The Chocolate Rooms in Tarleton, Lancashire, otherwise known as Wonka Towers, are the nerve centre of Choc Amor, Lancashire chocolatiers of artisan Belgian chocolate.
It is here that a mouth-watering range of award-winning chocolate is handmade, served and sold.
I’d been hearing so much about this chocolate café that I made a special visit in order to see (read taste) for myself.
There’s a delicious lunch menu offering sandwiches, salads, flatbreads and platters (and my salmon, beetroot and feta salad was fresh, crisp and flavourful) but let’s be honest, it’s the sweet stuff that you go here for!
Freshly made cakes tempt you from the counter and a variety of brownies, scones and ice cream will leave you spoilt for choice. If you’re willing to share, everyone in your party should order something different so you can try more than one option.
I can tell you that the pecan pie was to die for – a gooey, nutty slice of deliciousness – and the chocolate cake was rich, creamy and melt in the mouth.
There’s a great range of hot drinks to choose from, including four different versions of hot chocolate made using Belgian chocolate, plus milkshakes and soft drinks. I opted for chocolate tea, which was lovely and felt indulgent (it’s caffeine free too).
Ingredients are sourced in Lancashire where possible and at under £30 for quality, homemade food for two (drinks, lunch and cake), the café is very good value for money.
But the experience doesn’t have to stop once you’ve finished eating; you can buy from the Choc Amor range too. The flavours of chocolate on offer are positively exotic – Chilli and Lime, Orange Jalfrezi, Raspberry and Balsamic Vinegar and Tonka Bean, Smoked Sea Salt and Cocoa Nib to name just a few.
The company’s founder, Paul Williams aka Chef de Wonka, is the creative chocolatier behind these flavours which have resulted in a number of Great Taste Awards since he started out in 2012, and this year saw him competing in the World Finals of the International Chocolate Awards.
You can also buy at Choc Amor’s Little Chocolate Shop at Botany Bay, at a number of farmer’s markets and food festivals and online at chocamor.co.uk
Choc Amor is clearly a labour of love and deserving of support from Lancashire chocolate lovers.
Follow Paul on Twitter for insights into the world of chocolate making at Wonka Towers!
Just as at Teacup Kitchen, tea here is a serious business – choose from black, green, white, Earl Grey and flowering varieties along with some rare and exotic brews. It comes loose and with a timer to indicate that the leaves are brewed to perfection.
There’s a great selection of artisan coffees too and the menu offers a delicious selection of toasted sandwiches, soup, salads and platters including plenty of vegetarian options.
My homemade chicken, avocado, red pepper and pesto toasted sandwich on rye bread with purple slaw was fresh, tasty and filling.
Want more than a brew and a bite to eat? Make an occasion of your visit with morning tea, cream tea, high tea or afternoon tea (Prosecco optional)!
The atmosphere is bright and breezy and the décor modern with a retro nod; white and bright with many windows allowing natural light in and low hung filament light bulbs adding to the glow. Ray Charles was playing softly in the background during my visit.
Cakes adorn a vast counter on one side of the room behind which, containers of tea line shelves along the wall.
Proper Tea is set in Cathedral Yard and the church can be seen from your table. There are also a few tables outside for al fresco tea if the weather permits. It’s a perfect venue to escape shopping/work/study mayhem for a little while and enjoy divine refreshments in divine surroundings!
My sandwich and pot of Assam tea cost £8.50 and the service was friendly and attentive.
Proper Tea is open seven days a week – almost every table was taken during my Monday lunchtime visit by people of all ages.
The tearoom is right next to the cathedral and you can also enter via the visitor centre on Cateaton Street.
Built in the 13th Century and with some impressive architectural features, Manchester Cathedral is a beautiful thing to behold. Why not take one of the daily tours?
Alice’s is a quirky and colourful little tea room on St. Alban’s Road, just off the high street in St Anne’s town centre.
Themed around Lewis Carroll’s classic story Alice In Wonderland, you’ll find yourself surrounded by familiar characters, including my favourite the grinning Cheshire cat, and cute details like playing cards for menus and ‘Eat me’ labels on your food. Oh, and everything is upside down!
At a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, only afternoon tea will do in my opinion. A large pot of loose leaf tea served with china cups and saucers came alongside a selection of ham, cheese and tuna sandwiches with crisps and salad; scones with jam, cream and fresh strawberries; and mini butterfly cakes, millionaire’s shortbread, brownies, rocky road and chocolate crispies.
