Havant’s Meridian Centre, now a quarter-of-a-century old and looking rather dated, is home to many generic shops including Poundland and WHSmith – and Boswells Cafe.
The 43-year-old company states that its raison d’être is that it offers ‘much more than a coffee shop’.
Its 15 branches offer simplicity and a predictable menu.
Havant’s branch is open plan, in a prime position on the ground floor with further seating in an extra area opposite. Large menu boards are on display above the prep space, behind the large, winding queuing area.
They pride themselves on making all their food on the premises and hot meals are served to you at table.
Few, if any, visiting the centre are on the lookout for anything but the usual café grub – a pitstop rather than a destination choice. Those boards clearly spell out the offerings: that British favourite the all day breakfast; toasties and paninis; jackets with 11 types of fillings; ham, egg and chips; lasagne; tomato and basil soup; chilli and chips; salads. Prices are as friendly as the excellent, polite, caring staff – around the £5 mark for substantial meals, with cakes from £1.95.
The café itself is spacious with comfortable seating. Tables are covered with a coffee bean pattern, newspapers are available and elevator music plays in the background.
When asked if I would like any sauces with my fish and chips, I was handed two sachets of ketchup from behind the counter. Feeling as if I had asked for some sort of prohibited substance, I didn’t dare ask for a third. I guess those sachets just vanish in large quantities if put alongside the cutlery.
I ordered fish and chips with peas. The cod, underneath a very thick, crusty layer of batter, would not win the Best in Piscine Show, but it was perfectly edible and ungreasy. The chips were pleasing, the wrinkled peas tiny and sweetish.
I queued again for a cappuccino and a slice of lemon drizzle cake – coffee with fish and chips doesn’t do it for me.
The coffee was fine, if a little weak, but the cake was excellent – moist and decidedly citrusy.
Boswell’s is fine and dandy for that quick stop – the quality is more notable than your usual shopping centre offering. But it’s the staff who really won me over.
They understand the art of hospitality and serve with a charm not usually found in this type of café. I watched as disabled people had their drinks taken to their table – repeat business should be assured just for this attention to detail alone.
Staff here just want to help and show a pride in their work – and in Boswells. Now that’s impressive. My bill came to £10.
Boswells Café, Meridian Centre, Havant, PO9 1UW (023)92 49 2901 Open from 8 – 5 Mon-Sat & 10 – 4 Sun.
Disabled access: excellent.
How to get there: exit at Havant, following Havant centre signs then Havant Station filtering right. The Meridian Centre is on the right with car park. Boswell’s is at the end of the centre’s ground floor shops on the left. You can’t miss it.