visit. They have taken so much care to show the menu on the website which is so important especially for vegetarians as they are often not adequately catered for in these situations, and it is lovely to be able to see what is on offer before venturing to a place only be experience disappointment.
Service in the café is excellent and attentive and the presentation of the food is top class.
There are not many places as good as this to visit local to where I live, and this is in its infancy with only two years of history. It is however set within a garden centre that has been on the site for many years, and which continues to offer plants of a very high standard. For me it is an oasis of peace and it offers a place to go for lunch or a simple refreshment in tranquil and peaceful surroundings. They have everything right from the spotless décor, immaculate crockery and rustic tables, to the simple but inspirational home cooked food, inspired and created using locally grown ingredients that are freshly prepared. It's lovely!
This review will also be posted on Ciao under my user name Violet1278. Here there is the opportunity to present photographs which will illustrate just how beautiful the place is.