Alice’s is a real treat for kids – they’ll love the brilliant surroundings, colouring books and crayons, fantastic ice cream counter and magnificent milkshakes in flavours like Oreo and Maltesers.
Meanwhile, grown ups will be equally enthralled by the spectacular multi-coloured and multi-layered cakes on display around the tea room. See them for yourself on Alice’s Facebook page
Also on offer on the menu are breakfasts, sandwiches, paninis, salads and jacket potatoes and a good range of teas. The waitresses are friendly and attentive, and it’s evident that a lot of affection goes into running this tea room.
At £13.95 for afternoon tea for two that left us full to bursting, Alice’s is an inexpensive way to escape boredom and enter a mini fantasy world for an hour or two!
Tinderbox gift shop and cafe in Poulton has something to warm the body and soothe the soul this winter.
The specials board has been tantalising me as I pass by on lunchtime walks along Breck Road for months. Having finally paid a visit with my two sisters and baby niece, and being welcomed in out of the cold by a friendly hostess, I can’t believe I waited so long.
The front half of the building is a gift shop selling a beautiful range of jewellery, cards, candles, notebooks, handbags, woolly hats and, at the moment, gorgeous Christmas decorations and stationary. Lovely presents you’ll want for yourself and your loved ones.
With lanterns and art (which is for sale) adorning the walls and exposed lighting cables and bulbs hanging from the ceiling, the cafe at the back has the feel of a cool underground bunker, with an abundance of fairy and tealights giving light and warmth.
A straightforward menu offers all the staples; breakfasts, sandwiches, toasties and a pledge to make whatever you fancy, so long as they have the basic ingredients! Daily specials include homemade soup and a couple of less ordinary options – on the day of my visit, bacon and cheese burger served in a brioche bun and coronation prawn vol-au-vents.
There are children’s choices and a great selection of cakes too; chocolate, Victoria, tiffin, parkin and cherry bakewell to name just a few plus gluten-free varieties.
As a dedicated tea drinker, I was pleased to find a selection of Atkinsons black teas on offer including my favourite brew, Assam, along with lemon and vanilla plus green Chai tea and herbal varieties. There’s also a bring your own booze policy with a minimal corkage charge. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion, ’bring a bottle if you feel the need’!
I thoroughly enjoyed the hearty homemade leek and potato soup with doorstep bread and (soft) butter plus a pot of tea, served in a pot with teacup and saucer. My sisters enjoyed their choices; soup, cheese and tomato toastie (again on doorstep bed and served with salad), hot chocolates and a giant scone with obligatory jam and cream. The bill came to just under £20 and we all left feeling full and happy.
You can see the chef at work preparing your food in an open kitchen in the corner and the cakes calling you from a counter beside. There are around half a dozen tables, chairs and benches plus a comfy chair for coffee, attentive waiters and I’m reliably informed, good changing facilities. My sister was able to breastfeed at ease too.
For a perfect escape from the elements this winter, hole up in Tinderbox with tea and cake. Check out the Tinderbox Facebook page
Stirk House Hotel, located just off the A59 near Gisburn in the Ribble Valley, is a 16th century manor house hotel nestled within 20 acres of grounds giving generous views of Pendle Hill, the Forest of Bowland and the Yorkshire Dales.
While it still has attractive period features and plenty of charm, the interior is modern and stylish. The venue caters for holidaymakers, weddings and conferences however the purpose of my visit was my favourite pastime, afternoon tea.
But before I get to that, my friends and I first worked up an appetite with a leisurely meander in the surrounding countryside on a circular walk from the hotel. The scenery around the hotel is stunning; we traversed open fields and woodland, walked alongside the River Ribble and picked up a little bit of the famous Ribble Way, a 70 mile footpath that follows the river from mouth to source. You can pick up walking routes from reception.
Afterwards, we were lucky enough to snatch a table on the hotel’s terrace overlooking the gardens. There’s also a conservatory if you would like the views without the elements. Stirk House takes its conservation responsibilities seriously; expect to see thousands of trees and wild flowers and, if you’re lucky, deer, kestrels, owls (the World Owl Trust has designated the grounds a Wildlife Conservation Area), rabbits and bees (thanks to a bee hotel designed to protect threatened species).
Afternoon tea started with hot buttered toast fingers plus homemade marmalade and honey, thick and sweet. Then followed finger sandwiches – smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber, honey roasted ham and free range egg mayonnaise – on a mixture of brown and white bread.
