This newly opened branch of Debenhams boasts a first-floor cafe with large windows where diners can people-watch over the shopping centre below. The decor is modern and clean-looking, with an open kitchen, which I find reassuring, as you can see how the chefs are handling your food as they prepare it.
Unlike many department-store eateries, Debenhams is definitely trying to market this one as a restaurant, not a cafe. You must wait at the entrance to be seated (I hung around for about a minute before being acknowledged by a member of staff), and the menu is one of gastro pub-style sit down meals - no canteen choices or soup and a roll deals here.
It was perhaps unfortunate then, that my friend and I (like, I imagine, most shoppers) were just looking for an afternoon coffee and cake refreshment break. I ordered a hot chocolate whilst my friend ordered a pot of tea and a scone with butter and jam. From the displays behind the order bar, it appeared that a lot of consideration had gone into acquiring high-quality teas and coffees. There was a relatively wide selection of loose-leaf teas and the coffee was freshly ground. I was disappointed therefore to get a watery hot chocolate that tasted as though it had come out of a hospital vending machine (for which I paid £2.45). My friend however got a lovely pot of loose leaf tea served with a strainer.
Out-of-fit with the restaurant image was the system whereby you go to the bar to order after being shown to your table by a staff member, and the fact that you go and get your own cutlery and condiments. This is all fine as far as I'm concerned - standard practice in a department store cafe, but it seems as though this establishment can't decide what it is. More unfortunate was the fact that much of the cutlery did not look particularly clean, and I had to carefully select which spoons and knives looked the safest bet.
Whilst a few members of staff smiled as they went about their jobs, I found that on the whole customer service was not up to scratch. As well as the wait to be seated, when I told the person taking my order that there were no knives in the cutlery station she told me to try the one around the corner, rather than resolving the situation directly. Most of the staff seemed bored and the atmosphere just seemed a little disorganised.
My friend and I did not sample the main meals, but those that came out of the kitchen appeared to be well-presented with good portion sizes. I obviously cannot comment on the taste.
Overall I would say that this place needs to decide whether it is a restaurant or a cafe (the latter would make more sense for its location), as it is currently not up to scratch to be the former, and too pretentious and un-relaxing to be the latter. The hot chocolate definitely needs improving, as does the cleanliness of the cutlery. But for a pot of tea to recharge your batteries it does the job.
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