It has long been accepted that Marmite is the great divider when it comes to foodstuffs and in Mrs Atha’s I may have found the coffee shop equivalent.
The place was packed when I arrived with a friend for lunch one Friday, with customers basking in the sun outside and all the tables in the attractive ground floor cafe area taken.
I’d visited this family run business in Central Road twice before with varying results.
The better of the two involved a very tasty sausage sandwich and the other was tainted by a staff member’s condescending response when I asked if they served fruit tea – apparently I meant infusion and no, they don’t.
This third visit then would be the ‘best of three’ decider, a chance for me to be converted to one of the Mrs Atha’s faithful.
Upon entering, you’ll find the counter with an enticing array of brownies, cakes and other delights that would go very nicely with a coffee or tea from the wide range on offer.
The latter are listed with the food menu on three or four large blackboards on the wall, which can make one feel put on the spot when ordering.
To their credit though, the staff were welcoming, told us to take our time and checked we’d be okay with sitting downstairs before taking our order.
If they seemed a little apologetic, the reason became clear as we descended into an area which had the feel of a restaurant’s service corridor.
Around half the space is taken up by the open plan kitchen and the rest by an assortment of not particularly comfortable tables and chairs, with the only other couple in there having to contend with the door to a toilet or storage room opening onto them at regular intervals.
My sweet potato hash with chorizo, peppers and fried egg (£7.50) was a generous portion, well cooked and with flavour living up to its appealing presentation.
Sadly, this only emphasised the underwhelming nature of my friend’s chicken sandwich with its meagre side of crisps and a hefty £7 price tag.
Pressed on why he left all but one bite, he said the bread was bordering on stale, the lettuce limp and the sauce non-descript. Just very average.
He didn’t want to send it back for something else, so just sat there while I ate my meal.
This did little to help the odd atmosphere downstairs, made all the more uncomfortable by the chef responsible for the sandwich being a few feet away.
Having finished our drinks (apple juice, £2; dandelion and burdock, £2.50), we skipped on the cakes or coffee which may be the venue’s real forte.
While divided over how enjoyable the food had been, we both agreed the overall experience was not worth the £19 spent and something we’d be in no rush to repeat.