Cake came in the form of delicate mini éclairs, rich malt loaf, raspberry and mint fools and strawberry shortcakes, not forgetting of course, fruit scones with jam and clotted cream. It was all freshly baked and delicious, however the raspberry and mint fools deserve special mention for tasting so exquisite.
We took our time, enjoying a rare leisurely afternoon throughout which the staff were attentive, happily replenishing our tea pot numerous times and keen to make sure we didn’t leave anything uneaten!
The surroundings could not have been more idyllic; birds singing, rabbits hopping to and fro, bees humming in the nearby flower beds and the chef popping out to pick fresh lavender from the garden.
Dogs are welcome at Stirk House, which operates a ‘four legged policy’, and we saw one lucky mutt being lavished with attention from a member of staff.
Afternoon tea, normally £15 per person, was on offer at just £12 when I visited which I consider to be excellent value for money.
Salt of the Earth is a vibrant eatery, brimming with character and flavour, and my all-time favourite destination for lunch.
Situated, most unexpectedly, at the end of a row of terraced houses in Carleton (near Poulton), the enticing frontage catches your eye and hints at the delights to be found inside.
Described as a delicatessen, Salt of the Earth offers a whole lot more – extensive breakfast, brunch and lunch menus; takeaway food that can be phoned ahead or delivered; private functions and outside catering; and on Fridays, evening tapas.
It’s an independent, family-run business and it shows; the owners remember all their customers and seem genuinely pleased to see you! Step inside and you’re greeted with a colourful and upbeat venue that is clearly a labour of love.
A collection of mismatched wooden tables and chairs are dotted haphazardly across two dining floors with breakfast bar seating available at the core of activity on the ground floor. Upstairs you’ll find the Dining Hall with whitewashed walls and painted floorboards and the Common Room, furnished with books, board games and armchairs just begging to be curled up in. Chandeliers, fairy lights, mirrors and wall art adorn each room and it all combines to create a charming and welcoming environment to indulge in some leisurely dining. There are also some tables outside for al fresco eating, when weather permits.
The menu is, in my opinion, the most imaginative and varied in the area, with dishes inspired by many different cultures, from the traditional English bacon sandwich to an exotic Spanish salad.
Everything is cooked to order, the bread freshly baked and ingredients locally sourced, and the menu changes to reflect seasonal food. Honest, quality food cooked with passion and flair is guaranteed.
You’ll find breakfast dishes (served until 11.30am) such as banana split porridge, hot and cold sandwiches, soup of the day, crepes, salads and platters, all with food combinations that will excite you and leave you in turmoil over what to choose!
Take the Middle Eastern platter for instance – lemon and mint infused halloumi, sweet potato falafel, chickpea hummus, dolmades (stuffed vine leaves), guindilla peppers (Spanish chillies), Moroccan couscous and toasted breads. Or the Mexican crepe – refried beans, guacamole, feta cheese and salsa dressed with lime and coriander. The only way to solve such a dilemma is for everyone to order a different dish and share.
Then there are the specials, which are posted on Salt of the Earth’s Facebook page, and frequently cause me to salivate at my desk if I happen to catch the day’s offering while at work. At the time of writing, specials include a Beef and Blue Burger of hot beef, blue cheese, pancetta and crispy onions served on a toasted brioche bun with hand cut chips and a Belgian waffle with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce.
There’s a good range of hot and cold vegetarian options available and something for the traditional as well as the adventurous eater. Desserts are no less impressive; a variety of delicious home baked cakes served in huge wedges, cupcakes and slices. And the drinks menu is extensive, with a beverage for every day of the year – soft drinks such as shandy and ginger beer, fruit smoothies, milkshakes, speciality coffees, teas (served in a pot with china cup and saucer) and hot chocolate.
On my last visit, two of my party chose from the brunch menu (served until 2pm) – an omelette of chorizo, feta and manchego cheese, served with salad for me and an American breakfast of French toast, pancetta and maple syrup for my friend.
My sister opted for a hot sweet potato, falafel and halloumi sandwich, again served with salad, and we shared a portion of sweet potato fries with aioli (a tangy type of mayonnaise flavoured with garlic).
Our food, which was as pleasing to the eye as to the taste buds, was fresh, hot, bursting with flavour and filling, just as I’ve come to expect here. Who made the best selection? A difficult decision but we all agreed that the American breakfast was an inspired and indulgent choice for an early Saturday lunch.
The bill for three meals and four drinks came to £24 – excellent value for money for such wonderful food and friendly service.
