“ Hillside Nursuries, Basingstoke Road, Alton, Hampshire, GU34 4BH. „
THIS CAFE IS MORE OF A RESTAURANT SERVING HOT, HOMEMADE FOOD AT A VERY REASONABLE PRICE. MOST MEALS INCLUDE A FREE TEA OR COFFEE AND ARE PRICED AT ABOUT 5/6 POUNDS.
THE CAFE IS SET IN BEAUTIFULL SURROUNDINGS AND HOSTS CRAFT FAIRS, CARBOOTS AND MUSIC/QUIZ NIGHTS ON A REGULAR BASIS.
MY AUNT USED THIS VENUE TO HOLD A 40TH BIRTHDAY AND WAS DELIGHTED WITH THE RESULTS. THE BUFFET WAS HUGE, VARIED AND DELICIOUS AND WAS ARRANGED SUITABLY TO MY AUNTS BUDGET. SHE COULD HAVE HAD ANYTHING FROM 1 POUND TO 10 POUNDS PER HEAD!
THE CAFE TEAM UP WITH A GREAT LOCAL BAND FOR ENTERTAINMENT AND THE VENUE ITSELF CAN HOLD UP TO 200 PEOPLE INSIDE AND THOUSANDS ON THE FIELD. MAKING THIS PERFECT FOR A BIG PARTY.
THE FOOD IS ALWAYS BEAUTIFULLY PRESENTED AND VERY VARIED. THE POPULAR BREAKFAST MENU IS UNDER 5 POUNDS AND DRAWS PEOPLE IN FROM MILES AROUND.
I WOULD RECOMMEND EVERYONE TO POP IN AND TRY IT.
The Departure Lounge Café
THE PLACE WITH THE PLANE
**** WHERE IS IT? *******
Tel: 01420 80111
No official website as far as I know yet.
Open seven days a week from 10 till 4.
Sunday 7.00am - 9.00am Takeaway for Car boot Sale only
***** WHAT IS IT? *****
I found this place completely by chance and how pleased I am to have bothered to stop in the car park. I only came down for the car boot sale and low and behold saw this gorgeous little eatery tucked away in the corner.
This little known café has only been opened a year so everything inside is still relatively new and shiny. Situated inside the HILLSIDE NURSERIES car park, it is easy to pass this completely without realising what a little gem Alton has on offer for food and drink.
When you enter the car park for the small and barely advertised nursery, turn right and drive all the way to the end of track. It is here you will see the wooden decking and blue banners saying Departure Lounge Café and Bikers Welcome. Dont let that panic you, this place is in one of the most peaceful and tranquil settings of Hampshire I have ever seen.
The entrance is on the left and opposite is a spectacular view of Hampshire countryside. The open fields are where car boot sales occur each Sunday, Tuesday and Bank Holiday Monday. The lush green fields are so vast that children can play there quite safely and in peace. Just remember to bring a ball as there are no climbing frames or swings by the front entrance.
*** WHAT TO EXPECT ON ARRIVAL ****
Once inside you are greeted by a rather large pilot holding the menu board (dont worry hes not real). Next to him is a smaller butler type character with his arms outstretched offering you a paper to read. There is also a large menu on the wall directly in front of you with all prices listed.
After a long scan down the chalk board, I noticed the prices are more than reasonable. Most dishes are around £5 with drinks under £2, depending on what you order. There is a good selection of herbal teas, coffees, squash and canned drinks. For lunch there is sausage and mash, or a jacket potato with a variety of toppings, Caesar salad, mushroom or cheese omelettes served with home made deep fried chips, a traditional ploughmans and thick chunky sandwiches with your choice of filling.
I can recommend the cheese omelette, one of my favourites now I have found this place. The omelette is thick, not paper thin like most establishments offer and oozing with melted cheddar. Along with this are a salad and the most delicious thick cut chips you could imagine.
Childrens menus are priced at £2.95 and the usual are on offer, i.e. chicken nuggets, fish fingers. The one dish my daughter chose however was sausage and mash in onion gravy, served with peas. The peas I noticed were fresh, not tinned or frozen.
Her plate was almost an adult size portion and she devoured the lot, only leaving a small portion of mash for me to try. The mash had chives in which gave the food lots of flavour but not too much, it was just right. My daughter didnt even notice them. Drinks are not included in the price for your child and neither is the desert. However for £2 they receive a good bowlful of creamy ice cream in vanilla, chocolate or strawberry.
