Forge Coffee, Culworth
In celebration of National Pie Week, Muddy assesses the pastry at hidden away rural cafe, Forge Coffee, and finds it really rather satisfactory. Oh, and the coffee and cakes will do very nicely.
When I clocked the sign outside this converted blacksmith’s when driving past about 18 months ago, I had to look twice. I couldn’t quite figure out if it was a cafe or a coffee roasters. Thankfully, not long after I was asked to meet some friends here and my obsession was born. The Culworth branch of Forge Coffee was the first to open in 2018, with a second in Evenley following closely afterwards. As someone who spends a lot of time working from home, and not too far away, this place is dangerous, and I’ll readily admit to regular Friday lunchtime pie and cake with my coffee.
The building was a working forge until 2007 and has been brought back to life at the centre of this quiet, picturesque village on the border of Northants and Oxfordshire. Claudia Schiffer lives in a fabulous house just up the road, though we can’t comment on whether she has ever been witnessed indulging in the vegetarian sausage rolls.
The Forge has a surprisingly spacious, freshly spruced up interior, boasting a gigantic log burner to keep customers toasty, white-washed stone walls and scrubbed wooden tables, which lend a trendy industrial vibe a bit like something you might have once found in a converted warehouse in Shoreditch before rents went stratospheric. There’s one big main space and a cosy ante-room with a couple of additional tables, as well as garden with outside tables for the warmer months. The clientele ranges from post drop-off school mums to passing peletons in cleats and lycra and local pensioners groups, as well as the home-workers like yours truly, so it’s a real range, which adds to the super friendly, chilled out feel.
There are loads of events going on at the cafe, which really sets it apart, not just as a local asset, but to the wider community and economy. Think kids’ chess club, flower arranging workshops, songs by firelight, and a rotating program of art exhibitions gracing the walls. Local florist From Garden to Vase also sell stunning planters and bouquets from a rustic stall at the front of the cafe, and you can buy lovely ceramics from Hagstone Pottery too.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
The cafe counter boasts a very sexy Italian La Marzocco espresso machine, which is handy, as owner Sam takes his coffee making refreshingly seriously and you can expect only top level barista skills here, blending up beans from The Roasting Party and tea blends from Northants’ brand Tea Lab, served alongside a range of sweet and savoury treats.
There’s no kitchen here for prepping big meals, but it works. There is always freshly baked bread from Geoff’s Real Artisan Bread, which is served alongside the homemade soup of the day. The real stars of the show, however, are the amazing pies from The Red Lion pub, just a few doors down, and cakes from Tess’s Brilliant Bakes and Fannie Anne’s Vegan Brownies.
On the day of our visit we found a cosy table by the log burner, where the dog curled up happily, at least when he wasn’t being made a big fuss of by the other smitten customers. There is always a good supply of dog treats at The Forge, so Fido won’t be jealous of your lunch. It was butternut squash, feta and spinach pie for me and an all day breakfast pie for my working from home buddy (husband), which was stuffed with beans, tomatoes, egg and mushrooms. Freshly warmed and served on vintage china plates, there is little more satisfying than tasty grub wrapped in perfect pastry. Expect the menu offerings to change on a daily basis, but some of the other choices on our visit included goat’s cheese and red pepper pasty and an onion and mustard Scotch egg, with all of the food here being veggie.
Next were the cakes, and it was hard to choose, but in the end we shared a ginger tiffin and a cherry Bakewell slice between us, to go with a second round of coffees. Well, there was lots of work to get done that afternoon and we needed the caffeine.
OUT AND ABOUT
There are abundant country walks and great cycle routes around Culworth if you fancy a bit of post-pie physical activity, but lots of other local attractions are within reach to keep you out of trouble. Sulgrave Manor and National Trust Canons Ashby (above) are both within a few minutes’ drive, whilst The Silverstone Experience is a fab day out for both big and small fans of motorsport. Banbury is close by, and has a great museum and art gallery and plenty of shopping.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good For: Light bites, working lunches, coffee meetings and post-perambulation refuels. The Forge is one of those rare and delightful places that never disappoints. It doesn’t overreach, and therefore, does what it does perfectly well. Wellies and hounds are welcome.
Not For: You won’t get a vast menu or a three course meal here, so don’t turn up in your Sunday best expecting The Ritz.
The Damage: Pretty bargainatious, coffee is exceptional and costs less than a high street chain would charge, pies £3-4 and cakes £2-3.
Forge Coffee, Culworth High Street, Culworth, Northants, OX17 2AZ