Salt of the Earth can be found on Poulton Road opposite the Castle Gardens pub and opening times vary, so check first.
If you live locally and have never visited, I urge you to stop what you’re doing and make a booking immediately (you can book but don’t need to). And if you’re further afield, let me assure you, it is well worth making a special journey. Whether you’re catching up with friends, enjoying a family outing, treating yourself or even nursing a hangover, a visit to Salt of the Earth is an absolute joy in every respect.
Halo is a coffee house-tea room in Poulton and a frequent haunt of mine for lunch or afternoon tea and cake. Situated above Gabriel’s House on Ball Street, opposite St Chad’s church, it’s conveniently located in the town centre and guarantees great quality homemade food at every visit.
Gabriel’s House sells darling gifts and items for the home – a treasure trove of Sia products, chic interior gems plus unique jewellery and scarves. If you’re in need of a gift for a woman, you’ll find it here, along with a little something for yourself I often find. You have to go through the shop and up the stairs at the back to reach Halo, so the chances of a purchase are high!
The café is petite and snug with a handful of tables in a room decorated very much in the vein of the shop below – quaint and inviting. It’s nearly always busy (testament to the popularity of the establishment) so I find the best chance of getting a table is mid-afternoon, which just happens to be perfect for tea and cake.
The menu is varied and reasonably priced. Choose from a long list of hot and cold drinks, including a good range of teas – I always opt for my favourite Assam brew. Food-wise breakfast, brunch and lunch are catered for with hot and cold sandwiches, toasties and salads, all served with salad and coleslaw; jacket potatoes with infinite fillings and tasty soup; plus favourites such as toasted rarebit and Halo club sandwich.
The specials board always delights with tasty dishes like potato cakes with smoked salmon and cream cheese and cauliflower mornay with crispy bacon.
When it comes to cake, there’s always a hot pudding and a selection of slices and scones. The egg custard is perfect and a personal favourite.
Halo is the perfect venue for a lunch break, shopping stop off or catch up with friends whether you’re dashing or have time on your hands. It feels a little like being in your mum’s kitchen; familiar and comforting with food served up as it comes out of the oven. Expect to pay around £7 for a sandwich and tea. There are a number of public car parks nearby (paid) and a bus stop almost opposite.
Good luck resisting the urge to buy something you don’t need but desperately must have from Gabriel’s House on the way out!
Teacup Kitchen is a tea lovers’ dream and a jewel of an eatery in Manchester city centre, perfect for a leisurely lunch or mid-shopping brew and cake.
I began following Teacup Kitchen on Facebook after reading about it in a magazine and the vivid photos of delicious looking food and drinks appearing on my timeline implored me to pay a visit.
Located on Thomas Street, in the Northern Quarter and just a few minutes’ walk from the main high street, you can expect originality and attention to detail from the moment you step inside.
The venue has the feel of a retro warehouse diner with a red, brown and stainless steel interior, wooden table and chairs, tiled floors and an open kitchen, with an old fashioned bell used by the chefs to signal that food is ready to serve. It’s a spacious and attractive venue that was half full when we visited early afternoon on a Tuesday. 50s style music playing (non intrusively) in the background helped to give it a social and relaxed atmosphere. My fellow diners ranged widely in age and it is definitely not just a venue for ladies who like to lunch.
A vast menu, with specials intriguingly presented in the form of a letter within, made deciding what to have a lengthy affair. Let’s start with the drinks. Despite a choice of smoothies, milkshakes, fresh juices, coffees, hot chocolate and even wine, beers and ciders, this was easy for me – I’m a dedicated tea drinker. I just had to choose from around 25 different types ranging from a selection of Earl Greys to the delectably named Performing Flower Tea which promises a display of dancing blossoms and Energise Your Eyes, a reviving tonic. There’s even one to help you recover from a hangover! I opted for Assam Gold – black tea, good and strong.
My tea was served in a pot with strainer (no tea bags here) and a quirky tea timer which I loved – three little egg timers designed to tell you when your tea has reached the desired level of strength. You can also buy a range of loose leaf teas to take home with you.
Making a food choice was tricky – there was much on the menu to tempt me (I should say that I like fresh, seasonal, unprocessed food and if these criteria are met, I’m open to all suggestions). Sandwiches, soup, pies, pastries and eggs of every variety – Benedict, Florentine, scrambled and poached; afternoon tea, cream tea, scones, flapjack and cake by the slice; something for breakfast, lunch and tea; and each item thoughtfully put together with scrumptious sounding flavours and textures.
