I THINK it was Anglophile author Bill Bryson who expressed fond amazement at the capacity of the British to extract maximum contentment from a cup of tea and piece of cake.

He was absolutely right, of course. The nation's ability to build a whole day’s activity around the ready availability of a hot beverage and something sweet is quite something.

How else can you explain the proliferation of coffee/tea shops beyond our High Streets to all corners of town and country?

They seem to pop everywhere and in the most unlikely of places. Like the self-styled “Most Interesting Store in the North” at Leeming Bar, the Simply Dutch furniture and ephemera emporium which achieved nationwide notoriety a few years ago for selling a huge concrete phallus as a garden ornament. Cue police confiscation of offending object, a public order conviction and a “Free Willy” Facebook campaign.

But when Simply Dutch opened a coffee shop on its premises a couple of years ago, in my book, it instantly became less interesting.

So I confess to mixed feelings when I heard that Whitegates Nursery at West Rounton had doubled the size of its modest café to offer more than tea, coffee and cake. I’d rather liked the fact that this small family business ran a really good garden centre. Period.

But then you see crowds piling into the café at Strikes Garden Centre just north of Northallerton and you have to forgive Whitegates for thinking they should have a slice of the (cake) action too.

The new café/tea room at Whitegates has been open since March and word had reached me that it has been an instant hit. Which is quite something given that West Rounton is well off the beaten track.

The week before Christmas, that track was well beaten by people who were not buying poinsettias, Nordmann Firs and festive wreathes but were tucking into lunch – and there were a lot of them.

Four of us from the office initially could not get a table. We were shown to some easy chairs and occasional tables in a small lounge-type area, and offered drinks and menus.

Taking in our surroundings, we thought they have done a really clever job of disguising the fact that café is housed in a glorified horticultural shed. As long as you don’t look up to the steelwork above you will be convinced you are sitting in a light airy bistro-type environmnent. As one might expect there is plenty of greenery around.

It being the Season To Be Stuffed there were some festive specials, principally the Christmas lunch of turkey and all the trimmings and a Christmas sandwich.

Matt and Kate had no hesitation in opting for the traditional turkey lunch (£9.50) and as Christmas dinners go this was as well prepared as, and probably a great deal better than, many served up on domestic dining tables on December 25.

The turkey was good. It might have been on the dry side but then most turkey breast meat is and it doesn’t seem to matter if you brine the bird, put it in a foil tent and baste it with a bucket of butter or poach it in asses milk, it always turns out on the dry side.

But provided there’s enough gravy – and the turkey is sliced thinly - any absence of moisture in the flesh can be compensated for which was exactly the case here.

The trimmings measured up just fine - from the crisp roast potato, the buttery, creamy mash, the roast parsnip, stuffing, pigs in blankets and the veg. The Brussel sprouts were a small revelation in that they were still vibrantly green and had a bit of bite to them.

Alex’s turkey sandwich (£6.95) was deemed suitably festive, packed with turkey, cranberry sauce and served with a salad garnish – and a flower.

As was my Whitegates Rarebit with bacon (£7.95) – two slices of brown bread drenched in a mix of cheddar and mozzarella, a little mustard and served with caramelised red onion chutney.

Edible flowers as decorative garnishes are the Whitegates thing, a sort of reminder that the business is still as passionate about plants as it is about pavlova.

Don’t worry, these aren’t just plucked from their commercial stock. They are specially grown and chemical free.

But I can’t say they added much beyond being pretty. Edible certainly, tasty no.

We all finished with something sweet and this is where The Cafe@Whitegates really excels. There’s a splendid array of cakes, traybakes, scones and desserts. Kate and Alex said the rocky road (£2.50) was delicious. Matt and I each enjoyed one of the pudding specials – a super-creamy roulade (£4.50).

With a variety of soft drinks (coke, ginger beer, Yorg drinking yoghurt from the nearby Stamfrey Farm, San Pellegrino Limonata from further afield) the bill was just over £56.


The Café @ Whitegates, West Rounton, Northallerton, DL6 2LL

Tel: 01609 882355 Web: whitegatesnursery.co.uk

Open: Monday – Saturday 9.30am-4.30pm, Sunday 10am-3.30pm

Disabled access. Plenty of dietary options.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 9, Service 7, Surroundings 7, Value 9