Hard by Petersfield’s handsome St Peter’s Church and facing the square, Cloisters is a smart-looking outfit.
Under new management since the spring, this small, very attractive all-day café is at odds with most of this type of eatery, except a few along Southsea’s Marmion Road. Instead of a smell of stale fat, you’re treated to a decent, laidback space and a more imaginative menu.
On my visit last Sunday, the farmers’ market selling organic and free-range meat, Selsey crab, vegetables and fruit, goats’ cheeses, breads and garlic from the Isle of Wight were on view from my table in Cloisters.
Start the day – they open at 7.30am – with a Full English (£6.50); vegetarian breakfast (£5.50); a bowl of granola or an omelette. Later diners may choose from baguettes, baps, rustic rolls, sandwiches and paninis or a homemade soup or quiche; frittata; fish and chips; smoked salmon and capers with lemon; chicken breast or duck breast salad (£7.95); an oven-baked brie (£5.20) or a burger (£5.45). There’s a list of cakes, viennoiserie, cookies and muffins.
The menu reads well but can it deliver? Sunday brunch people had taken over tables with the Sunday crossword, a couple enjoying a plate of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with a latte or two.
Deciding on lunch over breakfast, I asked what the soup was. The waitress didn’t know. The owner, sitting with his computer, didn’t know. Tomato soup was eventually found, but I had moved on to the lunchtime special, a salad with a glass of wine with a pudding.
‘What is the wine?’ A look of panic took over, the owner saying: ‘There’s a bottle in the fridge.’ Not desperately life-affirming so far. And they bill themselves as a café wine bar, yet no wine list is present. My choice, a duck salad with rocket, watercress, tomatoes, spring onion and ‘our special sweet duck sauce,’ was okay, but nothing special. The duck was plentiful but strangely tasteless.
I gave up waiting for any staff to clear away, a cluster of three admiring their mobile phones in the bar instead of servicing the café.
‘What puddings do you have?’ More blank looks. ‘Do you have any meringue left?’ one called over her shoulder to the chef. He looked and found enough ingredients to pull together a Very Berry Meringue which was again okay but nothing special. An espresso lifted the spirits.
Why is it so difficult to create a good atmosphere, offer quality food and service? It is quite simple: know what you are doing and train staff to achieve professional heights. Cloisters could be a dynamite place, just what Petersfield needs and doesn’t have. I want this place to succeed as it has the bare bones. But until customers demand quality service and food, this will remain the norm: getting away with it. My bill came to just over £11.
Cloisters, The Square, Petesfield GU32 3HX
Open: 7.30am–6pm Mon-Sat and 8am-5pm Sun
Food: Two (out of five)
Yes, but tight for wheelchairs inside. Plenty of room outside.
How to get there: Follow the A3 to Petersfield. The cafe is in the square in the town centre, to the left of the church. Parking on-street or in the car park behind Waitrose.