Cafe with 14th century backdrop – Edan Ambrose finds the perfect place for a cuppa
Architecturally speaking, Winchester is a town of two halves. On the one hand, a catastrophic series of hideous malls and carparks, on the other the remnants of a Roman settlement (Venta Bulgarum) and a medieval city which dates from reconstruction in the 9th century by King Alfred the Great.
Much of the ancient town remains, in narrow winding streets around the Cathedral and its Close (660) and along the shallow chalk stream Itchen which flows through part of the town, past the ruins of Wolvesey Castle and 14th century Winchester College. Sticking to these narrow streets and the river makes a terrific day out, especially if you include a visit to the Deanery Bookshop, a sprawling collection of secondhand books round the back of the Cathedral, sales of which fund the Winchester Choristers. Through the Close from the bookshop, you come to College Street (and another bookshop, the venerable P&G Wells, which supplies the College) and thankfully, by now, a great cafe in the form of the Saint George Tea Room.
This is the perfect place to wind up if you’ve been out slaying dragons, or even just sight-seeing. Miss Marple would have loved it too – a deep and shady room, furnished with wooden tables, bone china crockery in mis-matched patterns and a seductive view out the back to a terrace garden overgrown with vines and potted palms, stone columns, presided over by a resident robin. The Saint George Tea Room is big on fancy teas (Victoria sponge, chocolate and Guinness cake, scones etc) and has an excellent breakfast menu (pancakes, porridge, eggs, steak). Lunch is a smaller affair – sandwiches, quiches, soup, but the smoked chicken sandwich we had was delicious, and came with a very good chips and a substantial, well-dressed salad. The homemade gluten-free Battenberg Cake and shortbread biscuits which accompanied some pretty good coffee were both excellent. Saint George shuts up shop at 5pm, but if still in need of sustenance you can stagger across the road to the affiliated Wykeham Arms, built in 1755 and now an award-winning Fullers pub with rooms.
Saint George Tea Room, 75 Kingsgate Street, Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 9PE, saintgeorgetearoom.co.uk