After living in Sydney for so long, you learn not to take your car in to the CBD. So when I visit Newcastle, it feels weird to be able to nab a parking spot easily. Newcastle’s small population and hence chilled lifestyle, is a bit of a shock for those of us who live in the Big Smoke. With the closure of Newcastle train station, the East Newcastle feels quiet, even the vagrants have taken over the now defunct grand old Post Office across the road from Cirque Cafe and Restaurant. Nonetheless the cafe does a roaring trade. The cafe may have been a bank in its former life as notice a walk in vault that’s now used as a pantry. The ceilings are sky-high which makes the place feel enormous, but if you prefer fresh air there are a few tables out on the footpath. The two small buttermilk scones are crisp on the outside and warm and light on the inside. The tart raspberry jam is a treat, but talk about portion distortion in the opposite direction – there is barely enough for one scone. When I ask for another small petri dish of jam, the waitress is happy to oblige. The cream is a kind of Chantilly cream, I can see the vanilla bean, but it’s very light and aerated.
Tea: A small choice of loose-leaf teas served in a good-sized pot.
Overall: Handy location, close to East Newcastle, and Newcastle and Nobbys Beach.
‘The Tea Project’
My visit to The Tea Project starts with a squirt of scented water over the top of my head. Like a smoking ceremony, this Tea Project ritual is supposed to cleanse and help me relax. But I know it’s really about preparing my head for the mind-boggling choice of teas on the quirky tea menu. It’s a big ask to narrow down your choice to a single tea from a starting line of 70. With names like Irish Rum and Cream, Cream Tea Sauvignon and the cheeky Novocastrian Breakfast, it’s an unfair burden to put on a customer. There’s a tea for every taste; chai, green tea blends, oolong, white, herbal – it’s insane! Luckily the selective food choices are top-notch. The melt-in-your-mouth scone tastes dreamily creamy and fresh, and pairs well with the delicate flavours of the housemade rose-water jam. The fresh cream is on the light side, but the sprinkle of rose petal tea leaves takes it up a rung on the presentation ladder and wins me over. After spending so much time hovering over the menu I try hard not to leave with a bag of teas, as 50 and 100 gram take home packs are available.
Tea: A sensational selection of award-winning (yes truly) house blended loose-leaf teas served in either a pot for one or two.
Overall: A tea world hipster vibe.
Only a few minutes walk separates Toronto’s cafes and the shores of Lake Macquarie. From the outdoor seating area of Doubletake Cafe, the lake and it’s well-manicured shoreline beckon, promising a chance to walk off sweet indulgences. By the time I arrive at the cafe (lunchtime), the scones have already sold out, even though they are on the menu. Luckily, the kind kitchen staff whips up a couple just to keep us customers happy, and we settle in to the lake view. The scones, fresh out of the oven, have a delicate creamy taste that pairs exceptionally well with the rich berry preserve and double thick cream. Now for that walk!
Tea: A basic range of loose-leaf teas and a few specialty teas served in a small pot.
Overall: Alfresco dining with friendly service.
Location: 4 The Boulevarde, Toronto NSW 2283 Ph: 02 4959 9888
Reviewed in April, 2017
I’m back visiting Lee Rowan’s Gardenworld, but this time the Warners Bay store. It feels more established and compact compared to the Ourimbah outlet, but the stock looks the same (or thereabouts). If you’re not here for the plants, then wander the gift shop for garden ornaments, homeware, wallets, costume jewellery, and gardening implements. The Gardenia Cafe shares the same building as the gift store, with tables spilling out into a small courtyard overlooking the nursery. If you prefer to stay indoors, the high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows gives the cafe an airy feel. The single serve scone is definitely made to order, and arrives crisp and out-of-the-oven fresh. The strawberry jam is better than average, and the cream is impressive; slightly sweet and thickly whipped. My tea arrives promptly and before my scone, unlike the sister cafe in Ourimbah.
Tea: A small range of loose-leaf tea served in a plunger pot.
Overall: A basic and small range of loose-leaf tea served in a plunger pot.
Location: Lee Rowan’s Gardenworld, 381 Hillsborough Rd, Warners Bay NSW 2282
Ph: 02 4954 6999 leerowans.com.au
Reviewed in April, 2017
‘Lena’s Lakeside Cafe’
Warners Bay shopping precinct is just across the road from the Lake Macquarie shared walking/bike path that hugs the lake from Croudace Bay to Speers Point and beyond. It’s a fine way to experience the lake, which is the largest coastal saltwater lake in Australia. Whether you are starting or ending here, or just passing by, Warners Bay is worth a linger. Lena’s Lakeside Cafe is conveniently located on the Esplanade and is a popular old school style cafe. There’s plenty of seating; inside, in the alleyway, or out on the footpath – although seats, like elsewhere on a Saturday morning, are tight. We try one of each of the plain and date scones. Both scones are tough and taste as though they were fresh a few days ago. The plain scone is more like a bread roll, and the date scone tastes of onions. The strawberry jam is sweet and syrupy, and the cream is super light. To be honest, the whole shebang tastes cheap and I don’t enjoy it, but if it’s a Devonshire Tea you are after then go for it.
