Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Willows Secret Kitchen

One beautiful, sun dappled day in Canterbury, I was meandering down the cobbled streets, in search of nothing in particular, just enjoying the fresh air and laughing at the tourists who, despite seeing the spires of the Cathedral soaring overhead, still can't quite work out how to get to it.

It was warm, it was peaceful, and I turned a corner and stumbled upon this place.
A tiny, quirky little coffee house tucked half way down Stour Street.  A lot of places claim to be 'Secret' when in reality they are the worst kept secret in the history of badly kept secrets, but this place really is a bit tricky to find.  I figured that now was a good time to stop and refresh myself so I popped my head in.
I'm glad I did.  Willows Secret Kitchen is small, very small with only four tables, but absolutely perfectly formed and probably the friendliest coffee shop I have ever been into, anywhere in the world and that includes the States.  It's always so nice to be greeted with a 'Hello mate' when you walk in somewhere, especially when that's followed with a 'How are you today?  Good to see you!  What can I get for you?'
There is a distinctly Australian vibe about the entire place which is hardly surprising seeing as the family who own and run Willows learnt their trade in Melbourne in 2011 and bought back those skills and knowledge to Canterbury.  It has an almost beachy atmosphere with the use of sea bleached unvarnished timbers and simple industrial lighting mixed with Victorian card catalogues and market packing crates.   It looks like it was designed with sandy feet in mind!  It really reminded me of my days as a backpacker and for a moment I felt like I was 20 again and wandering around Europe with Fiona, trying to work out Italian train schedules, staying in some very strange places (including a nunnery in Venice) and haggling over fresh bread in a bid to save money for beers later.
I was on the go so only had time for a takeaway cup of coffee but the Willows Vacuum Coffee, which you brew at your table in one of these slightly scary looking gadgets, is supposed to be simply excellent, as well as fairly theatrical!  I have never seen or heard of one before and looking at it again now, it looks like the type of equipment that would utterly flummox me.  I struggle enough with a cafetiere for heavens sake.
I had a simple latte, and it was delicious, rich, aromatic and creamy with no hint of burnt beans, and well it should be having been recognised by Coffee Culture and Excellence.  I just wished I had ordered a larger one!   Side note - your coffee sleeve also doubles up as your loyalty card!  From the look of the post outside, they must have some very loyal customers as well!  I'm also tempted to come back for the Affogato, an icecream coffee, how intriguing does that sound?!
The coffee isn't the only draw of this little slice of Australia though.  They specialise in light lunches, serving freshly made sandwiches and baguettes, fresh cakes and pastries and even a full English if you are feeling particularly peckish!  All their bread is delivered fresh on a daily basis from their local (secret) Village bakery, making sure that they are supporting local businesses. 
I cleaned them out of fruit and then noticed the jar of love hearts.  It took a lot of will power to stay away!  It took even more will power to resist the owners attempts to charm me with the promise of a bacon buttie on some of the best bread I will ever taste. 
Everything in this coffee shop is unique and has a purpose.  I fell in love with the tiny robot tea strainers (who look like they are being rugby tackled by Thor), and being such a small environment, the owners have filled every nook and cranny ingeniously and yet the place does not feel cramped or cluttered but instead light and airy, helped by the front door being let open to the beautiful spring morning outside.
There are also gorgeous antique coffee machines displayed proudly around the shop, some of which apparently still work! 
As if I wasn't already enamored enough with this place, they also have a real sense of community here, promoting local gigs, small businesses and attractions.   Also the music.  When I came in there was some electric, acoustic chill out mix on the sound system buried by the counter.  I did ask what was playing, I was told and I have completely forgotten.  Willows, if you can remember what was playing when I came in, please please let me know!  It was fabulous!
Some friends of mine may snort a bit at anyplace that has even a potential 'hipster' vibe, somewhere where the 'cool' kids may flock to and congregate and I must confess, this place does have the potential to become somewhere like that.  However, it is aware of it, and I was delighted to find this tongue in cheek self-puncturing book in their collection.   Humourous touches like this keeps Willow's down to earth, non-pretentious and quite simply one of the best coffee shops in Canterbury that serves, in my humble opinion, the best coffee in Canterbury.
Trouble is, the more people who realise that, the less chance this place has of being kept a 'Secret'.
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