Doncaster didn’t have anything in the way of trendy coffee shops, but there were two rather nice tea rooms right in the centre of town.
Now, being from the big city 40 miles or so to the east, I’d always looked down my nose at places like Doncaster, but I have to admit after the visit there last week, I’d rate the town centre as better than Hull’s for getting a decent cuppa (I’ll return to Hull shortly, because its top coffee and tea shops are not downtown…).
And why were we in Doncaster? Well, all the Fancy a Cuppa? travel and coffee or tea reviews are based around themes. Last year it was coffee and tea near cathedrals; we also began a UK tour finding a cuppa near the nation’s outdoor swimming pools. The next book will be Fancy a Cuppa, North Yorkshire?.
But while we wait for the weather to warm up a bit, March and April give us the opportunity to test a few other potential themes for future publications. And one idea is to find the best cuppa near to the UK’s 60+ racecourses, so what better place to begin than the venue of the North’s only classic horse race (no, the Grand National is not officially a ‘classic’): Doncaster…
There’s a rather nice timeline of Doncaster’s history marked in flagstones of the town centre pavements, showing that the place was actually built in Roman times, though there’s no trace now of Roman roads or ruins.
It’s an interesting potted history of the town (and we’ll show more of it when we publish the video later this spring), and like so many other smallish towns round the country that played host to The not-yet-famous Beatles, the Fab Four’s gig in town has a special enough place in the community memory to rank alongside the Romans…
What’s surprising in that timeline is how little space is given over to horse racing. There is one section with a set of horse shoes but no actual reference to the St Leger, even though it’s surely the annual event that draws the most visitors to Doncaster?
Now, I know that most racegoers are on the razzle rather than researching where to get decent coffee or tea. But when we do go racing (which has been about twice a year till now), we usually find ourselves surrounded by readers of the Racing Post when we stop off nearby for a bite of lunch and a cuppa, so there IS interest out there, and we hope our trail of racecourses will help others like us, for whom Pims and a pint are not the priorities.
It didn’t surprise me not to find an artisan coffee shop in Doncaster. There probably isn’t the right demographic (though hopefully someone will prove me wrong and leave a comment here after they’ve found one)…
But the tea rooms in Doncaster were not bad at all.
First up was Woods Tea Rooms in Wood Street, though actually I went for a cafetiere of coffee since they did a decent-looking Taylors of Harrogate blend (in fact the menu encouragingly had several blends to choose from).
And the home-made cakes stood proudly by drawing the eye of anyone walking into the back room of the tea shop. Who could resist a passion cake looking like this?
I also liked the fact that Woods Tea Rooms in Wood Street is run by Mrs Woods, and has been there for 22 years. To have survived in this economic climate in a place like Doncaster shows she must have been doing something right. So this place gets my top rating for coffee in Doncaster.
In fact, I wouldn’t have hesitated to go back there for tea if it had not been for the rather attractive-looking Georgian Tea Rooms drawing me in when I walked past on Doncaster High Street.
Now, if you do come near this place, don’t be put off by the big heavy black front door, which may be closed even after the tea shop has opened. Just give it a push and you’ll enter a coffee, tea and cake wonderland.
There’s a shop at the front where you can buy your favourite meringues or chocolate, and then out the back is the tea room itself.
There’s no loose leaf tea here (nor was there at Woods, by the way) but the Taylors of Harrogate bags are good quality, and they have a fine range of afternoon tea options, including a St Leger tea (suggesting they DO get an increase in trade on race days), which adds a glass of Cava to your sandwiches, cake, scones and pot of tea.
I settled for a pot of Assam and a Fat Rascal – both delicious, making the Georgian Tea Rooms in Doncaster the second good quality venue for a cuppa before the first race!
And so to the races! A quiet midweek meet in March does not draw in huge crowds, but at least they had a family enclosure for those of us who prefer not to fork out too much for entry fees before we even start losing on bets.
The purpose of this series is NOT to comment on the racecourse catering facilities (unless there are some really pleasant surprises). And after a cuppa in two venues before going racing I wasn’t desperate for more later in the day. But if you DO want a cuppa in Doncaster racecourse family enclosure, just be warned: there’s only UHT plastic milk and we all now how THAT can ruin any cup of tea, don’t we…