Bijou city cafes have their place in life, of course. Pokey, cluttered (in a nice way) and full of cosmopolitan charm, they are full of tiny chairs and tiny tables and staff who display a level of efficiency only equalled by ants and termites (and possibly the Chinese Olympic team).
As much as I enjoy the claustrophobia and hustle and bustle these city centre sites provide, there are times I hanker for something a bit more wide open, where the horizon is not a Phones4u shop or some street vendor selling gimmicky hats.
The Arium, which is way out in Thorner, ticks this box and then some. It even sounds airy. And it is. The purpose-built glasshouse with state-ofthe-art facilities replaces the council’s aging Red Hall nursery site and will provide 3.5m bedding and 250,000 edible plants a year.
The first thing that strikes you about The Arium as you approach its colossal size. If you’ve ever seen pictures of the Victorian Crystal Palace, while it might not be as grand, it’s certainly on a similar scale. The greenhouse itself is huge. It’s so big it looks as though it could be some kind of research project for how we might eventually live on Mars.
Surrounded by open fields, it’s also fairly windswept but fresh, so if there’s a chill in the air, be sure to wrap up warm and wear that extra layer, otherwise the wind will find you out. Inside is a bright, wide and welcoming open space with a high ceiling. After the trials of the wind outside, it’s a space in which you can breath a sigh of relief, not least because retail opportunities abound.
The thing about garden centres is (good ones at least) that you often find yourself considering buying something you previously did not need, like a stand-alone bird table, a spade with a rubber grip or a mini-beast hive.
So, yes, there’s the usual horticultural products but there’s also a nice indoor play area, a book swap table , nature serve, picnic area and a cafe. For a garden centre cafe, it’s not at all bad.
We ordered sausage roll, steak pie, a crispy slice, pink grapefruit juice, orange juice, tea for two and a cup of coffee - all this from the buffet counter and all well above average, served by an attentive staff, who seem happy to accommodate.
The Arium Café Kids Box includes a sandwich, crisps, fruit pot, fruit juice and a complimentary puzzle sheet with crayons. They also coffer vegetarian gluten free dishes
The set menu offers cooked breakfasts until 11am, soup of the day, panninis, jackets, they’ll even do you beans on toast, not to mention homemade scones.
Open 9am-3.15pm Mon-Sat and 10am-3pm Sun through to March (later opening times during summer).
FACTFILE: The Arium, Thorner Lane, Leeds, LS14 3FB