POPLAR Tree Garden Centre had become something of an inside joke in the Tallentire household.

Mrs T has been a regular visitor to its Brambles Coffee Shop over the years, often at the expense of her visiting parents, and is a committed devotee of its hot beverages and sweet treats.

It was a long time, however, before I had the pleasure of “Brambling” for the first time; despite having walked within a few yards of the entrance a couple of years back while trekking the Weardale Way.

That imbalance was put right with a quick midweek lunch a few months back; again at the courtesy of my ever-generous in-laws.

It was on that occasion that Sarah and I resolved to return for the purposes of these pages and we decided to try the Sunday lunch, both because we had heard it was of high quality and because, knowing the venue, we were confident we could take our baby daughter along without causing too much bother for her, us, waiting staff or fellow diners.

The garden centre is located off a winding track through the picturesque Shincliffe Village and Brambles is accessed via the retail area – right at the till, left at the charmology section, up the ramp, passing a few grinning gnomes on the way, probably. Ample free parking is available out front.

The dining area is split into four: two indoor areas at the front and back, separated by the counter and kitchen; an outdoor section where guests can sit on garden chairs under large parasols; and a pretty veranda, where we chose a table near the door to the rear enclosed seating area.

I can’t remember previously having dined at a table sporting a label detailing how much you can buy it for, but it didn’t detract from what was a most enjoyable Sunday lunch.

Sarah and I both chose the beef (£7.30), though chicken was also on offer.

Service is from the counter and came from a couple of very pleasant, though overworked, young ladies. Perhaps a little more support would have both helped them and reduced the wait.

That wait, however, did give me chance to peruse the chiller, with its range of bottled lagers, wines, Durham Brewery ales, old fashioned soft drinks and, a new one to me, Pimms Strawberry and Cucumber Cider (£3.95 per 500ml bottle).

Further down the queue, I passed the range of cold desserts, covering cakes, tray bakes, cheesecakes, peach melba and more; and huge scones – Brambles is very proud of its Afternoon Tea.

Our food took a little while to arrive, but not too long, given we had arrived at peak Sunday lunch o’clock. When it did, my jaw hit the floor. Given Brambles’ coffee shop day job and its reputation for teas and cakes, I had expected something dainty.

Instead, it was a hunk of a lunch. The portions were very large. And it wasn’t just a case of filling the plate with mashed potato either – there were four types of vegetables, mashed and roast potatoes, a nicely crunchy Yorkshire pudding and more than enough of the meat, which was thickly sliced and very well presented. Gravy, too – crucial, of course – was pleasingly plentiful.

Diners must obtain their own cutlery and condiments and I was a little disappointed to find no horseradish sauce, but settled for a squidge of English mustard.

Sarah and I both thoroughly enjoyed our dishes and baby Katie was a big fan of the cubes of suede we passed her way to keep the peace.

Given the portions, dessert was anything but necessary. But I indulged myself with a slice of blackcurrant cheesecake, the light fluffiness of which nicely offset the heavier main course.

The veranda was a very pleasant place to enjoy a relaxed lunch – the weather was warm, the menacingly dark clouds above failed to produce rain and we sat back and watched as diners came and went and Sunday shoppers browsed the huge range of garden products on offer in the centre’s rear display yard.

Katie needing a nap (not to mention her dad) and the lure of the men’s singles final at Wimbledon finally dragged us away home, but not before I had tried some of that cider (very drinkable, the unusual cucumber flavour nicely offsetting the sweetness of the strawberry, as you asked).

Good things come to those who wait, they say, and my wait to discover my wife’s Shincliffe bolt hole was well rewarded.

The Durham area is not short of good options to save mum the toil of Sunday dinner, but Brambles is worth counting among those to consider.


Brambles Coffee Shop

Poplar Tree Garden Centre, Hall Lane, Shincliffe, DH1 2NG

Open: 9.30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm on Sundays

Tel: 0191-384-7553

Web: poplartreegardencentre.co.uk

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 7 Value 7 Service 6 Surroundings 6