Restaurant review: Cafe Atrium
March 22, 2012
The arts feed the soul, but the body also needs looking after, and South Hill Park can serve up just what you need. New caterer ContractiN moved into the kitchen in February and there is a new bistro-style lunch and evening menu.
Owner Simon Trundle is using meat from Berkshire farms, some local fruit and vegetables, and organic products, which is what we all want these days.
But the proof is really in the eating, so I went along on a Thursday night to give it a try. You may be wondering why I mention it was a Thursday, but I haven’t been to South Hill Park for a while and I was delighted to see how alive it was on a midweek evening.
People of all ages were arriving and there was a good atmosphere, which started the night well.
As well as forgetting how well used the arts centre is, I had also forgotten what a beautiful building it is, and the cafe and bar is a real feature. Make sure you go in summer, when a whole glass wall opens onto an expansive patio and the rolling grounds – although it is just as pleasant in windy March.
Tony and I settled in the low-tabled part of the bar with sofas, but there are also ‘proper’ tables and chairs for those who like to eat, well, properly.
You order food at the bar and we found service was quick, efficient and with a smile. The menu has been thought out carefully to cover everything from a snack or small supper before curtain-up to a three-course meal out. And there are some really tempting options.
I particularly like the idea of strips of prime steak on toasted bloomer with lettuce, tomato, gherkin, wholegrain mustard mayo, and onion rings (£7.45), which is more imaginative than a baguette for a quick bite.
Grazers will be pleased with a rustic bread board with balsamic vinegar and olive oil (£2.50), marinated olives, or sweet and spiced nuts (both £2), but we went straight in with a starter.
My baked French camembert with cranberry and red onion chutney with rustic bread (£7.95) was a showstopper. It was a sizeable feast on a wooden serving board – not the breadcrumbed cheese I half expected but a whole baby cheese in its round wooden box. Under the baked rind was total molten loveliness and there was enough bread to do it justice. The onion chutney was a little too salsa-ish for me but that’s just a question of taste – I would have gone home more than satisfied and more than happy with this starter alone.
Tony was equally enthusiastic, and full, after goat’s cheese and home-made caramelised sweet red onion bruschetta (£4.95). The portion again was generous, the goat’s cheese was mellow and the caramelised onion was a good contrast.
Someone nearby was tucking into moules marinieres (£6.25), which looked great, so the bar was set high for our second course.
Although the menu has sophisticated salads, and roasted butternut squash risotto was calling me, I went to the ‘classic’ section and ordered house cider-glazed ham with a fried egg, grilled tomato and chunky chips (£6.95).
Tony also plumped for an old favourite, the prime 8oz beefburger with lettuce, tomato, mayo and tomato chutney in a sourdough bun with chips (£8.50), and cheese for an extra £1.
My ham – cold ham, not grilled gammon – was lean, full-flavoured and there was plenty of it. My only criticism was the plentiful chips were a tad lukewarm, rather than piping hot straight out of the fryer.
Tony’s burger got both thumbs-up, though, for being good quality and juicy, stacked with relishes and salad. The springy sourdough also scored extra points.
We could have finished with sticky toffee pudding, apple and blackberry crumble, ice cream or cheesecake but finding enough room would have been a challenge.
Cafe Atrium is a great number on the South Hill Park programme and it should be in the spotlight.
- Telephone: 01344 484123
- Website: www.southhillpark.org.uk
- Address: Cafe Atrium
South Hill Park Arts Centre,