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The Crocus Café and Bakery is a bit of an eatery with a difference. Originally set up as a fair-trade café within an old church hall, the café moved to its Church Square location in Lenton, just outside the centre of Nottingham, in Autumn 2004.
What makes it quite special is that it is a not for profit organisation. It is a community based café, and while originally it was set up with students, it now appeals to both students and non students alike. What is even more unique about the Crocus is that it is staffed almost entirely by volunteers, who can volunteer for 2 hours or more a week.
It is increasingly difficult to find any kind of eating establishment that relies on local suppliers, as the big chains snap up most of the market and provide the same food at the same cost, whether you are in Lands End or Lybster. I've promised myself that we will stay out of those kind of places. Again, promoting Fair Traded produce is part of the Café's Ethos.
Lenton is not a particularly affluent area, Church Square is in fact a 1970s style shopping arcade with just a handful of struggling shops, and Nottingham of course, has a high student population, with the Queens Medical Centre around the corner and Nottingham University not far away. One of the other important values of the café is to provide wholesome, nutritious food at affordable prices. There is nothing on the menu that costs more than £2.50, with the wonderful bowls of home made soup retailing for a mere £1.20.
And it isn't purely about food. The café was set up as an affordable place to come and unite different sectors of the community (particularly the semi-transient students and the local residents). The café itself is a warm and inviting place, with a small serving counter opposite a snug sofa and table, and about a half dozen oak tables and chairs. It has a shabby appeal as no doubt all the furniture has been gifted, along with the books, games and toys. There is even a couple of PCs at the back if you need internet access.
On to the food. Firstly, it is a vegetarian establishment. Clearly this sits with their Ethos on a number of levels, firstly that they want to promote healthy nutritious eating, and secondly to keep things affordable and under the £2.50 price limit for a MAIN meal, money goes further without having to buy meat.
The menu itself is chalked on the wall, and the main course will change every day, although a full cooked vegetarian breakfast or sausage sandwich is usually on offer. On my recent visit, the dish of the day was a variety of Panini sandwiches. The thing with a place like this, with the emphasis on fresh ingredients, is that when it's gone, it's gone, and it took 3 attempts of combining all the filling options before I settled on a mozzarella and tomato Panini. It was absolutely wonderful, and I must have had my £2 worth in Mozzarella alone. The Panini was served with a side salad, which again tasted good, and I ensured I didn't waste a single leaf, unlike many of the so called side salads available in some restaurants.
You have to remember this is staffed by volunteers, who are giving up their free time for the benefit of others. It is not a full service restaurant. Dishes were brought out as they were ready, and the two staff working were extremely courteous and hard working. It may mean, however, that your party gets its orders at slightly different times. But that doesn't really matter does it?
The bakery has a selection of goodies, both sweet and savoury, which can be eaten in or taken away. Some savoury items have an asian influence. I had to sample a lovely piece of home made Bakewell Tart, and it was delicious. It was made by someone locally, as I saw another one sitting on the counter, in someone's Tupperware style box! In fact the organisation encourages people who want to supply wares on a small scale to them. You don't get that in Tescos.
I did notice that the Co-op had put its money where its mouth is, and given the café some funding, which was great to see. The café has a large notice board, giving details of up and coming events, both in the café, and in the community in general.
The café also sells a small range of fair-trade and organic foods and non foods, including home made jams for a very reasonable £1.20 a jar.
If you are close enough to Nottingham to be able to visit Lenton, and are willing to take a chance and support a very worthwhile organisation, then I recommend you give the Crocus Café and Bakery a try. If you are not, then it might be worth seeing if there is something similar near you!
http://www.thecrocus.co.uk/index.htm Open 9am-4pm Mon-Fri 7pm-10pm Thu 10am-4pm Sat