Tag Archives: museum street

Independents in Ipswich – The Museum Street Café

It should be a truth universally acknowledged that vegetarian cafés are far more exciting then their carnivorous rivals. Partly because making vegetables sing requires a little more effort than offering a rack of condiments (French mustard, sir? French mustard? Does anyone actually have that – I don’t mean dijon – unless they’re having served-with-chips-and-onion-rings steak?), and partly, I think, because they have to convert suspicious meat-lovers.

The Rainbow Café in Cambridge has done this beautifully, attracting glowing reviews and loyal customers for their mixture of vegetarian staples, like their spinach and ricotta lasagne, or far-flung dishes like their Ethiopian Mesir Wat (lentil bowl). And, stereotypical as it may sound, vegetarian cafes usually do a mean carrot cake – the Rainbow Café proudly say theirs is the best Nigel Slater has ever tasted.

But where the Rainbow Café falls down is on price – as a lowly student, I always thought £9.95+ was a bit steep for lunch (especially when I wasn’t getting a dose of much-needed iron to sort out my pallid library-induced complexion). Not so at the Museum Street Café in Ipswich, where their imaginative, tasty and homecooked vegetarian food costs as little as £4.50.

Two things to notice first about the Museum Street Café. One, jugs of water and glasses come as standard on each table. Two, you queue up for your food, so service is quick, you can see what today’s specials are – and can work out for yourself just what a beetroot and goat’s cheese pattie will look like (this…)

Beetroot and goat's cheese patties

If that hasn’t endeared it to you already, then the fact it’s always bustling, food runs out (rather than being resurrected from some over-frosted freezer), and the owner is usually on hand to recommend his favourites should do the job. Just like the Rainbow Café, it tries out exciting new ideas to tempt people in – and they really work.

Indecisive as ever, my friend Soph and I picked two dishes and shared them – huge platefuls which meant we weren’t competing for the last mouthful. We chose the sweet pepper and onion tart and the beetroot and goat’s cheese patties, served with beetroot tzatziki and rice.

Both were gorgeous. The tart was lovely, just warm, really cheesy, creamy and downright savoury, with good crispy pastry. The beetroot patties – not quite the disturbing shade of pink my camera converted them to – were good too, fresh and sweet,  with a creaminess and depth from the goat’s cheese. The beetroot tzatziki verged on overkill, but it was tangy and colourful and helped to cut through the goat’s cheese. Both came with a green salad, which was freshly dressed as we waited, and for an extra charge you can get a variety of brightly-coloured side salads.

Sweet pepper and onion tart

Other options included a spicy dahl, and a gorgeous-looking lasagne. Everything’s vegetarian, and they have a great selection of cakes too, including their version of the commonplace carrot cake – a courgette cake, which I’m still working up the courage to try.

Warm and bustling, the Museum Street Café makes you feel like you’ve just wandered into your friend’s kitchen. The food is substantial, a proper meal rather than just a sandwich, the prices are little more than you’d pay for a boring chain cafe panini, and the quick service means you can nip in on your lunch break.

Try it – and bring along your most carnivorous friend. They’ll be surprised.

Independents in Ipswich – Caffè Basso

Of late, like towns and cities across the country, Ipswich has suffered an invasion. A plague. An epidemic. For a great wave of identikit cappuccinos, dubious frappes (Nero is currently proudly proclaiming to have ‘the iciest coffee’ – what?!) and overpriced paninis has swept through the town, leaving non-branded coffee quaking in its wake.

A 'pumpkin-spiced latte with chai', according to the kind Flickr person from whom I borrowed it

It might have hit Suffolk a bit later than elsewhere, but the cult of the chain café has done its damage here too. Despite spending too many of my formative years ensconced in the sofas of Ipswich’s first Nero, whether it be gossiping, revising (from A-level geography to the finer points of the Faerie Queene) or, lately, knitting and being nosey, now even I’m slowly moving away from my favourite haunt. In the last five years, the grip of the chain café has just become too strong.

The worst victim is the poor old Great White Horse Hotel, which has now been colonised by a Starbucks. It’s admittedly one of the more elegant ones, but the fact that the other half of the building is home to a fly-by-night shop selling diamante and sequin covered handkerchiefs masquerading as skirts slightly detracts from its supposedly classy image. Together with the Carr Street Costa and the original Nero, it forms a Bermuda Triangle of mass-market coffee shops, all within about twenty paces of each other.

But now, finally, Ipswich is fighting back. It’s always had a few old-fashioned, tea-and-bun style establishments, like Pickwicks, or Blends in the Buttermarket, but nothing to tug a younger generation away from the lure of Starbucks.

Not so now. Every time I come home, there’s another shiny new café, brimming with good coffee, individual touches and an optimism which will hopefully sustain them through the recession.

In the last few days I’ve managed to fit in two visits to Caffè Basso (being a soon-to-be-employed journalist is tough). It’s been around for more than a year now, but, shamefully, I’d never been before – now I wish I had.

It’s great. Glass-fronted and sleek, if it wasn’t for the unavoidable view of the Co-op car park, you could almost forget you were in England. They’ve tried to make it as authentic as possible, and apart from the jarring note of a bottle of Smirnoff Ice in the fridge (what?!), they succeed . Italian radio plays in the background and even the toilet pays homage to Basso’s roots – one of the walls is decorated entirely with Italian newspaper pages, covered in glass. In other hands it could have been tacky, but everything is done lightly and elegantly, so it’s classy rather than kitsch.

The coffee list is refreshingly to the point, with some new names to add to the familiar list, including a Corretto (which I’d never seen before), a coffee with an added shot of sambuca. Maybe not for breakfast.

Beer + Coffee = Perfection

But the coffee – even sambuca-less – is really very good. Their cappuccino was small, with just the right amount of tight-bubbled creamy froth rather than the shaving foam beloved of some places, and the coffee was strong without being bitter.

It’s licensed, so you can have my current favourite pairing – an espresso with a beer. The cakes displayed behind the beautiful curved glass counter look gorgeous – my friend’s ‘americano’ (New York-style) cheesecake was generous and creamy, her only complaint the lack of a proper biscuit base (‘it’s the best bit!’). They also do a mean-looking tiramisu, a couple of tortas and, unusually for Ipswich anyway, delicious ricotta-filled cannoli.

Their food menu is different, too – we had a flatbread filled with goat’s cheese and spinach, and although the filling could have been more substantial, the bread was great, with a bite and chewiness very different to dull pre-packed panini.

Goat's cheese and spinach flatbread

With free wi-fi, the day’s papers lying about, reasonable prices (£1.40 for an espresso, £2.05 for a cappuccino) and plenty of space, it’s the perfect place to relax and read in peace without being harried along. And there’s not a Starbucks logo in sight.

There’s loads more Ipswich independents to add to this list, including the gorgeous Museum Street Café, Saints, St Nicholas Stores and the Napoli Deli, and I’ll be writing about them in the next few days, but I’d love to have some more recommendations for the best independents in Ipswich – please send me your suggestions!