If you dont fancy a meal, then how about some chocolate fudge cake with cream at £2.95 or my favourite, apple, blackberry and rhubarb crumble with custard. All deserts are the same price. There are also flapjacks on the counter, muffins, biscuits etc. Everything is covered and extremely hygienic.
Once you have decided on what you want, just go up to the till and place your order. They only take cash or cheque as payment. As soon as you pay for your food, it seems like only minutes that a waitress is coming to your table with your order. There are no table numbers so just point as to wear you are going to sit.
There are three seating options, at the front entrance on the decking and with the beautiful hillside views, at the rear by the fountain and garden centre entrance or if the weather is bad, inside the departure lounge itself. I prefer the seating near to the nursery and water feature as they have a childrens slide and roundabout here. Perfect for my 4 year old but not suitable for the older ones. It is quite safe as there is a padded floor covered with bark and wood chips. There is huge umbrella type canopy covering most of the seats in this area, giving you ample shade whilst still enjoying the summer sun if it ever arrives.
The tables and chairs are chrome and are quite comfortable. Each table has a cutlery holder with a selection of sauces, napkins and sugars. If for some reason your table does not have one, there are always extra supplies on the window sill by the nursery entrance.
What amazed me is just how shiny and clean the table tops were. No soon as a customer had left, the staff were there to clean and polish. Great for the summer with the onslaught of wasps and flies.
Everything is geared for young children inside. They even have a play section with foam shapes and other toys to keep them amused in bad weather. There is a large container at the back of the café full of chunky and unbreakable plastic knives, forks and spoons in this most vibrant of colours. Just help yourself. The plate mats inside the cafe are what you would find in an aeroplane, the instructions on what to do in an emergency, laminated. For a nervous traveller who has yet to fly, I would recommend you turn this over.
*** THE PLANE ***
Not only is the café designed to look like a departure lounge with its red, white and blue patriotic colours, its secret lies in the garden. None other than half a jumbo jet without the wings. Unfortunately you cannot eat your cheese baps in here, this is just for the younger guests who are celebrating a birthday.
From age 4 to 13, they will entertain your child, feed them and provide a cake and party bags for under £10 a head. For two hours you can then sit with the other parents and enjoy a latte and cream scone if you so wish. If the weather is good, the staff will take your child and their guests outside on the grass for fun and games.
For such an unusual party see a member of staff as soon as possible as the place books up quite quickly. You will need a deposit of £25 and thats it until the day. Please note they dont take credit cards as yet.
**** THE TOILETS*****
Whenever I write a review, I always inspect the toilets. Unfortunately this is where the café is let down somewhat. The toilets are situated outside the café but the top is covered by plastic sheeting . The toilets are shared by the car booters, the garden centre as well as customers for the café.
I cant speak for the Gents but in the Ladies there are two toilets and the disabled is shared next door with a baby changing unit. Both toilets are in dire need of a lick of paint, good clean and better ventilation. There was no soap, just a flake of what used to be some sort of cleaning material for your hands. They are better than nothing I suppose, but compared to the restaurant next door, they are a huge let down. Please note the disabled and baby unit room has no locking door which can be very embarrassing.
**** PARKING ****
Parking is free but is shared with the nursery, the aquatic centre and the car boot customers. There are no disabled bays. However due to the amount of over hanging trees there is plenty of shade.
You will need a car to get here as I noticed no bus stops or any passing buses along this main road.
I cant recommend this place enough, the prices, the views, the staff, the food are all first rate. So the toilets arent up to scratch, well its not as if you are eating your dinner in there, its just a quick drip, drop and go after all.
The staff are so polite and friendly, you are made to feel welcome not a hindrance. Whether you tip them or not, is your decision but I feel they all go that extra mile in politeness and good service.
If you want to do a car boot sale, then just turn up at 7am and its £5 for either a van or car. Pay at the café or the attendant when you arrive.
*** THE NURSERY AND AQUATIC CENTRE ****
After your meal, why not have a quick stroll around the garden nursery and an even quicker one around the aquatic centre. Both places sell limited stock but its worth having a look at the fish and the two parrots in the garden centre.
The parrots at Hillside are a mating pair and the female has just laid eggs. If you walk up to the large cage/shed situated outside, the parrots depending on the mood they are in, usually come and greet you.
Dont get too close though, they could peck but guaranteed they will drop something white and wet through the bars in your direction.