It all begins with the pancakes. Two American-style buttermilk pancakes served with mixed berries, vanilla clotted cream and maple syrup. The pancakes are amazing; huge and fluffy and light and creamy. I have some streaky bacon on the side because this is a thing that men do.
As I finish and slip into a pancake coma, I’m put in an appreciative mood. The coffee was good. The place is nice and a little quirky, with a large galley table in the middle of the room with rustic folding chairs bolted alongside it, and the attention to detail is such that the AirBlade dryers in the toilets have metal plating so as not to look out of place. The Riding House Cafe seems like a comfortable eatery, a place that will become a regular haunt.
I go back several times and it’s always for the pancakes; this is a breakfast that can see me through a morning film and well into the afternoon. The coffee is still good; the pancakes are still good. I cautiously introduce several friends to the place and they seem as impressed as I am.
After a time, I decide to try something else. I don’t have the pancakes; I have the ‘Full & proper breakfast’, the Riding House’s full English. Two fried eggs, free range pork sausage, streaky bacon, field mushroom, slow roast tomato, white toast. It’s fine. It’s not bad. I’ve had worse.
I experiment further; chorizo hash browns with mushrooms and poached egg are ok but lack a sufficient, paprika punch to justify ever ordering again. The Orkney bacon sandwich with avocado and tomato on white bread is a strangely flimsy affair more befitting of an afternoon tea than a fortifying brunch.
I start noticing that I can never get a table, even when I turn up early and the place is empty; I’m always offered a seat at the bar on an uncomfortable high stool or at the large galley table in the middle of the room with the rustic folding chairs bolted alongside it. The novelty of the table wears off quickly after I discover it’s the seating equivalent of a pair of skinny jeans; difficult to get in and out of and claustrophobic once you’re there.
Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on sourdough is almost insulting, a child’s portion of a breakfast. I inhale half of it in seconds before exchanging breakfasts with my friend who is struggling with her second pancake.
Standard of service starts to waver; the staff seem to care a little less, to know a little less. Coffee takes longer to arrive. Eggs Benedict is served on a side plate and has the slightly cold edge and congealed texture that suggests it’s been made some time before and kept under a hot light. Strawberries, poached pear, granola and Greek yogurt is served in a small glass tumbler and comes with a hair discovered midway through.
My breakfast companions begin to ask to go somewhere else in the future. None of us really fit in those rustic bolted down chairs. None of us want pancakes every single time. None of us want to eat hair.
The Riding House Cafe and I go our separate ways. I look back fondly at the early days, I reminisce about the initial discovery and the rustic charm of the place, but in the end I’m forced to conclude that there needs to be more to a relationship than a really great pair of pancakes.