Mayfield Farm Bakery, Old Harlow

Mayfield Farm is a joy to behold, the sort of bakery, shop, coffee shop and school that makes England a place worth living in.  They bake the most stupendously good bread, proper craft bakery – artisan skills passed down from one generation to the next for Centuries.  Long may it last!

A Facebook friend has been raving about the place for some while, so I came a few weeks ago for an afternoon to buy bread and for a leisurely coffee.  This worked well, so when it was suggested that my son Adam and I try breakfast at the café on Father’s Day it proved an irresistible lure.  Adam is in any case passionate about bread, so I was pushing at an open door.

In hindsight we might have done several things differently:  booking a table for a start, but if not that then getting there earlier would have worked.  That might sound strange, given that Mayfield opens at 10 on a Sunday and we were there before 11, but just as five minutes either way can make the difference to commuter traffic in the morning, so we timed our arrival badly.  As it turned out, this was a study in patience, much as a recent trip to the Swan at Lavenham proved to be.

The café is not a huge room, though in the absence of rain it was supplemented by a couple of tables outside; thanks to reservations, many of the tables were pushed together and populated by large family parties eating leisurely breakfasts.  Fair enough, though navigation around the room was a tad tricky as a result.

We had plenty of time to observe a fleet of waitresses ferried food from an open kitchen populated by one cheerful but more than slightly stressed chef, since we were waiting for a table for a good, or arguably a bad 20 minutes.  Adam and I were almost taking bets on which would be the first table to be cleared before a large party finally departed and their table was broken up.

At last we were offered a table and our order taken.  Drinks arrived, and then the real waiting started.  Sadly we had failed to take into account (a) the backlog in the kitchen, caused for a large part by another large party, and (b) just as at the Swan, the table was within sight of the open door and therefore subject to a cold draught.  The solution was to go to the car and get our jackets, though the door was thankfully closed when those diners had departed.  One more small gripe: the table was on the flight path from the kitchen, scarcely the most relaxing seat in the house.  No surprise when the people on the neighbouring table took a detour and sat in the far corner when that table became available.

I mention all this because it was about as exciting as things got while waiting for our order.  No, tell a lie: a waitress did eventually take pity on us by coming to apologise and offer us a round of drinks on the house, and to tell us our meals were next in line to be cooked.

I did and do have sympathy for one very simple reason: Mayfield Farm is a small enterprise which has become a victim of its own success, where the Swan was less than half full at the time and had no excuse for its poor communication.  But even so, Mayfield could have helped the cause by having more kitchen staff on hand, maybe one as a dedicated egg chef, for example?

The food, when it finally arrived (1 hour 20 mins after arrival) was fine.  Adam’s “sausage patti” was succulent and served in an excellent poppy seed roll, while my special came with more of the same “patties”, bacon, black pudding, tomato, mushrooms, fried egg and toast on the side.  We both enjoyed the meal, though the wait would certainly put some people off for good.  No doubt about it: on quality the Mayfield is great, but next time I hope that things will come a bit quicker.  Thank you!

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