The Pickled Pantry, Surbiton
The Pickled Pantry, opened in June 2012, has become a perfect addition to Surbiton's continuously growing Cafe Culture. Located just to the right-hand side of Surbiton Station, the café's excellent location makes it a perfect stop for Mums with babies or for people visiting from other parts who need an afternoon tea and a slice of cake. I've been to The Pickled Pantry several times in the past for my usual cappuccino and cake but this time I was there for lunch, and of course... more cake.
A photograph I took of The Pickled Pantry back in February 2014
The interior of the cafe is calming and cosy; window light bursts through the front of the café onto a nice white, cream, grey colour scheme. During this Christmas period, big gold star lights are hung above the coffee counter. The décor inside reveals a Modern 'Shabby Chic' influence that chimes in with the regular clientèle there who are lovely Surbiton Mummies with babies.
The menu focuses on Signature Sandwiches called 'Trenchers', made with sourdough bread. A nice little historical note in the menu explains (not stated where or when though) that thick slabs of stale bread were once used instead of plates, which would soak up all the juices from the meal. At The Pickled Pantry, they use toasted ciabattas instead; always a safe option. The café makes all their food fresh in the kitchen, but their bread is sourced from a superb-looking Bakery called the Cavan Bakery, in Teddington, ( the website has mistakenly named this the Caven Bakery!). Another reason why this place attracts families with small children is because of their Children's Menu. Three options alone on this mini-menu is quite limited in choice but the Sandwich Platter, Scrambled Eggs on Toast and Child's squash are again easy and fuss-free options with children.
There are usually a variety of specials to choose from for lunch and my foodie friend and I decided to share one the Chicken Liver Pâté (£6.90) that came with toast and chutney. This was good as a sharer, but more creamy than flavoursome.
My friend had another one of the specials on offer, the Baked Aubergine with Parmesan (£6.45). Unfortunately she felt that the aubergine wasn't cooked enough and that it was quite plain.
After sharing the pâté, I had the North Atlantic Prawns Salad with lemon mayonnaise, avocado, cracked black pepper & mixed leaves (£6.90). This was fine, but nothing special; it was essentially prawn mayonnaise on a bed of chopped avocado and lettuce.
We decided to finish off the food with some coffee and a slice of their freshly made Red Velvet Chocolate Cake. The hot drinks and cakes are much more reasonably priced and are very yummy. My friend had a pot of English Breakfast Tea (£1.90) and I had a cappuccino (£2.20). My cappuccino was very nice, however one thing I noted when I arrived about the drinks was that our lovely server brought over a glass bottle of water for our table that only had a small amount of water left in the bottle. It was a bit strange not to think to re-fill it or top it up before giving it to new customers if there was only very little left...
The Red Velvet Cake was very nice and was importantly fresh, soft, not too sweet (£2.80) and is perfect to share between two or if you're hampering for a big slice yourself. Compared to the price in February 2014, a slice of the Red Velvet Cake has increased from £2.45 to £2.80 which places it in the same price range as a lot of cafés in Central London. I'm not sure how I feel about this as I love supporting local, independent establishments, especially in my home town but I wouldn't want to pay much more for a slice of cake.
I can't say I'd recommend the food here to others but the hot drinks and cakes are really very nice and these best features really tie in with the The Picked Pantry's relaxed ambiance. Perhaps it's trying to do too much for its small size, and might similarly benefit from just serving the signature 'trenchers' sandwiches, cakes; or maybe tweaking certain parts of the menu. Another point to note about the atmosphere, is that the interior is small and narrows towards the back. The main front of the café is often filled with families with children or sleeping babies for their afternoon nap so if you want to study or have a catchup with someone, it may be better to visit one of Surbiton's neighbouring cafés like Cafe Amici or Caffe Nero. The Pickled Pantry is always busy and is a favourite amongst the locals. Nevertheless, I still think it could do with a change of something similar to The French Tarte's salads which are more diverse, flavoursome and modern for a similar price and/or cheaper.