Hand Made Food

Cafe/Deli/Traiteur

40, Tranquil Vale, SE3

It’s part of that funky row of interesting shops that we’d give our eye-teeth for in central Greenwich – just two doors down from Boulangerie Jade and round the corner from several other fabbo stores, but let’s not be mealy-mouthed – it’s still largely walkable – and a worthwhile destination indeed.

I’d heard good things about Hand Made Food, but the place was always so darn busy that I had shied away from actually trying to eat in there – or even to queue up for a takeaway. It looked great. That slightly bohemian, busy interior with splendid-looking tarts and pastries, cakes and buns, quiches and salads filling the windows made my mouth water as walked past. But those queues…

Still. Queues are part of the whole phantom-gig, and after yet another rave review from friends I finally tackled it. No room outside of course, but I was determined to sit-in if I could so we nabbed a couple of stools at the side. The service is very friendly and fast – considering that you can’t just choose a dish – you have to answer all kinds of questions about how much you want, what you want it with and how you want it done. It reminds me a bit of that bit in You’ve Got Mail where Tom Hanks explains how Starbucks allows people who are bad at decisions to feel better by having to make fifteen decisions over a cup of coffee before work. Not, of course, that I’m in any way comparing this wonderful place to Starbucks. Sorry guys…

Still – there are a lot of decisions to be made and that’s before you get to the drinks. The choice is large – and, obviously, all home made. Large, organic fishcakes, huge slices of tart of the day, well-composed salads, a whole fridge full of toothsome-looking meats.

Our fruit juices were wonderful. They arrived separately, as they were individually prepared and they tasted like it too. Tangy, fresh and substantial in themselves. My Tart of the Day (leek and Gruyere) had fresh, crumby pastry, not too thick, not too thin, and a tasty, deep filling, well-balanced and good-sized. The side salad was a disappointment – exactly two leaves of lettuce, and with the dirty bottom bit still gritty. Perhaps that was my fault, as they had offered me the selection of salads from the chiller and I had been concerned that it would be too much, so opted for a small green salad instead. I don’t blame myself for the grit…

I am the only person in the world who doesn’t seem to be turned on by bacon – even vegetarians seem to miss it. Not me. So I left it to my companion to test out what I had heard called ‘the best bacon sandwich ever.’

He is a big fan of the bacon sandwiches you get from the van in Blackheath Farmers Market – and confesses he likes the immediacy and floppiness of the bacon – a dripping, juicy, wet experience. He had to admit that the Hand Made Food version was clearly extremely good quality, but it wasn’t quite to his taste, its being very very crispy indeed.

I suspect this is a case of basic personal choice. If you’re a fan of crispy bacon (and I know there are a lot of crispy fans out there) then you’ll be in heaven here. The bacon looked good and crunchy even to me who doesn’t like it. But if you like the floppy, juicy style, then go to the market, where the juices will dribble happily down your chin as you wander round, bun in one hand, napkin in the other. My companion said he would have liked a little butter on the Hand Made Foods bread, to balance-out the dryness.

I guess the best bit is that everyone gets to be happy – both styles are available.

The sweets are to die for – big plates of beautifully-iced cupcakes (I’m SO glad they’re fashionable just now – I just love them) tarts, slices of interesting large cakes and big slabs of yummy biscuity-type things like millionaire’s shortbread. I’ll have to test them another day though. My slice of tart was far too big to allow a sweet.

As you sit around waiting for the food to arrive (and it is a short wait – they prepare everything on the spot) you can look at the lovely food they sell. Montezuma’s chocolate (My favourite is the Geranium flavour, but I couldn’t see it there) yummy honeys and spreads, Burts crisps, interesting pasta – the selection is small, but exquisite.

Their coffee comes from the Monmouth Coffee Company – which I like a lot. (My own personal favourite coffee company is Union Coffee Roasters, based in Docklands, where the owners personally hand-roast every batch, but Monmouth is also good.)

I can only assume that Hand Made Food’s delightful shop in Tranquil Vale is the ‘public front’ of their catering business, since even at the healthy prices they charge, a couple of tables out and a few bar stools inside can’t really pay for rents in Blackheath Village.

I can’t speak for Hand Made Food as a traiteur – I have not knowingly eaten any of what I suspect is extremely splendid buffet food. But their menus look wonderful – everything from finger food for parties at £ 1.50 a mouthful – not actually bad for corporate prices – to cold buffet menus and what they call ‘little dishes for receptions.’ Has anyone used Hand Made Foods for their ‘do? I’d like to hear about it.

They also do hampers – chilled delivery for London, ambient delivery for the rest of Britain.

www.handmadefood.com


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