Tea: A basic range of tea bags served in a small pot. It says Dilmah tea on the menu, however I receive an Aurora tea bag.
Overall: Friendly staff and a prime position on the Esplanade.
Location: 444 The Esplanade, Warners Bay NSW 2282 Ph: 02 4965 7171 lenaslakesidecafe.com.au
Reviewed in April, 2017
‘Poppy’s Verandah Cafe’
Poppy’s Garden & Homewares is exactly that; a garden centre that probably sells as much homeware as it does foliage. So by the time you reach Poppy’s Verandah Cafe after perusing furniture, cushions and candles, and the rest – you’ll be ready for a cuppa. Bright and airy, the cafe feels large, and although there’s lots of seating, the table configuration of twos and fours allows the space to still retain some intimacy. The scones are hard to beat; crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and so ridiculously fresh that they must be straight from the oven. It’s a shame about the sickly sweet raspberry jam, it’s okay, but these scones deserve better. The cream is way too light, that I can barely taste it. It’s a real shame when cafes can’t get the three components right. Why have perfect scones watered done with below average jam and cream? I’m yet to find out! A couple of petty gripes – the lip of my coffee cup is cracked/chipped, and the teeny tiny plate that doesn’t give me much room to dress my scones. Gluten free scones are available.
Tea: A handful of choices, all loose-leaf, and served in a small pot.
Overall: Top rated scones and shopping – not a bad combination.
Location: Poppy’s Home & Garden, 83 Oakdale Rd, Gateshead NSW 2290
Ph: 02 4947 8255 poppysgc.com.au
Reviewed in March, 2017
As far as plant nurseries go, Wyee Nursery is up there with my favourites. Ignore the mostly kitsch giftware in the shop; the cosy nursery is big on personality. Not here are the sterile rows of greenery, but a collection of exotic (does a Venus Flytrap count?) and native plants, flowers of every hue, and healthy herbs. The open-plan cafe is virtually embedded within the nursery, which adds to the convivial atmosphere. I hear some talk of a bird aviary, but I leave that to a bunch of kids who trots off down to the bottom of the nursery. The date and plain scones are fresh, wholesome and more-ish. I choose the pain, but stop at one. Sensational: fluffy with a creamy texture. The Chantilly cream is sweet and slightly overpowers the vanilla beans, but it’s truly an added bonus. The only downfall is the strawberry jam – nothing more than average – but with scones and cream this good, I’m happy to overlook it.
Tea: A small selection of Pickwick silk tea bags served in a small pot.
Overall: A quirky plant nursery serving sensational scones.
Location: 103 Wyee Rd, Wyee NSW 2259 Ph: 02 4357 1335 wyeenursery.com.au
Reviewed in March, 2017
Terrigal Haven surely offers some of the best views in the area. With a few lookouts and a couple of cafes/restaurants perched waterside, you’re never short of a nourishing seaside view. If you’re visiting to dive the HMAS Adelaide wreck that was purpose prepared and sunk in 2011 to form an artificial reef off Terrigal and Avoca Beach, then you won’t have far to go for a ‘after dive’ scone. In the same building and right next door is Cove Cafe, which incidentally has uninterrupted ocean views. By the looks of things, they change scone varieties daily, and today they have banana scones. Yep, you’ve heard it, banana scones. This is a first for me and the chunky banana embedded scones definitely work. Moist and soft and served with ample and decent raspberry jam, the only disappointment is the too light cream. No biggie, the scones are still worth the trek even if you aren’t diving.
Tea: A large choice of T2 loose-leaf teas served in a good-sized pot.
Overall: A magical place looking over Terrigal beaches and the coastline beyond.
