After leaving home late with no time for morning coffee we arrive in the small market town of Shaftesbury both hungry and thirsty so our first port of call has to be somewhere to replenish. Only moments after we step out of the car do we find what looks to be a traditional English tea room. Full of old world charm, low ceilings, wooden beams and wood burning fireplace, we have entered into the world of King Alfred (849-899), and take a table upstairs at King Alfred’s Kitchen.
King Alfred’s Kitchen…. Fit For A King…. it is not!
Sadly the warm feeling we first experience begins to diminish rapidly as we see the reality of this unkempt building. Tables are left unmade, dressed with dirty tablecloths, empty sugar bowls, and at our table, a broken chair sits. Why at this point we do not leave to find another more appealing establishment I have no idea but suppose we wish to give the place a chance. Perhaps the food will make up for the sad and sorry state of the place.
Finally, after some time has passed I call down the stairs to the wait staff who were huddled around the cash register asking if they will kindly take our order. Surely by ordering a dish as traditional and simple as a full English breakfast one can’t go wrong. We ask for soft yolk eggs and two Cappuccino’s to accompany the meal!
Ten or so minutes later what is meant to be a Cappuccino is placed before us. When questioned on the whereabouts of the ‘froth’ (for this is a Cappuccino) we are told, ‘there’s something wrong with the machine, it’s not working properly’, but no apology or offer of some alternative is given. This is no doubt due to the inexperience of the young girl who is our waitress. We are interested to hear the history of this beautiful old building that we inhabit but clearly this waitress has absolutely no insight or interest in the rich stories that this now sad old place could hold.
After 25 minutes of waiting I called down the stairs again to ask when our food can be expected – keep in mind that we are the only two guests seated upstairs and just a handful of customers are seated downstairs. Finally, after another 5 minutes or so our food arrives – original instincts should have served us for the bacon is burned, the eggs are hard and the sausages over-cooked. A great disappointment and at this point all I want to do is pay the bill and vacate the premises in search of a real Cappuccino and cleanliness. The bill finally arrives and at my request they have charged only for regular coffee – the waitress quickly disappears without payment.
Waiting again… no sign of the waitress to enquire if we require anything further so pop my head out the door and down the stairs to see if there is any sign of life? We wait, and wait and finally in frustration I make my way downstairs toward the cash register and kitchen. I can hear voices chatting away but nobody is any the wiser that I’m eagerly waiting to pay. Finally, I pop my head through the door of the kitchen (another eye-opening experience that I’d rather not have endured) to ask if someone can be of assistance. A woman appears asking, ‘do you want me to take care of that’? I confirm this and whilst she is taking my wasted £18.00 I ask if she is the owner, yes she says, and I now find I can’t hold back what I am feeling.
I explain that we were drawn in by the old world charm of the place but how sad it is to see the restaurant so unloved and uncared for. In answer to this, she advises that ‘there’s no money in it’. However, I explain that this has nothing to do with the cleanliness of the place, and certainly no reason for the lack of care when setting up tables, and lack of training of the staff. Earlier my partner had visited the toilet and returned in shock at the disgusting appearance and utter filth of the room (the urinal was blocked and full to the brim). When I mention this to the owner she explains that she was advised by another customer the previous morning of the issue! How she could fail to see the urgency of the problem I don’t know, for if this was my business I’d have been up there doing whatever it took to remove the contents, and clearly posting an OUT OF ORDER sign.
Honestly, this was one of the most disappointing experiences I’ve suffered when visiting a restaurant. Prior to writing this review, I researched what other thought of the place found a couple of very positive reviews of King Alfred’s Kitchen so can only presume that the restaurant is under new management. The current owners clearly do not understand cleanliness, or how to run a successful business, for this beautiful old building has so much charm that one could make a fortune from the many tourists and historians who visit this beautiful historic town.
Shaftesbury (founded in 880 by King Alfred the Great) is the home of ‘Gold Hill’, the beautiful cobbled street made famous by the Hovis Bread commercials that ran in the 70’s. Quaint English cottages line this steep hill that overlooks beautiful Blackmore Vale.
The ruins of Shaftesbury Abbey (only the foundations and a few low-lying walls now remain), as well as Shaftesbury Abbey Museum and Gardens, are also situated just around the corner. The Museum has been decorated to replicate the medieval colours of the original abbey and houses such artefacts as Saxon carvings and medieval floor tiles. It was built by King Alfred in 888 but sadly destroyed by Henry VIII in 1539, and known to be the last nunnery to close during the dissolution.
I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful old town to soak up the age old history that lives in every one of those cobbles on Gold Hill and gaze out over the beauty of Blackmore Vale… just steer clear of King Alfred’s Kitchen!