An original, independent review by :
Christchurch is one of those places, that looks like a set from a costume drama; the beautiful backdrop of the Priory, cobbled streets and picturesque architecture make for a quintessentially English town, in the heart of which, is Cheese & Alfies – a decidedly colourful touch of modernity amidst such traditional surroundings.
The bright turquoise façade is modern and unusual, but somehow preserves the integrity of Christchurch, and although it stands out like the proverbial sore thumb, it adds a definite contemporary touch of creativity. The interior is much the same.
Lunch can be a lonely thing, on a cold, rainy Wednesday afternoon, but inside Cheese & Alfies I’m surrounded by interesting elements to occupy my mind. There are quirky sayings stencilled to the walls like ‘don’t talk with your mouth full’ and ‘eat your greens’, as well as artistic prints from Coastal Creatives all adding to the witty eccentricity of the place.
There’s definitely something informal and youthful about Cheese & Alfies, and as I take a seat by the window, I watch as both waitress and who I assume to be owner, laugh and joke with every single customer. There’s even a ‘community book share’ that adds to the sense of community they’ve managed to achieve in just a few short months. They’ve put a lot of thought into the menu too, and unlike so many places that fall into bad buying habits, everything at Cheese & Alfies is homemade. There are brunches of smoked haddock, whole baked camembert and warm goats cheese salad, all at reasonable prices for homemade fare, and as I wonder what to order, I slurp up the most delicious chocolate brownie smoothie I have ever tasted – not that I’ve had one before. But after learning the devilishly rich ingredients that went into it, half a homemade chocolate brownie, a splash of milk and a drizzle of melted chocolate, I’ll certainly be having this ‘dessert in a glass’ again.
My light bite, a plate of potted crab and salad for £6.95, turns out to be a fashionable plate of simply dressed green leaves, a few slices of toasted bread, and a pot of delicious crab, with strong notes of mace and a deep orange buttery ‘lid’. The sweet, honey and mustard dressing is so good, I ask the waitress if it’s for sale, half-jokingly of course, but also half hoping she’d pull out a jar of the stuff so I could relish the taste another time. To my amazement, the chef (who I later learn is also the co-owner, Mike) pours a generous helping of the homemade dressing into a coffee cup and kindly lets me take it home.
I order a white chocolate cheesecake, and watch as the chefs work quickly at the open kitchen, in full view of curious diners, calling service at every meal that comes out and adding a touch of creative flair to each individual plate. It’s apparent to me that although there’s something youthful about the place, they take food seriously at Cheese & Alfies. I tuck into my chocolate cheesecake and I’m glad that they do. Its intensely rich, creamy filling has a good whack of white chocolate, and the chunky biscuit bottom provides an excellent base, the berry compote is just enough to cut the richness – it’s a devilish triumph and honestly priced at £5.50.
I peer over at co-owner Sarah, who shyly steps up to my table to clear my dish, no doubt a little curious as to why one of her customers comes armed with a huge press camera, notepad and pen, and I compliment the food. She’s polite and kind, and after a little inquisitive enquiry, informs me of the unusual choice of name for her restaurant.
“Cheese and Alfies is named after our sons” she tells me. I nod, as I listen. Hold on a minute. “One of your sons is called Cheese?” I think to myself. Sarah must have read the confusion on my face, as she quickly informs me that Alfie is her sprightly 2 year old boy, and her other son, 11 year old Charlie, somehow acquired the nickname Charlie Cheesecake as a baby. “Ah, it makes sense now” I gasp, jokingly, sitting back in my small wooden chair, filled to the brim with good, hearty food, and laughing in disbelief that for a moment, I thought the place was actually named after a little boy called Cheese.