Location: Scenic Hwy, The Haven, Terrigal NSW 2260 Ph: 02 4384 5083 covecafe.com.au
Reviewed February, 2015
Just a few minutes off the M1 (Sydney to Newcastle motorway), is Ourimbah. A sleepy Central Coast town that sees a few drive throughs from the motorway or locals doing business. Lee Rowan’s Gardenworld is easily accessible, and if you are looking to stock up on garden plants and bags of soil, and the odd piece of costume jewellery, then this place is as good as any. The large and slightly sterile Gardenia Cafe is embedded within the nursery, so like me, you’ll probably enter and leave via the gift shop. There is lots of seating indoors, with some tables outdoors lining two sides of the building. After I order at the counter and settle, my scone promptly arrives – but where is my tea? Hence the lack of silver tea plunger in the photo. There’s at least a 10-minute wait for my tea after my scone arrives. Due to the buzzing flies and my scone cooling down, I give up the wait and dig into the scone. The scone tastes as though it has been baked to order, but has a distinct ‘scone batter’ flavour – but I could be wrong. It’s good but not great. The average strawberry jam is coupled with super light cream that’s been whipped up (but not enough) in a cream canister, and both don’t do the scone any justice. However, with a scone and a cuppa under your belt, why not peruse the nursery and the gift shop before hitting the motorway?
Tea: A handful of standard teas served in a plunger pot.
Overall: Large and slightly soulless, but handy for plant or giftware shopping.
Location: Lee Rowan’s Gardenworld, 72 Pacific Hwy, Ourimbah NSW 2258
Ph: 02 4362 2822 leerowans.com.au
Reviewed in March, 2017
‘Hatters Tea House’
For me, the clincher is the quirky decor at Hatters Tea House, and that’s before I even see the tea menu. More akin to Sydney’s Redfern or Surrey Hills, I find Ettalong Beach an odd place to have such a funky cafe. There are several areas groups can sprawl out in including a semi private room and a sunny outdoor courtyard. If you manage to get through browsing the twenty-two teas on the menu plus the extra sixteen sold in the cafe, you can then admire the surrounds; pressed metal walls, hat boxes, retro tea sets and fancified gumboots, it’s an eclectic mix of 1970s furnishings and vintage trimmings. You have to order at the counter but at the same time get to salivate over the goodies on display. I want to try the creme brulee cupcakes and the gluten-free chocolate brownies, but then I remember I am here for the scones. The scones, although small, are tasty and fresh and worth the hike to this corner of the Central Coast. The cream is light but freshly whipped and the blueberry on top is a nice touch. There’s a choice of raspberry or strawberry jam. The Devonshire Tea is served with either English Breakfast or Prince of Wales tea, but I drink neither of those and choose the Japanese Lime, which adds and extra 50c to my bill.
Tea: 22 loose-leaf teas on the menu and a further 16 on the shelf that you can buy.
Overall: A top choice for girlie get togethers.
Location: 281 Ocean View Rd, Ettalong Beach NSW 2257
Ph: 02 4344 5525 hattersteahouse.com.au
Reviewed in August, 2013
Open on weekends and public holidays, the undercover Ettalong Markets is more a relaxed shopping complex than a market,as we know it. Selling all manner of things, there are several restaurants and cafes, a variety of vendors, plus a cinema. I see the blackboard advertising ‘Devonshire Teas’ and follow it over to a cafe that reminds me more of a kiosk, servicing tables in the middle of a courtyard. There are lots of sumptuous looking cakes in the cake cabinet and the large plain and date scones are stacked high on glass cake plates. The serving with tea or coffee is for one scone with either cream and jam or butter, and is inexpensive. It’s served on a styrofoam plate with a plastic knife and feels very disposable. In keeping with the theme, perhaps the cup and saucer should be disposable too! Unfortunately my date scone is microwaved far longer than necessary, losing it’s flavour. The cream is very light and the jam stock standard.
Tea: A good choice of T2 teabags served in a pot.
Overall: A good place to take a rest from shopping.
Location: Ettalong Markets, Ocean View Rd, Ettalong Beach NSW 2257 palacinkicafe.com
Reviewed in August, 2013
‘Point Cafe- Japanese Gardens’
Gosford’s Regional Gallery is tucked away in a side street a few blocks from the main road and overlooks the Japanese Gardens. The place is a nice little diversion if you are passing by on a winter’s day as the gallery is worth a look, and although the Japanese Gardens are closed when I visit, they do look inviting enough for a short stroll. The place is designed for functions, but luckily when I sit down to take tea in the cafe it’s only busy with local lunchtime trade. The scones are fresh, crusty and on the small side. Unfortunately there isn’t enough jam and the cream is very light and airy. Nonetheless if you find yourself in the vicinity, drop by but make sure you ask for more jam!
Tea: Teabags served in a small pot.
Overall: Not bad for a gallery cafe.
