Exeter is an amazing city. Tea is also amazing. But there is something more amazing and that is finding something, expecting it to be great and then finding out it is and that you’re right. And this is exactly how I have found the in-house cafe in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. Knowing it was ran by Otterton Mill was a guarantee that this wasn’t going to be a traumatic experience.
The RAMM has gone through a dramatic transformation recently which has taken it from being a pokey rural museum to the benchmark for some of the best museum experiences in the country. It won the Art Fund ‘Museum of The Year 2012’ and a host of other accolades which has transformed the facilities and given the building a feeling of renewal and energy. This is very true when the building is full of kids, doing half-term activities whilst being corralled and herded by weary looking parents with squadrons of pushchairs and grandparents in tow.
My experience with in-store cafes and on-site cafes has been potted and mostly terrible. They are functional facilities that are a convenience, they are there to provide you with a place to refresh your soul but often for a price, a hideously inflated price that warrants nothing positive to their existence. Normally staffed by apathetic teens with less than a clue, they give you that feeling of sheer terror when you get to the till.
Take the catering facilities in theme parks, or the buffet cars on trains and you have the normal miserable experience that I have accepted is the inevitable consequence of wanting a cuppa or a sandwich through a long journey or through the traumatic experience of going to an ‘attraction’ or a park of some sort.
Last year I had a very pleasant experience of having a cuppa and soup-of-the-day at the The Portrait cafe at the National Portrait Gallery. This was a stylish affair with a lovely reasonably priced menu, quick service and fresh take on the whole concept of attraction cafes. I really hoped it’d be a similiar experience, I even hoped that my visit to the Cafe at the RAMM would be as good as Otterton Mill’s cafe at their main site in Otterton which is pure AWESOME.
The cafe is itself, as cafe’s go, is quite simple. There is no theme as such as the identity of the cafe is dictated by the building that it resides in, rather than relying on the interior to dictate the identity of the business itself. The artwork on the wall is meaningful and colourful with one whole wall being taken up by something that in my mind represented an African sunset through Geordi La Forge’s visor.
Interestingly the main seating area of the cafe is located where Gerald The Giraffe used to be located. You could have called it the Giraffe House? The lofty roof space is visually stunning but it lacked the cosyness that other surrounding cafes have. Credit to them the heater was on full-blast, and it was pretty intense too so this didn’t matter too much!
The menu isn’t overly complex. It offers Panini’s and cake, tea and coffee and some other bits & pieces made in the artisan bakery back at Otterton Mill. The food prices are a little more than just a cafe on a street corner, but they are justified given the heritage and the pedigree of food that they serve. On my visit I wasn’t able to eat anything, but I was able to have a lovely cup of tea. £1.60 for a tea is a good price, given Costa is pushing nearly £2.00 for something with little milk and more water than the floor of Britain’s Next Top Model. The tea was lovely, and with a decent amount of milk, I have ear marked this as a definite lunch-time visit.
This is a functional cafe, but it is somewhere that I would be happy to visit JUST for the fact its a cafe. It has nice artwork on the wall, it is an attractive asset to an already amazing attraction in the centre of Exeter. The score reflects the fact that the cafe is a shining example of what all in-house cafe’s should be like in attractions. Not overpriced, conscious of ingredients with willing and friendly service.