The Old Bank Tearooms in Bungay were taken over by Rachel Jones in March 2020 – just before the first lockdown took place. Now open once more, The Old Bank is a vintage delight, offering much more than just afternoon teas. Samantha Mattocks went to find out more.
One thing you need to know about The Old Bank Tearooms before you go; Rachel is from Wales, and therefore she is a feeder! Not only that, but the food is delicious, so you will leave feeling happy and content, although I do suggest skipping breakfast if you are aiming to enjoy elevenses there.
We arrived in a torrential downpour, and the staff at The Old Bank could not have been more friendly or helpful, and we chose to sit in the side room on our own, so our dripping umbrellas and clothes didn’t bother other customers. This side room was rarely used before, but Rachel has made fun use of the original wood panelling, labelling it up ‘First Class Waiting Room’. Indeed, it was reminiscent of an old-fashioned train station, and it was just one of many quirky touches throughout the café that raised a smile.
Rachel has a strong background in media and having graduated from Falmouth University and worked on a Swansea newspaper, she moved to London to work with Heat and Metro, helping launch both publications. More magazines followed, and she was then made redundant and decided to move to Suffolk with her partner, Richard.
“I worked in a restaurant when I was at university, and I loved it,” enthuses Rachel. “I had also visited The Old Bank with Richard and I thought it was a lovely place – so when it came up for sale, I decided to take a chance and buy it.
“The timing wasn’t great – I got the keys two weeks before the first lockdown! But we reopened every time that we could, and I finally feel as though I have my own mark on the place, and I am developing the menu to offer more than just cream teas and cakes.”
Indeed, the night before we visited, social media showed a chicken and chorizo pasty, which comes with homemade potato salad and mixed leaves for £5.50. The pasty was generously filled with meat, with the chicken coming from local butcher Palfrey & Hall, and it tasted delicious. The pasty range is developing, with different flavours depending on what is on offer, and a regulars’ favourite is pork, leek, and apple.
Homemade soup is also available, butternut squash on the day we visited, at £5 it comes with buttered bread, perfect for winter. We spied a very generous portion of scrambled egg on a toasted muffin going out (£6.50) with smoked salmon, mature cheddar cheese, or ham an additional £1.50 each. There is also a good selection of sandwiches, offered on a choice of bread and served with hand-cooked sea salt crisps and mixed leaves. Choices include free range egg mayo and cress, smoked salmon with cream cheese and cucumber, and roast beef with horseradish. All are priced at £7.50.
Also in the savoury side is the savoury cream tea – a cheese and herb scone with cream cheese, chutney, a slice of cheddar, all served with a pot of loose-leaf tea for £6.50, or £7 with a cafetiere of coffee; all cream teas are the same price. We shared a scone, and it was lovely – light and fluffy, with the delicate herbs just coming through, and the cheese was strong but not overpowering throughout the plate.
The traditional cream tea comes as a choice of a fruit or plain scone, with butter, jam, and clotted cream. The fruit scone had a touch of citrus running through it, and the strawberry jam had pieces of fruit in it, which always adds to the experience.
Rachel is still playing with flavours and that morning, had a made a chocolate scone with a Biscoff topping. I opted to have this with cherry jam and clotted cream – a miniature Black Forest experience – and it was lovely. “It is a work in progress, but I love developing new ideas,” says Rachel.
As if to prove the point, a small bowl of apple and blackberry crumble appears before us – I did say at the start, Rachel is a feeder! I used the last of my clotted cream and both that and I melted into this warming bowl of comfort. Not overly sweet, Rachel has balanced the flavours well not only on this, but throughout everything we tasted.
“I love The Old Bank, and I think it has so much to offer,” says Rachel. “The first thing I did when I bought the property was, apart from brushing up on my somewhat dusty baking skills, was redo the kitchen. It is now a great space to work in, and this means that I can try more bakes, be they sweet or savoury, as the weeks go by.
“I have also installed a pizza oven and I hope to be able to start offering pizzas soon, probably just one day a week, and if that goes well, I may open one evening a week too.
“All dietary requirements are catered for here – not just gluten and dairy-free, but vegan and diabetic as well. I don’t believe that people should be limited in what is available to them because of their diet, and I like to offer my guests as much range as I can.”
This sense of inclusivity extends to the local community as well. The Old Bank currently has a rainbow of raindrops in their windows, in support of the victims of the 2020 Bungay and Ditchingham flooding. Organised by Sustainable Bungay, and to coincide with COP26, many local businesses have decorated their windows to raise awareness of climate change. “I love Bungay and all that it has to offer, and to work with Sustainable Bungay on this has been a positive thing to do,” says Rachel.
The café itself has been brightened up, and is light and airy, with the 1930s theme extended to include things such as Martin the Lion as well as Lady Marmalade and Lashes, two mannequins who add a touch of vintage glamour to the place. The crockery is perfectly mis-matched, and the cake stands, for those ordering afternoon tea, are the kind that you wish you could find for you own home.
Every table has its own bottle of sanitiser, and all staff wear masks. Rachel adds: “I want people to feel safe when they come here. I want The Old Bank to be somewhere where people can relax and catch up with friends, and where they can enjoy the ambiance, the background music, the food – the whole experience, really.
“The ‘Waiting Room’ is often booked now for hen dos and larger get togethers, and it is lovely to see this old unused part of the building come to life.”
Rachel is right; The Old Bank has come to life and there is a welcoming atmosphere throughout. It is not only a place to meet and enjoy an afternoon tea but is also a place for any time of the day.
With that, we head off back out into the rain but not before a box of cakes is pressed into our hands. “Just so you can try them,” is the message as the door gently closes behind us. You just know that they will be delicious; and they were.