Eatin' in Eaton with the English

An Extended Snack Attack Journey

One thing I have always loved about England is the ubiquitous tea houses in the middles of parks—how eminently civilized. Eaton Park Café is housed in the side of a rather ugly circular building surrounding the green domed gazebo in a park that sports a model train, “crazy golf” and tennis courts. We stopped in on a raw blustery day, the first weekend of our extended stay in Norwich, and as we approached we saw the British families, kitted out in cagoules, swinging away on the golf green. Clearly, if one is to live here, one has to get on with things, weather be damned.

The café was bustling, but we found comfy upholstered chairs in the back, near a large family group. I watched as a four-year-old girl with Gala apple-red cheeks, wearing nothing but a hand-knit cardigan and her “knickers,” scooted around the Turkish carpet on her bum. Her damp blue corduroy trousers were drying on the back of her father’s chair. Large and small dogs leashed to the sturdy farmhouse table legs, were rooting for crumbs or slavering at their owners’ feet. In fact, a rambunctious black terrier knocked over my coffee cup, and the precious brown liquid pooled in my saucer. I hadn’t had a decent coffee since I arrived. I looked over at the owner, feeling like I was about to get my American back up. He smiled and shrugged. I relaxed and ordered another coffee and we dug into our cheese scones with onion relish (£2.50/ea.) with, well, relish.

I’ve returned to Eaton Park Café for my third, final visit to have one of their Sandys-Winsches, named for Captain Arnold Edward Sandys-Winsch (1888-1964), who as park superintendent oversaw the planting of some 20,000 trees in Norwich’s parks and streets. And what glorious trees—from the thick trunked beeches to the London planes and capacious horse chestnuts. And what glorious cheese, a thick slab of Mrs. Temple’s binham blue--a local Norfolk favorite-- covered in grated apples (+ a little cinnamon methinks) and large slightly-candied walnut halves. I eat mine open-faced because I’ve been gorging myself on bread while in England (more on that to come in a future post) (£7.00). The second time we had come to this café we arrived during brunch, too early for the Sandys-Winsches I so desired. Yet, it’s not as if my wobbly poached eggs on toast with smoked salmon (£6.50), the yolks a dazzling orange-yellow, were a consolation prize. The Chef tucked into a black budding hash, with another perfect poached egg on top, made with flavor packed local mushrooms since they were out of potatoes. I winced when the Chef offered me a spoonful of the blackish clumps. Black pudding is made from blood sausage--basically animal blood mixed with oatmeal and stuffed into a casing. As the BBC "Good Food" Website says, "Black pudding is one of the most polarising ingredients out there. Those suspicious of its blood content, studs of fat and strong flavour won’t touch it with a bargepole." Yet,  taste it I did, and I was unprepared for the rich, oaty flavor. Give it a try! 

So back to today... The sun is shining, yet however changeable the outside weather, the indoor “weather” in the Eaton Park Café is always the same: babies suckling at their mothers’ breasts, toddlers squawking "Mummy! Muuummmy!",  families and friends deep in conversation and the dogs yipping full force. This is the messy boisterous England I’ve come to know, so at odds with the pristine stiffness and reserve most people associate with our cousins across the pond. The English are fiercely interested in and protective of their family, friends and dogs, and they love to natter or, as they’d say in Norfolk dialect, “mardle,” the afternoon away. Disorder and chaos may surround them, tea cups may topple, children may scream, and dogs tangle themselves hopelessly around chair legs with their leads, but the talk goes on…and on...and on.

*For more on British conviviality, stay tuned for my next post on pub life at the Alexandra Tavern.