THE prospect of a cup of tea and something sweet to go with it is a simple but beautiful concept that has sustained the UK hospitality sector through good times and bad.

It’s easy to see why. The profit margins on a hot beverage and a scone or teacake are astronomical. So it’s no wonder so many businesses that sell stuff have also felt the need to open a café in any spare corner they have.

Garden centres are a good example. Almost every one these days has at very least a café which will dispense a coffee and sticky bun along with the multi-purpose compost and bedding plants.

Some are very good indeed. Whitegates Nursery at West Rounton, near Northallerton, does a superb lunch in beautiful surroundings as we wrote about here last year.

Some are a bit more rudimentary. Like Strikes, the garden centre just north of Northallerton on Darlington Road.

It’s a mighty big shed which houses, along with quite a few plants, shrubs and trees, a cafeteria and a massive shop selling everything from clothes, wine, books and interiors stuff to stationery, crafts and goodness knows what else.

And it’s always packed. One can’t help thinking that at this time of the year, the business must make more money from things which aren’t growing, or all that stuff that helps things to grow.

Strikes also has an enormous, free, car park (the size of three or four football pitches surely) which in itself must be a major attraction for those folk who buy monstrous SUVs/4x4s they can’t park in those tight town centre spaces. At least not with enough to open the doors. And they are damned if they are going to pay to park anyway. Ooh, I’d better not go there. That’s a whole controversy on its own.

Confession time now: I am writing this in those dead days between Christmas and New Year. We went to Strikes back in November and to be frank the six-week-old memory of what we ate is somewhat hazy.

Yes, thoughts should have been committed to the laptop way back then but you how it is, Christmas came along, holiday fun ensued, and what do you know it’s 2020 and 800 words on the place are still outstanding.

So what can we say about the Sunday lunch in Strikes; Topiary Coffee Shop and Restaurant? It’s not bad but neither is it knock-your-socks off brilliant.

Price wise, it’s pretty much in line with bargain-basement pub offerings. One course for £8.95, two £10.50. No frills.

There was a choice of two roasts – beef and pork, a curry – chicken tikka with rice, naan and mango chutney and a vegetarian baked pasta dish – roasted vegetables – served with garlic ciabatta. The curry was priced at £9.50 and the pasta at £8.95 so it was not quite clear whether they were included in the two course offer.

It was immaterial because we both went for roasts – beef for Sylvia and pork for me. They were served with Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and parsnips. A big bowl of broccoli and cauliflower was served separately.

Sylvia thought the beef (topside she reckoned) was decent but not as hot as she would have liked it. Regular readers will know piping hot food is a thing for her.

That may be something to do with the cafeteria-style ordering arrangements. You pay for your food at the serving counter, are issued with a number on a stand which you place on your table – once you have found one which can be quite a task on a very busy day.

It was pretty busy that particular Sunday but we found somewhere to sit. We were aware however that serving staff emerged from the kitchen with hot plates of food and then had to scan the room for the number. And as there must be getting on for fifty tables spread across the café, it can’t be easy. I’m not sure what the solution is but this system will not always be the quickest way to get hot food to diners. My pork was loin and on the dry side. Loin nearly always is. It’s just too lean and mindful of the dangers of insufficiently cooked pork, chefs err on the safe side. With leg and shoulder you can get away with slight overcooking. You can’t with loin. But the crackling was first class.

The Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and the other vegetables were all just OK as we recall and I had a cherry sponge pudding with custard which might well have been quite good but, well, it was just sponge and custard.

With a small glass of wine (£4.25) and a diet coke (£2.30) the bill was just £26. Which is, regardless of whatever we can accurately recall, unquestionably good value.


The Topiary Coffee Shop and Restaurant, Strikes Garden Centre, Darlington Road, Northallerton, DL6 2PW

Tel: 01609 760970 Web:

Open: Mon - Wed 9am-5pm, Thurs 9am-7pm, Fri - Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-4pm

Disabled access. Limited vegetarian options

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 7, Surroundings 7, Service 6, Value 8