Romans for roads; Italians for coffee; but tea is very English in Chichester

There’s a certain simplicity to central Chichester: chances are you’re in North Street; South Street; East Street; or West Street. And if not, then one of those streets is just round the corner, and you immediately know which direction you’re heading in.

I guess we can thank the Romans for that. They say there’s the slope and shape of an old amphitheatre in parkland near Eastgate somewhere. Eastgate itself is easy enough to find, but I’m not sure where that amphitheatre is today…

But it’s a bit like that with Roman remains in Britain.

Hey, I learnt today that it was only in the 1970s, when they were installing an under-floor central heating system in the cathedral, that they discovered a Roman mosaic floor under the south aisle of the Cathedral.

Chichester Cathedral

It’s exposed now but I guess when the Normans were in charge round here and they were building castles and cathedrals every few miles, nobody really cared about old stuff by the previous conquerors of Britain.

There’s more of a Bologna and Milan connection to the place I tried for my coffee kick-start to the day.

Atti Bassi coffee bar in Chichester

Attibassi in Church Square is a new coffee shop in Chichester, set up by Marc Perry, who had been the main UK importer for the Attibassi brand for two years previously.

It’s a real taste of Italy in the heart of Chichester, much more individual than other Italian places that have really become chains these days. The coffee and the cakes are sourced from Italy (though Marc admitted that the mince pies and carrot cake were baked locally – I guess there aren’t many mince pie makers round Milan…).

Coffee and lemon cake in Atti Bassi, coffee shop in Chichester

This is really good quality coffee, and if you like your Italian cakes, then you’ll be happy here (I gave the lemon sponge a go and it was good, but I have to confess to looking fondly at the more English cakes on my way out…).

An interesting concept, this one. Rather reminded me of the lovely tea room in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which served the English-grown tea, Tregothnan. The guy there was the US importer for Tregothnan and he set up a lovely tea room to run alongside the import business; shame was that he closed because of astronomical rent increases being demanded (let’s hope Attibassi doesn’t suffer a similar fate…).

There was something quintessentially English about the tea room we tried in Chichester…

St Martin's Tea Rooms in Chichester

Owner Keith Nelson might have been vying for a role in that 70s TV series The Good Life when he set about single-handedly restoring this old 16th century house and making it into one of the first organic tea rooms in the country.

The great thing is that, more than 30 years after first opening, St Martin’s Tea Room is still going strong; Keith is still about and maintains his passion for the place; and it serves up fantastic quality food and drink. A good range of loose-leaf teas to choose from and wonderful cakes (their ginger cake was special, though I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what gave it an added zest – I’d have had a second piece to pin it down if the slices hadn’t been so big!)

Cakes at St Martin's Tea Rooms in Chichester

What a lovely, cosy tea room, with roaring fires upstairs and downstairs, a piano they welcome customers using; and even a young couple upstairs playing chess over their cuppa. Jane Austen or Dickens brought to the 21st century: lovely.

Upstairs at St Martin's Tea Rooms in Chichester

If you have an hour or two to spare, you could also pop down to the old village of Bosham, about four miles away on the coast. One of several places in England where King Canute is alleged to have ordered the sea to go back, Bosham is more likely to be right about its claim that Canute’s daughter drowned in the stream running through the village. It was looking particularly deep and cold this week…

There’s a tea room right down at the harbour here, but we didn’t get a chance to visit. There was also an appealing-looking place back in Chichester, a fair way up North Street. It had some lovely home-baked cakes in the window and had that one-off family-run feel that fits the Fancy a Cuppa? style, but it had no name (that I could see) and we had had enough tea, coffee and cake for one day.

But if anybody reading this knows anything more about that little tea room/café, I’d love to hear what you think- and maybe even to know its name!!

Video: Italians for coffee but tea is very English

This entry was posted in Chichester, The South - From Kent to Cornwall, UK visits and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *