Osborne House has an impressive Terrace Restaurant for the ultimate lunchtime venue – but if you want to get a taste of the Osborne experience without buying a ticket you can take advantage of the new cafe in the recently restored Petty Officers’ Quarters. It’s a remarkable bit of work – the building serves as cafe, shop and ticket office for one of the busiest tourist venues in the country, and yet somehow the approach to it manages to give the impression of arriving at some quiet Edwardian country establishment. The carefully-tended informal gardens and meadows which characterise much of the impressive Osborne estate welcome the visitor, and all is in keeping with the period, even down to the hazel hoops keeping the visitor gently guided in the right direction.
Matt and Cat met a friend for a lunchtime chat at the cafe. They strolled through the shop into the spacious cafe, where they picked a tray and joined the queue at the counter. On arrival at the food, they were slightly confused. Nobody was there to serve, and there was no sign of the advertised ‘hot dish of the day’, but there were tureens which presumably held soup. There were also sandwiches and rolls, and a range of unusual items all presented in – rather unsustainably – disposable transparent plastic tubs of various shapes and sizes. It seems that the Osborne House cafe is seeking to sell the elements of a picnic, as well as food to eat there and then.
Eventually one of the many smartly-uniformed staff behind the counter came to your reviewers’ aid and explained that the hot dish of the day was off, but managed to tempt Cat with the choice of mushroom and ginger or carrot and coriander soup – she chose the latter. Matt dithered over the many mysterious pots of stuff, and eventually went for a chicken salad, which came with another little pot which turned out to be mayonnaise. Drinks were lemonade (in a curious plastic beaker) and a cup of tea. For dessert Cat chose fresh strawberries, and Matt adventurously took a chocolate cream pudding. At the till Cat asked if her strawberries came with cream – it turned out that they did, and the lady taking the money retreated into a nether room with the strawberries, to re-emerge with the fruit covered in squirty cream.
Paying for this feast was a slightly painful experience – Matt and Cat reflected on the fact that for the price they could have had a full takeaway from the Balti King, or maybe a slap-up dinner at the Sportsman’s Rest. However, on settling in the garden to eat, they soon realised why: this was a cut above the normal cafe experience.
Cat’s soup was deliciously hot, with some fresh bread to accompany it. Her home-made still lemonade was an old-fashioned treat. Matt dug into his chicken salad with enthusiasm – the tall receptacle it was served in made accessing it quite challenging, but once extracted it proved to be a really fresh, tasty and simple meal – chunks of chicken, fresh leaves and sliced tomato, with not the slightest hint of any dried or browned ingredients.
It was the desserts that really made an impression. Cat at first turned her nose up somewhat at the squirty cream on her freshly-sliced strawberries, but even she had to admit that in this Wimbledon week it was the perfect accompaniment. Matt was bowled over by his chocolate cream pudding. A dish hard to describe, it was a generous mix of fresh cream, chocolate, sponge and chocolate drops. With an almost savoury flavour that really brought out the bitter dark chocolate and thick fresh cream, it was a startlingly grown-up delight to discover in a plastic beaker at a cafe.
As with the nearby Terrace restaurant; Osborne House Petty Officers Quarters Cafe is very good, and the high class of the place is reflected in the high prices. Still, a cafe well worth a visit, with some unusual and very high-quality offerings served in the most relaxing and enjoyable surroundings.
Osborne House Petty Officers Quarters Cafe