Havant Park, with its wide grassed spaces, playground and handsome cricket club, is also home to the old park keeper’s bijou cottage.
Once the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, the quirky, characterful Victorian building was seen as an opportunity too good to miss by new tenants Laura and James Hadley. So they changed their jobs to start and run a traditional English tea and cake cafe. Laura’s Kitchen opened a year ago.
The two-room interior is all pastel green and pink – and pretty. There’s a series of hanging china cups and assorted tea pots, and four large china letters B A K E are on one wall.
This is for one good reason as Laura’s Kitchen turns out cakes by the tinful.
Thanks to the Great British Bake Off, a cake craze is taking hold in Britain and with austerity measures everywhere, more people are opting for afternoon tea. Everyone, it seems, wants a slice of properly-made cake, with tea rooms springing up all over the Portsmouth area.
Retro music from the 1940s and 1950s plays, while cakes and sweet confections from Laura are on view on the counter. There are also sandwiches and salad fillers, with the kitchen offering many more savoury choices.
The menu is dead simple, yet different, thanks to everything being homemade ‘except for the bread’. Free range eggs come from Romsey.
Come here for a bowl of homemade soup – there were no less than a remarkably unusual four on offer the day I went - with tomato, leek and potato, sweet potato and broccoli and stilton. They came with doorstop granary, wholemeal or white with butter, not spread.
The sandwiches are made with a good, varied selection including Brie, cheddar, bacon, home-cooked gammon, chicken tikka and prawn from £2.90, all with salad; salads (Coronation chicken, cheddar or goat’s cheese and others) or quiches are around £4.60. There are also jackets or paninis.
They serve a mean cream tea from £3.75, a Children’s Lunch Box (£3); poached eggs on toast and other dishes as well as Hayling Island ice creams or sundaes. There’s a special of the day, a chilli and rice dish maybe with tortillas and sour cream at £3.95.
Laura – for it is either her or James at the helm – seems to know everyone who comes in. The couple offer delightful and welcoming hospitality.
Portions of the broccoli and stilton soup are very generous, although it’s a tad too thick for my liking. It arrives with two doorstops of impressive and well-sourced bread.
A gammon salad with half the contents of the average family’s weekly salad bowl was next up. Laura’s integrity is amply demonstrated by only the freshest, quality salad ingredients – thinly-sliced cucumber, iceberg, red and yellow peppers and red onion. There are also pickled white onions, baby beetroot, coleslaw and corn.
Laura cooks the best gammon bar none. The two chunky slices excelled, and were moist, tender and quality stuff. It’s a pity there was no mustard around and the bottled dressing was another minor let-down to the meal.
Finish with one of the baking choices, including Victoria sponge or a large cookie.
The owners’ leap of faith to transform this tiny lodge into a charismatic Havant destination is surely deserving of success.
Laura’s Kitchen, 7 Park Road, Havant, PO9 1HE (023) 92 48 1497. Open 10.30am-4 pm daily, except on Sundays.
FOOD: Four (out of Five)
Disabled access: A few steps up to the front door and a little space inside for wheelchairs.
How to get there: From Portsmouth, turn off at Havant and follow Park Road South and North, which becomes Park Road. The café is on the right before the railway flyover. There’s parking on-street if you’re lucky.