“ Address: 12 High Street / Town Centre Thame / OX9 2BZ / Oxon „
Thame is a lovely market town in Oxfordshire. It has a thriving High Street offering both household names and unique shopping experiences so where is the best place to stop for a well earned snack whilst out shopping?
There are a couple of establishment that I regularly frequent to meet friends but my favourite if I am meeting someone for a light lunch is definitely Time Out.
Time Out is located in the High Street, at the lower end opposite the Book House Book shop heading in the direction of the Church. It only has a small frontage but the owners now have a couple of small tables set up on the street outside the windows so it is much easier to spot. The property has been the home to a couple of ill-fated businesses over the last few years including an organic coffee shop so if you have visited and been disappointed in the past be prepared to give the new business a try.
This is a family run business and the owner recently received the local Civic "Service with A Smile" Award due to his attentiveness to his customers' needs and his pleasant disposition although I must say I always find all of the members of staff helpful and courteous and I could never choose anyone as being better than the rest!
Upon entering the coffee-shop it becomes immediately apparent that this is not a huge place. There are a couple of sofas, a few tables and chairs and then a couple of bar-stools near the window offering the chance to watch the world go by as you sip your drink. The whole effect however is homely and comfortable and they have managed to get a good balance between making sure it doesn't feel empty and sterile or cramped and fussy. The small service counter is at the rear of the coffee shop and there are always several members of staff waiting to serve you. Once you have placed your order the staff will bring it to your table when it is ready although they will bring your drinks as soon as you are seated rather than having to wait for your whole order to be prepared.
There is additional seating upstairs where there are more sofas around a fire which is really cosy and also several more tables. I particularly like the large sofa at the far end of the room which gives a brilliant view over the hustle and bustle of the High Street. I always find that Time Out is nice and warm in the winter but doesn't get too hot in the summer either. The only problem with the upstairs is that the staircase is very steep so should be negotiated with great care by children and the elderly. This is an old building and this can't be helped but it is worth being aware of.
There is a toilet downstairs offering disabled access and baby changing facilities and there is another small toilet upstairs. These are kept clean and there is always a nice selection of toiletry products to use.
They serve various teas and coffees as well as hot chocolate and a range of cold drinks from a fridge located to the left of the counter. I like the selection of cold drinks as there are the usual branded fizzy drinks and bottled waters but there is also a selection of more unusual fruit juices in bottles as well.
Time Out also stocks a large range of Teapigs bags as well.
The chiller also contains a selection of sandwiches and Panini that you purchase and then are toasted for you. The only problem with this is that sometimes there are not any that take my fancy and I often visit with a vegetarian friend and the choice can be a bit limited for her. They do not offer any made-to-order service for toasted sandwiches and Panini's which I find a bit restrictive. There is a selection of hand-baked crisps and unusual snack bars to add to your meal too.
They always have a cabinet on the counter which is full of homemade cakes and cookies. These always look fresh and tasty and I have tried a few in the past and never been disappointed but I tend to go to Time Out for lunch now so rarely buy any of the cakes although they are certainly tempting.
The lunch selection is not huge but it is all freshly prepared. As I mentioned previously there are toasted sandwiches available but there are also some other nice cooked options. My favourite is Roasted Vegetable Stuffed Pittas with Feta cheese; this is served with a salad and is delicious. I always feel quite righteous about all the vegetables that I am eating when I choose this and decide to ignore the calories in the cheese! I have also enjoyed the Red Pepper Humus with Pittas as well as bagels with cream cheese and watercress. I noticed on my last visit that they also now seem to serve some soups but I didn't see which varieties. There is sometimes a chicken dish available as well but the emphasis is on taste and freshness rather than a massive choice. There is sometimes a fresh tart available but this is often not served until 12.30 (I presume the cook doesn't start earlier) and since our lunch time trip is often at twelve we usually miss that. I did try it once, I think it was mushroom and it was tasty and filling.
The only criticism I would have of Time Out is that it is a bit expensive. The prices seemed to have crept up recently and if my friend and I both have the stuffed pittas and a diet coke each it comes to over £12 which seems quite pricey to me.
The general ambience of Time Out is what is turning it into such a successful business. High-chairs are available for children and there is a small collection of clean and well cared for toys and books for them to play with, when my children were small I hated frequenting places where the children's things looked tatty and dirty and Time Out certainly scores points for keeping everything in good order.
At the top of the staircase there is a large bookshelf which customers are encouraged to use as a book-swap. This always has lots of books and it is nice to be able to pick up a book and flick through whilst waiting to meet a friend as well as sometimes finding something that you wish to take home and read.
As I said I usually visit around lunchtime and the place is normally very busy. It is certainly growing in popularity and seems to be appealing to a varied clientele. There are frequently business men on their laptops (I presume there is Wi-Fi but since I have never had cause to use it I am not sure), mothers downstairs with a collection of small-children and pushchairs, teenagers sharing a sandwich, workers popping in for a lunchtime chat and older people meeting up with friends. There is a real buzz about the place with a very relaxed atmosphere so you can eat your lunch and then sit on the sofas around the fire for an hour having a natter without ever feeling that you should be moving on.
Overall I would have to say that this is a lovely coffee shop to visit. Starbucks have moved into the High street a few doors away but Time Out has so much more to offer and I certainly won't be visiting the competition anytime soon. The prices may be on the high side but the service and ambience means that it is always the place I prefer if meeting someone in town.