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THIS WEEK: FRANCIS TEAROOMS, SOUTH STREET, SOUTH CLIFF

The texture of the home-made coffee and walnut cake was perfect: deep and fluffy, dissolving perfectly in the mouth; in a bygone era it would have been the envy of many a housewife competing at a church fete. It had the right ratio of icing-cream filling and icing topping to cake mixture, despite their being so much of the latter.

Its coffee flavour was delicately satisfying. It had only one

walnut inside (which was disappointing) and one on top (which went some way to making up for the earlier omission). It was a big piece of cake, and I ate every crumb, disgraced myself probably by scooping up the crumbs and sucking them off my finger. All in all, it was A Very Good Cake.

My companion had better manners, but still wolfed down his piece of Victoria sponge, which did, I have to say, also looked like a perfect specimen.

Tea(s) and coffee come from Taylors of Harrogate, so no complaints there. We would have tried something savoury from the collection of quiches, soup, baked potatoes, but got there after hot food had finished (2pm). So we can only report that other people tell us: apparently this too is well worth the trip. Equally homemade and served in decent portions. You can have a full after noon tea, too.

A niggle: they forgot the tap water.

Would we go there if the food weren't of such quality? Yes, probably – dressed in heels and a smart skirt, rather than the jeans we sported yesterday, for the experience, while sighing about how good it could be, if only…

Francis Tea Rooms is a former hairdressers owned by a chap called Francis on South Street behind the Esplanade. The whole thing is wood-

panelled, with little wooden booths set along one wall. In would pop the good ladies of South Cliff for their weekly shampoo and set and out they'd come an hour or so later, immaculately coiffed, and with nobody having seen them with their wet hair scraped back or wearing a set of rollers with a dryer hood on their heads. Bring back the booths, we say!

Five years or so ago, they tell me, the chap who went to buy the basins saw the potential of the place and bought the whole thing to turn into a caf. Not only are the booths, cabinets and mirrors still there, but the style has been developed further, with an old-fashioned maitre d's post at the front, sets of old china tea things, linen cloths, cakes on stands in the window surrounded by flowers, little framed prints along the walls, a (smiley, friendly) waitress dressed in black, with a little white pinny.

Get a booth if you can, just for the experience (you can book), though they also have one or tables in the open room.

Francis has just (and only just) been taken over by someone called Wendy, according to the waitress. We are assured this Wendy lady has good taste, and fervently hope so: its delicate little ecosystem manages to be old-fashioned without being a pastiche. Its charm is that it is the real thing – home-made food, china and linen that has somehow survived the years, a pokey little loo down a steep flight of stairs.

We'll be back, hoping for more of the same. More appropriately dressed next time.

Value for money: **** (two cakes, two coffees and a tea for under 6)

Overall: **** (maybe more when we've tasted the savouries)

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