Thyme and Tides, Stockbridge

June 4, 2013

Hailing originally from Hampshire as I do, I regularly head down that way to enjoy the bucolic calm which is only occasionally ruptured by being once again in the bosom of my loud, excitable family. As with any sojourn, I like to hunt around and see if there are any places worth visiting and reviewing. The last place I visited in Hampshire was Caracoli, a deli-cum-café with a stratospheric opinion of itself which has now got outposts in Winchester and Guildford as well. I have subsequently fretted that, given that there is much less of a ‘scene’ in areas not dominated by one main city to which the coffee people gravitate, any coffee shops which I encounter round that way will suffer from a similar lack of competition which would help to, in football parlance, keep them honest. By this I mean, I suppose, that I expect big fish in small ponds to carry themselves as such, with a bit of swagger or pretension and not much class. This was the problem I encountered with Caracoli and I have to say, judging by the comments I received on the blog and elsewhere, I am not alone.

What a wonderful surprise, then, to find Thyme and Tides on Stockbridge’s High Street.

Thyme and TidesFor those of you who don’t know, Stockbridge is a small market town in the Test Valley, in the middle of good farming land, near a lot of trout fisheries and watercress beds. The town itself has one main street, the High Street, which has a preponderance of art galleries, a decent kitchen shop, a better garden shop, and a few other places, all of which cater quite overtly for the affluent countryside middle classes. It’s not necessarily sniffy, but it’s more Hampstead than Kentish Town, if you know what I mean. Thyme and Tides is a self-styled bistro-café-fishmonger-deli about half-way down the street. As you enter, the smell of fresh fish hits you, and I must say I was a bit worried that this odour would invade the café part and disrupt my olfactory enjoyment of whatever roast was being served, but it didn’t. The store is well stocked with a large variety of other deli-type goods, and the range of fish was good if not exceptional. The place is breezy and light, which was helped by big bay windows and an opening onto the street through which ice cream is sold.

Thyme and Tides does not necessarily put its coffee front and centre, which given the large range of other stuff it does, it quite understandable. However, the coffee is very good. They serve a Monmouth Espresso blend, and also retail two other Monmouth roasts, more suited to a presse. A minor gripe is that the menu refers to the Espresso blend as single origin, when it is, in fact, not (being made up of Brazilian Fazenda Sao Benedito, Columbian El Peñol, and Guatemalan Finca Capetillo), but this is basically the only fault I can find. And I did look. The espresso was rich and thick and the blend pleasantly bitter and nutty. I then had what they call a piccolo latté which was served in a 3oz cup rather than a taller, thinner glass as I’ve found customary in London. It was well stretched, smooth and sweet and worked well with the cocoa aftertaste of the espresso blend. All in all, a very decent couple of cups, and prettily served in a vibrant blue china.

Thyme and TidesWhere Thyme and Tides really elevated itself, though, was in two other areas. The first was the fact that they served Char tea and Kokoa Collection hot chocolate. Char is a local tea emporium in Winchester, the largest nearby town, and it really is splendid. For one, the accomplice insists on visiting when we go back and this weekend came home with probably five or six new loose leaf teas, including an exceptional Jasmine pearl tea which smells like the Elysian fields. I also purchased a rather lovely, grapey Ethopian coffee. The Kokoa Collection is the best place to get hot chocolate from, by far, and while Paul is a regular visitor to London cafés I have not come across his stock outside of London before. The point I’m making is that Thyme and Tides have gone out of their way to find really good products to stock, hunting around, in one instance using a local supplier who happen to be brilliant, in the second using a London supplier who is very specific in what they do. To me this is indicative of a place which doesn’t want to settle for something but which strives to unearth drinks worth serving and is prepared to go the extra mile even when hot beverages are not the focus of their store. (I would counsel anyone who hasn’t to go to the two websites I’ve linked there and see what you can see).

The second thing, and to me even more heartening, was the manner of welcome and service we experienced. Thyme and Tides were friendly, chatty, helpful, and totally unpretentious. There is no doubt that the venue could have fallen into the above-mentioned big fish trap (where they would have found Caracoli at the bottom, nursing a broken ankle), but they haven’t. Instead, they seem to go out of their way to be nice, to provide a well thought-out variety of product, and provide a relaxed, well-appointed setting to enjoy good coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. They have a pretty website and a good-looking food menu, for what’s that worth. But mostly, I just applaud them for appearing to have remembered that their customers are more important than they are, and to have taken on the challenge of providing something lovely and succeeding. And for that, a big thumbs up from me. We will be back. And maybe buy some fish.

Thyme and Tides, The High Street, Stockbridge, Hampshire, SO20 6HE

Website with details

Also on Twitter: @thymeandtides

3 Responses to “Thyme and Tides, Stockbridge”

  1. Sounds absolutely lovely and the coffee looks to be right up my street! Now, just need an excuse to go down to the Test Valley…

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