Location: Gosford Regional Gallery & Japanese Gardens, 36 Webb St, East Gosford NSW 2250 Ph: 02 4324 8099 pointcafe.com.au
Reviewed in June, 2012
Sage Cafe sits in the fresh air on the outdoor, or atrium level of the Erina Fair Shopping Centre. It’s a winning choice on a winter’s day, especially to catch some winter sun and even the feeling that you’re in a shopping mall. I’m here on a recommendation so I am expecting good things, and it doesn’t disappoint. The large airy cafe has a variety of seating: inside, on the enclosed verandah and outside at the entrance. Service is swift, although ordering at the counter can get tedious if it’s busy and the cashier isn’t up to speed with the ins and outs of the ordering and payment process. My citron scones arrive looking delectably crisp and are soft and fluffy on the inside. I am blown away by the jams – two house made flavours. The only problem is, I can’t get a straight answer from the two wait staff I ask. The first comes back with blackberry and peach and strawberry, which I know for a fact neither is a match. And the second answer comes back as mixed berry and ‘I don’t know there wasn’t a label on the container.’ I’ll go with the mixed berry, and the second have a distinct marmalade flavour, although it could had been where the peach comes in. All I can say that scones taste better with good quality jam. The whipped fresh cream is acceptable but light. With high marks for two out of three factors, it’s a Devonshire Tea success!
Tea: 20 T2 loose-leaf teas served in a small pot.
Overall: Superb, I just wish someone on staff had an idea about what the jam flavours were.
Location: Erina Fair Shopping Centre, Level 1, 620-658 Terrigal Drv, Erina Fair NSW 2250
Ph: 02 4365 5655 sagecafe.com.au
Reviewed June, 2014
‘Silver Tree Cafe’
You won’t find me hanging out in a mall in my spare time, but you never know. The Silver Tree Cafe at Erina Fair Shopping Centre is a no-nonsense place to take a break from the maze of shops. Slip in to one of the booths towards the back of the cafe for some quiet or pull up a pew that looks out towards the mall to people watch. The homemade scones are pretty good, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and I’ve got to say I’m happily surprised. However, the jam is average and the whipped cream is quite light. The T2 tea is a bonus but what’s with the teeny tiny pot?
Tea: 9 choices of T2 loose-leaf teas served in a tiny pot.
Overall: A no-nonsense cafe.
Location: Erina Fair Shopping Centre, Level 1, ShpT34, Terrigal Drv, Erina Fair NSW 2250 Ph: 02 4367 4448
Reviewed June, 2014
‘The Ark Coffee and Takeaway’
The sound of the muso’s mellow tunes wafts on the warm spring breeze, beckoning diners to come sit and listen. The Ark Coffee and Takeaway is a popular beachouse hangout serving diners in the open indoor area as well as having a kiosk counter for those not keen to leave the beach for long. Do a round trip walk from the tidal rock pool along the coast to Norah Head lighthouse. Enjoy the glorious views towards Budgewoi in the north, before heading back down Bush Street to drop into the cafe. There’s a choice of plain or date scones, and you can order as many or as little as you like. My date scone doesn’t rate high in the taste stakes, but it’s not inedible either. My partner spies the raspberry jam being dished out of a bucket with a Monbulk label on it, which tastes far better than some of the bulk jams served in other cafes. The cream is extremely light, and if the weather were a few degrees warmer, it would probably have melted before reaching my scone.
Tea: A selection of T2 loose-leaf teas served in a good-sized pot.
Overall: A beachhouse style cafe conveniently located on the way to the lighthouse.
Location: 8 Bush St, Norah Head NSW 2263 Ph: 02 4397 4859 thearkcafe.com.au
Reviewed in August, 2013
‘Vanilla On Church’
The beachside resort of Terrigal is busy. It’s a balmy winter’s day and the traffic is crawling aa snail’s pace and the cafes and the Crown Plaza Terrigal are bursting with people. Stroll along the beach under Norfolk Pines or do nothing and absorb the resort ambience. Considering the plethora of eateries I only find Vanilla On Church selling scones, so I pull up a chair outdoors in the disappearing sun and nab the last two scones. The first thing I notice when my Devonshire Tea arrives is the cream. I’m not sure whether I should be shocked, appalled or just puzzled by the puddle of liquid cream, as it is the runniest cream I have ever been served with my scones. Imagine the other end of the spectrum to clotted cream, that’s what I have. I’m too stunned to take the cream back and ask whether it was a mistake as perhaps they are too lazy to whip the cream that’s obviously been poured straight out of the container. But maybe the dish has come straight out of the piping hot dishwasher and the double thick cream has melted? I’ll never know, but all I can say is – weird. The jam looks synthetic, and alongside the cream, there’s not enough to go around. The best part of the ensemble without a doubt are the scones: crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. Maybe the cream is a one-off and you have better luck if you visit.
Tea: A variety of Q Tea loose-leaf teas served in a small pot.
Overall: Although a block from the beach, it’s still a nice sunny corner to while away some time.
Location: 17 Church St, Terrigal NSW 2260 Ph: 02 4385 1960 vanillaonchurch.com.au
Reviewed June, 2014