I opted for an oldie but a goodie – beans on toast! But not just any beans on toast, Heritage Tomato Beans, a mix of tomatoes, red kidney beans and green lentils in tomato sauce served on rye toast. My choice did not disappoint. The combination of ingredients was luscious, the tomatoes ripe and busting with flavour, and it was a healthy portion.
The rest of my party sampled a cream tea (with the jam and cream served together in a glass jar, which went down extremely well with my scone connoisseur mum); a ham hock, cheddar and piccalilli sandwich; a Love Ewe sandwich of sheep’s cheese and sweet onion marmalade; and a shared portion of sweet potato fries, all of which impressed. We all spent around £10 each on our lunch and a drink, which I thought was great value for money.
The cake counter was drool-inducing. Colourful is not the word – pale green pistachio cake, pink red velvet cake and multi-coloured rainbow cake just some of the treats on offer. If we hadn’t had a pressing shopping agenda, we’d have each sampled a different one. Still, gives me an excuse to go back…
The waiters were pleasant and attentive and the food was served quickly but without any implication that is should be eaten quickly. I could have happily ordered another pot of tea and whiled away a lazy afternoon there.
Teacup Kitchen is an absolute gem and a welcome alternative to the masses of national chain eateries that dominate the city centre.
Nicky Nook and the Apple Store Cafe are regular destinations for family hikes followed by tea and cake in all weathers.
Nicky Nook is located on the edge of the Forest of Bowland, overlooking the picturesque village of Scorton, just north of Garstang. One of the most beautiful spots in Wyre, this area demonstrates how Lancashire’s countryside rivals that of the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales and is the perfect place to enjoy some very simple pleasures.
This circular walk is easy to follow – simply head through Scorton village, up Snowhill Lane and over the motorway bridge to the foot of Nicky Nook (where you can park). Go through the kissing gate and begin the climb up the hill.
The path to the summit, which is marked with a white pillar and sits 215m high, has recently been improved to reduce flooding and the views across Morecambe Bay and the Bowland Fells are well worth the effort involved in reaching the top.
From the top, carry on along the path until you reach the dry stone wall. Don’t cross the ladder stile – take the path to the right of the wall and drop down a steep slope into the Grizedale Valley.
You’ll see steps and a signpost when you reach the foot of the hill at the other side of Nicky Nook; turn right and head along the woodland path. You’ll pass Grizedale Reservoir on your left and then pick up Grizedale Brook as you wind your way through the woods. Eventually you’ll reach a gate and a crossroads of sorts, with a signpost offering four directions and a little wooden bridge to your left. Go right, over the stile and up the short but steep hillside that brings you out onto the road at Slean End. Turn right and follow the road back to your starting point.
In contrast to the expansive, blustery, life-affirming landscape of Nicky Nook, the route back through the woods offers a more intimate environment with much of the path covered by a canopy of trees and an explosion of sound and colour all around you.
Wildlife is abundant; there are currently thousands of bluebells in bloom plus cowslip, buttercups, wild garlic to name just a few and even rhubarb along the roadside. And the sweet sounding chorus of birdsong offers a perfect soundtrack to an idyllic country amble.
My family (including two Labradors) manages this walk with ease – our ages range from 30 to 65 (although I’ve passed many children on this route too) – and it takes us around an hour and a half at a leisurely pace. The terrain is uneven throughout so I’d recommend sturdy footwear and after rain, expect plenty of mud – but don’t let it put you off. This walk is perfect for experiencing the changes in the seasons.
The only fitting end to a ramble of this nature (or any ramble) is tea and cake and the Apple Store Café and Walled Garden provides the perfect spot to indulge. Part of the Wyresdale Park Estate, the café lies a few hundred metres from the starting point of this walk (it’s very well signposted) and offers a delicious menu of homemade sandwiches, soups and lunchtime fare, delightful selection of cakes and charming setting to boot.
It welcomes walkers, cyclists and dogs and weather permitting, you can choose to eat al fresco in the tree-sheltered gardens or sit in the rustic conservatory complete with roaring fire. Food is served on pretty mismatched china and the service is warm and friendly. A bowl of soup with homemade bread, slice of cake and pot of tea will cost less than £10 – a well-earned treat. There’s also ample parking around the café.
There are longer walks in this area if you fancy more of a challenge and Scorton village is well worth taking a little time to explore, with some great alternative places to refuel.
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