Having tried and reviewed the new Red Dog Cafe, it seems only fair to do the same for one of their closest competitors, The Exchange in Tiptree, a stone’s throw from my house. Like the RDC, this is a cafe by day and bar/wine bar/restaurant by night. It is neither grand nor pretentious, certainly isn’t a hot spot for the local glitterati, but has gone about its business quietly all the time I’ve lived here.
Unlike the surroundings of the RDC, The Exchange is part of a rather ugly 60s block, though credit to the owners for making the place comfortable and relaxing. Whether or not the radio music playing is to your tastes you will have to decide for yourself.
The welcome is the best of Essex, rather than the Australian greetings in RDC. This is no bad thing, being friendly and genuine, down to earth and the right move for a cafe without airs and graces. RDC has perhaps a greater up-market feel, so the two are probably not exactly competing in the same space – a different type of clientele may be found in the Exchange. While I was there the waitress was chatting to a regular on first name terms, and that is surely indicative of the familiarity you can expect at the Exchange.
The menu is perhaps the anticipated combination of breakfasts, drinks, cakes, lunchtime pizzas, pastas, burgers, sandwiches and typical comfort food dishes, appropriate to most cafes up and down the British isles. Nothing unusual, not like RDC’s veal sandwich, breakfast pizza or chilli scrambled eggs, for example, but clearly a menu honed to the demands of its diners. I chose a black Americano (my usual drink) and the Exchange Special for £6.95, comprising: 2 Bacon 2 Sausages 2 Eggs Mushrooms Beans Tomatoes Sauté Potatoes & 2 Toast.
First point of reference is that the Exchange is cheaper than RDC and offers a fuller plate of food. Now I for one adopt as a philosophy of life “less is more” and “quality before quantity.” On this occasion, I would probably have foregone the pleasure of canned tomatoes and sautéed spuds for a really good slow-roasted tomato, eggs with iridescently yellow yolks from my neighbour’s free range flock, and top notch sourdough toast (as with RDC), but the sausage was good and meaty and the bacon impressed – the edges faintly blackened to give a lovely singed flavour.
Beans are beans, unless you find somewhere that makes its own Boston Baked Beans (you probably have to go to London for those), and mushrooms not as good as RDC, but in the scheme of things this was not at all a bad breakfast, and less than 9 quid the lot. Not the best, and certainly veering in the direction of “never mind the quality, feel the width”, but certainly worth a visit. On a previous visit I’ve eaten a toasted sandwich and found it perfectly decent, well-presented and tasty.
Being just around the corner, I’m not likely to go to the Exchange every day, but have no problem recommending it and RDC, depending on who you’re with and what expectations they might harbour.