WHAT’S the most important thing to look for in a cafe?
Expansive wine list?
Italian espresso machine?
Or is it something about the ambience of the place that sets a cafe apart from its peers?
Me, I like a place where you can, as they say, watch the world go by - and there’s nowhere in Grantham that offers a better vantage point than the Conduit Tea Rooms in Conduit Lane.
Sited on an elevated spot overlooking the Market Place, the garden area is a great place to relax, enjoy a brew and spectate on life.
The good news is the food’s splendid too.
Seizing on the second opportunity in as many weeks to escape the office for lunch (a rare treat for those of us who ride the Journal’s 24-hour news rollercoaster) an esteemed colleague and I ventured to the Conduit Tea Rooms to sample the phenomenon known to many as ‘lunch break’.
After a bit of initial confusion - is it table service or counter service? - we ordered (me: cod in parsley sauce with roasted vegetables; my colleague: lasagne verdi, salad), then found a table and basked in the sun.
The garden at the cafe is so pleasant that it more or less cancelled out the noise and dust of the nearby Market Place renovation - and it must be said that when that work’s complete it’s going to secure the The Conduit’s status as one of the prime spots in town.
It’s a great place to bump into friends or see people you know - everyone in town passes that way eventually.
Forced inside by a summer shower, we discovered the conservatory was no less pleasant.
It’s quiet, but not much that you feel self-conscious - it’s just a nice place to be.
The food took a while to arrive (it was busy), but when it did the proprietor apologised for the delay.
And it was worth the wait.
The cod was flaky without threatening to disintegrate, perfectly complemented by the thick cheese and parsley sauce.
Perfectly cooked new potatoes, green beans, asparagus, peas and wafer-thin slivers of carrot mingled together to create a fantastic dish.
It was enough to be satisfying, without creating the danger of nodding off at the desk later on.
My colleague’s lasagne apparently hit the mark too, if the clean plate was anything to go by.
It came in at around £10 a head for a main course and a drink - not the kind of money you’d want to spend on lunch every day, but acceptable for the occasional treat.
So. Great food. Friendly proprietor. Perfect cafe-culture ambience.
Maybe I’m nitpicking, but if the service had been a fraction quicker, it would have got five stars.
Review by Bob Hart