Royal Teas

Royal Hill, SE10

Every so often I get myself a bit confused. There comes a place that is so “obvious” for review that I actually assume that I’ve already written about it. It comes as a bit of a shock when someone points out that I haven’t. I have no idea how Royal Teas slipped through the net, but there you go. I thought I’d already ‘covered’ it. There are others which will come up and bite me on the backside, I am sure…

It’s a Greenwich institution, of course. Royal Teas seems to have been around for ever – must be twenty years at least. It’s ostensibly a vegetarian cafe, though there is the odd dish which includes salmon – it’s good to see that they’re not too evangelical about it. It’s a tiny place, which can get a bit full, especially when there are a lot of pushchairs parked in there, and I have found that timing is everything – trying to second-guess busy periods is an skill which can be acquired with practice.

The front room of what was clearly once a cottage has mix & match tables and chairs, shared with a splendid piece of metal furniture with large drawers for various types of coffee bean and tea, which you can either drink on the premises or take home a bag of to enjoy later. I have no idea what the piece of apparatus in the window is – some kind of coffee-making equipment, I presume, but it’s rather beautiful in itself and is purely decorative these days.

The back room has more tables and the counter, leading out to the back where they make all those great snacks and meals, and, of course, their famed cakes. The decor has a slightly ‘updated hippy’ feel – orange and purple, which is both cosy and welcoming.

I’ll warn you now. it will be difficult to finish anything you get served here. The portions are satisfyingly huge. I don’t know if they do doggy bags; one day I think it will be worth an ask as it is the sort of thing they might encourage. Among their breakfasts (served all day) is a monster American version which is frighteningly large – but so tasty you find yourself eating far more than you intended. The baguettes are shoved full of so much filling that it’s most inelegant to try to eat (though I have a minor gripe with one I had the other day in that I had vast amounts of cheese and salad, but the effect was rather dry – I could have had less cheese and replaced it with a little butter to bind it all together.) I’ve never had the cream tea, but I’ve watched other people tucking in and I will get round to it one day, judging from the looks on their faces it will be well worth the wait.

The cakes are fabulous. I don’t really need to go into too much detail as I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted. My favourite is the lemon, but more research is needed to be absolutely sure.

To anyone who doesn’t know, the slightly odd “fairy tale” in the window refers to a long-running dispute with Greenwich Council. After many years of R.T’s existence, the council suddenly discovered the place and, at first, heaped praise and help on its owners, offering them grants and all kind of plaudits. It was only later that the council changed its tune. The place didn’t have a proper licence, it argued, and the men in grey tried to shut it down. Royal Teas itself is fighting back, aided by devoted local residents (though the most local – the person upstairs, I’m told, moans about the disruption. How does this happen, I wonder? Someone moves in above a cafe, then complains that they live above a cafe? Maybe I’ve missed something here…)

The dispute with the council rumbles on. In the meanwhile, Royal Teas continues as normal, its friendly, cheery staff coping as best they can with the question mark above their heads. Visit them while you can (though, as a dedicated ‘good loo’ aficionado I must warn you – don’t make a pilgrimage for the restroom facilities – there is a certain charm about it and it’s perfectly clean but it’s hardly a ‘destination loo’) and let them know that this is the kind of thing we need to encourage more, not less of, in Greenwich.

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