Due to entirely foreseen circumstances, Matt and Cat found themselves without internet access one clement autumn day.
This enforced Luddism could have inspired a frenzied bout of housework or perhaps baking, but those who know M&C well will already be guffawing at such ridiculous options. No, they decided to embrace their temporary broadband-free existence and where better than at Quarr Abbey – site of a monkishly simple life as long ago as the twelfth century.
The monks at Quarr Abbey have engaged with the Island community for years and, more recently, have increased their profile and perhaps their revenue stream. Their enterprises have included creative ceramics with Brother Alexander Tingay, bookbinding and the tea room. Once a bit of a shack in part of the abbey’s walled garden the café has, with the help of an EU grant, evolved into a decent business venture with the worthy objective of supporting this religious foundation. Will eating at the café become a regular habit?
Sandwich of the day £6.50
Luxury cream tea £5.50
Tea for one £1.50
Matt and Cat drove to Quarr, although cycling would have been more in keeping with their technology-free lunch. There are tracks and trails that lead walkers and riders right through the monks’ estate. It’s even on the scenic coastal path which also takes in the ruins of the old Cistercian abbey dating from 1132.
Passing the snuffling pigs – probably the most photographed domestic mammals on the Island, (obviously excluding the tigers and ring-tailed lemurs at various other attractions) Matt and Cat bumbled through the orchard to the walled garden. This certainly would be a delightful spot for an afternoon tea al fresco in warmer seasons – and now the spacious tearoom allows visitors to enjoy refreshment indoors in all weathers. Pausing to admire the ancient espaliers, bushy asparagus ferns and nestled seating, they entered the café.
Like most rural shops, Quarr Tea Room took the opportunity to display some local produce; Garlic Farm chutneys, candles from St Cecilia’s Abbey and even Quarr’s own hyper-local fruit and vegetables (no sign of sausages – although you can buy pellets to feed the pigs). A counter laden with fresh cakes was nearby, and a polite lady behind it took the order.
From the modest range of light lunches, Matt chose the sandwich of the day: prawn cocktail and salad with skinny fries. There was also soup of the day – the spicy-sounding chilli pumpkin – but Cat decided to try the Quarr Abbey luxury cream tea. Taking their seats indoors after a brief flirtation with a slightly chilly spot on the patio, Matt and Cat looked around at the venue.
Inside, the café was reminiscent of other farm shops. Light and spacious, with wonderful rickety-looking mismatched wooden furniture. Think school room crossed with church hall; mahogany-coloured tables and spindle-legged chairs with genuine antique patina. Protected by an old-fashioned fireguard there was a woodburner, which was ablaze during Matt and Cat’s visit and literally gave the place a delightful warm glow.
The food came without much delay. Matt’s sandwich was a fair size, and looked good. Dribbling from its edges was Marie Rose sauce, the ubiquitous juice for prawn cocktail. The prawny mixture was of reasonable quality, encased in sliced bread and unexpectedly decorated by an ostentatious doodle of balsamic reduction. A good allowance of salad was on the plate, and a handful of those delicious vegetable crisps. Alongside came a big bowl of skinny fries, which were generously anointed with a salt-and-pepper mix. Matt might perhaps have preferred to add his own condiments to the chips, but as he too had a pot of good tea to wash it all down with, the salt overload was easily diluted.
The luxury cream tea was 70p more than the regular cream tea, and differed in having a choice of speciality tea or coffee and the addition of local jam and a fresh strawberry. Cat was delighted to take possession of it and decanted a lovely cup of tea from the generous pot which was, as it should be, accompanied by a milk jug and extra hot water. Her scone was fruity and crumbly – certainly not too dry – and pleasantly warm. The sweet and runny local strawberry jam had visible bits of fruit, and there was plenty of jam and cream to go round. Coming as it did straight from the fridge the butter could have been a bit softer, but with a brief bask on the teapot’s lid it soon softened to a spreadable consistency. Cat ended up eating her scone with a knife and fork as the crumbly, sticky sweet cake with its tottering sliced strawberry threatened to make an excellent creamy mess of her hands. Delicious!
The new tearoom is an impressive and well-executed venture, and one imagines must be a satisfying way to fulfil the Benedictine rule which guides the monks and says boldly “All guests are to be welcomed as Christ”. Indeed, it seemed a good opportunity for visitors to begin to understand the life of the monastery through the everyday. As the diners sat nibbling, bells rang to remind them of the monastic offices being observed in the chapel just a little way away. Amongst the newspapers were copies of the Catholic Herald, and the menu even pointed out that on Abstinence Fridays there would be sustainable, locally-caught fish on offer.
Matt and Cat had cleared their plates, enjoyed the cosy environment, and examined the cakes in the chiller and the wares in the shop. During their brief visit the café had started to fill up with the sort of people who have out-of-season mid-week leisure time, a good sign for any Island business heading towards winter. The Quarr Abbey tearoom is most definitely worth a visit and Matt and Cat have already pencilled in a summer appointment with one of the cosy arbour seats.
Quarr Abbey Tea Garden