Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

The Coffee Cellar

The Quay is one of my favourite places in Exeter. I have spent over 10 years living and/or working within a 20 minute walk of the area and if ever I need to just get out of the house to stretch my legs, indulge in a bout of architectural admiration and general soul replenishment then this is where I like to head. In the summertime we like to cycle to the Double Locks or Turf Locks, depending on how energetic we’re feeling and on the way back stop off for an ice-cream by the quay; you can wander along the canal for a drink at the Prospect in the evening or grab one of the best meals in town at The Hourglass – technically above the Quay, but still nice and local. So, imagine my delight a couple of years ago, when I discovered that some clever bunny had opened a coffee shop, The Coffee Cellar, in one of the warehouses along the quay and inadvertently added another very good reason to head in that direction on a regular basis.

The Coffee Cellar is the only food vendor amongst several gift and craft shops in warehouses located at the end of the oldest part of the quay. The quay was first constructed during the 16th century so the buildings in the area, despite their original commercial function, are aesthetically pleasing to say the least. I wish the commercial buildings of our day held just a small fraction of the charm and beauty of these warehouses, but alas today we get steel, aluminium and glass with almost no thoughtful design elements whatsoever. I digress. The Coffee Cellar is the kind of independent coffee shop that I would like to see more of, but in the high street the domination of the big guns like Starbucks, Café Nero and Costa is ongoing and I doubt very much whether this will change in the short term. The Coffee Cellar’s location has all the seasons covered with an outdoor seating area that looks across the quay and is just perfect when the sun is shining; in the winter time the comfy sofas and retro styling pull you in and absolutely encourage the leisurely reading of magazines and newspapers whilst you sip your Americano or latté.

The décor is one my favourite things about the café with 1930’s red leather sofas and armchairs, fairy lights, chunky wooden tables, ethereal fabrics draped from the ceiling and old advertising posters on the walls. If you like bright lighting and clinical environs then the Coffee Cellar probably won’t work for you. They are also keen on running an eco-friendly business so they recycle as much as they can and conserve energy wherever possible which might explain the low lighting, but I’m definitely not complaining about that as it sets a lovely, chilled mood. During the winter months the café thoughtfully provide blankets for sitting outdoors as well as dog biscuits and water for any furry friends you might have with you. The friendly & incredibly laid-back staff are a big part of the personality of the café (although more on that later) and attention to detail in terms of atmosphere is strong. The food is relatively straightforward as the kitchen and work area is small, so cakes, coffees, teas, cold drinks including smoothies, paninis and baps are the order of the day. The panini range is tight, but should suit most. On the day that I was visiting recently with JC, my friend JH and her little 3 year old boy there were 4 fillings on offer. JH ordered a Cheddar cheese and onion panini whilst I went for the Mexican chicken panini which included chicken, chilli sauce and Cheddar cheese. JC ordered a piece of carrot cake and an Americano, whilst I chose a caramel latté and JH an orange juice.

I have visited The Coffee Cellar on numerous occasions over the past 2 years and I have enjoyed myself very much for the most part, but there is one thing that I struggle with whenever I go there and that is the degree of laid-back service. It is largely a team of young, very friendly people who do not seem to be flustered by very much at all and this is where it goes a little awry. On nearly every visit I have been left waiting for far too long to be served, without any real acknowledgement from the staff. There can be 4 people working behind the counter, but it often seems that there is little going on. On this most recent trip it took us roughly 10 minutes to be served and we were initially the only people waiting. The 2 girls behind the counter kept doing what they were doing, barely looking at us. Now I am not unreasonable, so I understand that people can be busy – all I ask is that I am acknowledged and receive a quick ‘sorry about the wait, I’ll be with you very shortly’. No problem. We were finally served and during this time my friend JH enquired about getting some bread and butter for her son – the girl behind the counter said ‘we don’t have any bread, sorry’. She was very polite about this, but when I asked if he could simply have a toasted panini with butter she said, yes we can do that. Some proactive service here would have been helpful. Once we had chosen our lovely table, the carrot cake, cheese and onion panini and drinks arrived very quickly. After 15 minutes or so there was no sign of my Mexican chicken panini so I asked one of the girls of it’s whereabouts. It had been forgotten. This was quickly rectified and an apology given, but as it wasn’t the first time this had happened it just left me feeling a bit disappointed.

Now normally I do not give negative reviews. Read any of my other reviews on this site and I always stick to the positives. I don’t like to promote places that do not appeal to me. The difficulty with The Coffee Cellar is that I love the place and it has so much going for it. This was not my first negative experience at the café. I have waited patiently to be served on many an occasion, to the point where I have almost walked out. Their website clearly states that they have a very European approach to opening times and I suspect this approach extends to service attitudes as well. Whilst part of me loves this idea, another part of me (the one that wants to eat) thinks that there are just times where you want to have a coffee and a piece of cake without queuing forever. It is also nice to know that when you have paid and ordered something that you are going to receive it without asking for it again. If The Coffee Cellar was to improve it’s service, then I truly think this would be one of the loveliest cafés in Exeter. As it stands the Italian freshly ground coffee is good, the food is decent, the location is wonderful, the décor is welcoming and stylish and the staff are friendly. That is why I continue to love the place and go there in the hope that they will one day crank up the service a notch.