Update May 2009. Matt and Cat revisited the Apple Tree café at the suggestion of a fellow Tweeter. Read M and C’s comments below, with earlier efforts below that.
Having waxed lyrical about the café at Afton Nursery, Matt and Cat were surprised but pleased to get a request suggesting that they go again. There are plenty of as yet untried places on M and C’s ever-expanding list of suggested venues but, as they were out that way, they decided to once again try the delights of this wholesome little place, which has changed hands since the first review was written.
What struck them about their previous experiences was the extreme localness of the food; salad grown on the premises with apparently home-grown nasturtium flowers scattered artfully atop the other foliage, and a riot of home-made chutneys and sauces. This time the menu seemed just as wholesome as before and included a range of gluten and wheat-free cakes, plus the café’s “own prize-winning sausages”. Your reviewers chose a couple of sarnies and a pot of tea to whet their whistles.
Sitting under the unexpected and disappointingly unsustainable patio heater (although it wasn’t actually on), Matt and Cat cast their eyes about as they waited for their food. The garden was looking pretty, insects buzzed (although there was no sign of the promoted hives) and lambs gambolled in the paddock.
Before long, the sandwiches and tea arrived. This time around, Matt had the crayfish with lemon and dill mayonnaise and Cat chose the Mediterranean sandwich. Both came with “gourmet leaf salad”, tomato salad, vegetable crisps and couscous. Although their sarnies looked very tasty, the supermarket-standard sliced white bread was a bit pedestrian and the salad did not appear to have come from the kitchen garden, as boasted about on the café’s website. However, the cherry tomatoes had a touch of Wight Salads about them, so Brownie points there for the local provenance.
Cat’s sandwich was a good combination of creamy mozzarella and tangy chorizo. She particularly enjoyed the vegetable crisps and the cous cous was a nice touch. Matt looked carefully at the crayfish tails – surely these were not of local provenance too? Pretty unlikely as native crayfish are a protected species. Still, they were enjoyable, and the lemon and dill dressing was entirely appropriate. The accompanying salad was fresh and pleasant, but looked and tasted little different from the nice big bags of washed salad that one can buy in supermarkets. You know, the ones near the white bread.
After they had eaten, Matt and Cat bimbled around the garden. The apple trees prevail and, at the time of Matt and Cat’s visit, were in full plumage. The beds weren’t quite the riot of colour expected, more a muted grassy look. The story-telling willow dome seemed to have long outgrown its shape and looked more like a pile of sticks. However, the saddest sight of all was the plant sales area. Like elderly dogs at Battersea, a few trees and plants were forlornly waiting to be rehomed and, peering over the fence into the nursery, M and C saw a barren desert of dessicated plants and unmanaged poly tunnels. If there was a kitchen garden working here it was well concealed in a season’s-worth of weeds. No wonder the salad was brought in.
Let’s give some credit – this is a big operation, with not only a nursery, an orchard, a shop but also a café. M & C are only looking at one part of the project. It’s also great that somebody has taken it on and seems to be giving it a go.
Afton Park has been out of action for a while and it will take more than a season to get it going to full strength. But when it does, M & C really do hope that the extraordinary localness and eccentricity that marked the previous café out will be recreated, or even bettered. Otherwise, it’s going to remain just another decent but undistinguished watering-hole on the West Wight tourist-trail.
(First published Nov 2005. Updated Aug 2006)
Hot beef sandwich with salad,
including nasturtium and other leaves
straight from the garden.
Set in Afton Park Nursery, this lovely little café is just like sitting in the garden, or if you prefer, the conservatory. What’s more, the food is very good indeed and good value. There’s nowhere else like this on the Island. Must-have is the apple juice from the orchard right there in front of you, and the beautiful, colourful and varied home-grown salads which come from the nursery and taste fresh enough to make you remember why iceberg lettuce really isn’t a good thing.
They specialise in wheat-free and gluten-free meals, also doing vegetarian and vegan options. But if you like a decent bit of meat, you won’t be disappointed by Matt’s favourite, the ham salad, either. Not to mention the five different mustards you get to choose from! In fact, on every table there seems to be a different sauce or dressing, all of which you can try and then, if you like them, buy in the nearby shop.
On a recent visit Matt chose the hot beef sandwich, and Cat enjoyed a goat’s cheese tartlet on beefsteak tomatoes. Both were swiftly produced and exquisitely presented, and although the portion sizes were modest the very high quality of the food, especially the fresh salad, was a real treat.
A good stop for lunch or a nice cup of tea, they also do evening meals but we haven’t tried that yet. They are open March-Sept every day, and some other days in between, but it’s all on their website (click link), so check before you go. Because go you should.
Afton Park Nursery / the Apple Tree Café