The Tea Tray is a unique little place on Osbourne road, just tucked away from the seafront. Baking and painting since 2010, it’s a café full of colour and in the last week, I have been there at least 3 times. But, it’s not because of the food that I keep going back.
Walking in, you see that the décor is a mix of modern and 60’s styles with painted table legs, retro tables and a large yellow lamp that reminds me of something from a Dr Seuss film. The walls have artwork hanging from them, painted by the artists behind The Tea Tray. Home of the ‘be excellent to each other’ birds, it’s a place with a certain edge and a large seagull painted on the back wall. Cartoons are drawn on the toilet doors and soft jazz plays welcomes you. It has a funky and lively atmosphere as you sit down, take your coat off from the autumn chill and read the menu.
It isn’t a large menu but has both breakfast and lunch options to tempt you. Breakfast choices include mushrooms on toast and scrambled eggs. Lunch options are either sandwiches or salads with only a few choices for each. For sandwiches, for example, you can either have ham, fig and honey mustard with rocket and pickle or cheddar with apple slices, onion chutney and rocket. They did look amazing, as I watched them brought out to customers, but I would suggest putting more on offer.
They have a good range of drinks – coffees, loose leaf teas and soft drinks – as well as cakes, served on decorative cake stands. This was something new I had not seen before. There was a separate station for cake, decorated with vases full of flowers and takeaway boxes – very sweet. A few flavours I saw on my visits included a fig cake, Bakewell tart and an Earl Grey tea loaf. They all looked impeccable.
I’m not really a cake fan so I ordered a tea and a full English breakfast. The breakfast included two sausages, two rashers of bacon, toast, tomatoes, mushrooms and scrambled egg – too much for me. I asked the waitress if she would be able to half the amount and with a smile on her face she said, ‘of course! And what toast would you like?’
‘White please,’ I replied.
She gave me another grin she hurried off to the kitchen with my order. In many places, they wouldn’t half the order, or not so willingly, and I was impressed by the waitress’s kindness and flexibility. Feeling good, I poured myself a cup of tea.
Once again, The Tea Tray had top marks for aesthetic, giving me a dainty colourful teacup, teapot and two saucers. It was dainty, refined and pretty and I felt like a lady for once in my life. I made sure to stick my pinky out as I took a sip.
The Tea Tray is more than just a café. It is also a gallery and a vintage store. Occasionally they have jazz musicians and put on special events such as their Christmas crafts evening last December. With its clean space and open plan, it has the potential to be a great venue for small gatherings or intimate events.
My food came out after some time with great presentation. On a large white plate was a light pile of scrambled egg with cherry tomatoes, still on the vine, on top. There was a generous portion of mushrooms, a thick rasher and a long sausage. One slice of granary toast was placed on the side with a chunk of butter.
If you’ve been paying attention you will have noticed what went wrong. I had granary toast, not white as I asked. I didn’t mind too much as really, I should eat healthier and it gave me an excuse to at least try. The butter was hard and couldn’t easily be spread but the scrambled eggs were perfect. They were soft and fluffy as they should be and had a rich flavour. Not too greasy too which was another good thing. The bacon and sausages were also nice and supplied by local butcher Buckwells. The mushrooms were cooked with rosemary to give a different, tangy flavour and the cherry tomatoes popped in your mouth – warm and juicy.
Even though I had half of the breakfast, it was plenty for me. Overall, it was good with quality ingredients cooked well. It was by far a greasy fry up like most. No Gaviscon for me today!
The prices at The Tea Tray are just above average with many options costing around £6-£7. Although, after visiting other places on my Southsea Food Tour, these prices are normal for the more ‘upmarket’ Palmerston and Osbourne Road. I paid up and said goodbye and both the waitress and manager were very cheery, wishing me well and to ‘take care’.
When I got home, later that day, I realised something – they charged me full price for the breakfast. I paid almost £9 for my breakfast and tea. A pot of tea costs £2.20 and the full English normally costs £6.95. Surely if I had half of everything this would come to around £6 in total?
The Tea Tray, although has high-quality ingredients and tastes good, has limited choice and the staff made a few mistakes on my visit. So, why did I go back? If I can get cheaper food elsewhere and more choice – why have I visited The Tea Tray several times in the last week? Simple. The atmosphere.
The Tea Tray has a relaxed and unique vibe. The décor, artwork and friendly staff all contribute to making this café a quiet, little sanctuary in the city. It’s a perfect place to drink a hot drink, people watch, read a book or do some writing. I always feel welcome there and that is what matters.
If you’re in Southsea and fancy cake, a good breakfast or just a place to watch the world go by then I recommend The Tea Tray. Perhaps not the best place to eat but one of the best to relax.