We all know that Lewes is famous for its great cafés. Even shops that aren’t cafés have cafés.
But my first ‘In Town’ post about a Lewes café has to be about The Buttercup.
Why? It’s the first one I ever visited in Lewes. So every time I go there it takes me back to a time that, with September now looming, I’m feeling nostalgic for. That magic time that I didn’t know was a magic time, with my first baby.
Four years ago, we arrived in Lewes with our nearly-one-year-old. I was still getting to grips with motherhood. And there we were, moving to a new town.
Two days in, a baby friend from our old town in Kent visited. We wandered through Lewes. It was October and cold, so after the babies had a roll around in the Baby Room at Bags of Books, we sought shelter at The Buttercup Café.
I remember the owner Claire beaming as she came to greet us. She cooed over our babies – and was admirably good humoured when they unloaded peppers stacked in a crate on the floor.
I told her I’d just moved to town. She said: “You must meet Flora and the Buttercup babies”. What? A café with its own tiny regulars?
Soon after, in a totally unconnected way – as happens in this town – I did meet Flora. And this year my son and one of the ‘Buttercup babies‘ – all of whom he is friends with – will start school together.
So here is my little tribute to The Buttercup Café. If you’ve read this far, thanks for bearing with the nostalgia.
Tel no.: 01273 477 664
Hours: Mon-Sat 9.30am-4pm; lunch from 12pm
- Claire opened The Buttercup Café in 2008. The café’s tiny main building is the stable part of a former coaching inn.
- The café feels like a secret discovered. It’s hidden away not only by being at the bottom of Cliffe High Street, but also by being through the arched entrance of peach-coloured Pastorale Antiques (the former coaching inn’s modern-day persona). Like Bags of Books, it probably suffers from low foot traffic down at this end of town. But that’s also what makes it special.
- The food here is about ‘healthy, balanced eating‘.
- The Buttercup Café has strong bonds with its suppliers. Two Claire mentioned are Nick at Fin & Farm, which sources local and organic fare from around Sussex, and Erica, who brings fresh flowers from Firle.
- You can arrange children’s cake-making parties here. They bake, decorate and package up their own cupcakes. They wear chefs hats.
- The Buttercup also does private dining – simple dinners, wedding parties or high teas. Dinners are three courses cooked for a minimum of 12 people and served in the basement. Details are on the website.
- Bags of Books holds their larger events at The Buttercup. Their Summer Party line-up’s looking great!
- The café itself also stages events throughout the year. They’ve had a Japanese evening and an open acoustic night on the odd Friday – anyone can jump up and play and a simple menu is served.
- The Buttercup has a connection with The Rolling Downs shepherd’s hut that lies stationary by Bentley Country Park. You can order vegetables, meat and supplies to be delivered for your stay. Or a home-cooked meal to heat up. A post on The Rolling Downs will follow – we spent last weekend there. In the meantime, have a look at my taster post!
LITTLE LEWES LOVES
ALL ABOUT THE VEG
“We don’t do sandwiches,” says Claire. “We do vegetables!”.
OK, there is definitely a place – no, a need – for sandwiches and pizza in the average family’s dining out options. But as a picnic-packer, my family and I eat a lot of sandwiches. And as a mother of carb-loading boys (albeit small ones), pizza is too often our lazy choice for family lunch out.
Because of this, it’s ultra refreshing to go somewhere that is a café and yet serves neither of these things. What they do is hot oven-baked dishes, soups and salads.
They cater to specific diets (coeliacs, gluten-free diets, vegetarians etc). The Buttercup Breakfast (served from 9.30-11am) is a thing to behold – and to eat.
Everything at The Buttercup is lovingly prepared and fresh, fresh, fresh. I’m told their salads take three-and-a-half hours to prepare…
And they serve lunch until it runs out. Nothing is carried over to the next day.
FAMILY-RUN FOR FAMILIES
Claire says that The Buttercup is not ‘set up for kids’. And by that she is being the opposite of alienating.
What she means is that she has always considered The Buttercup an extension of her own home and family. It’s a family-run place, that’s for families.
For Claire and her customers, it’s a home from home.
NON ‘KIDDY MEAL’ KIDS FOOD
The Buttercup doesn’t do kids meals. Claire explained this is because when her own son was growing up, she fed him what the adults were eating.
At the café, children have a ‘bits and pieces’ plate of things like good hummus, olives, fresh crudités, homemade bread and other bits and pieces (ha!) from the day’s menu. They’re encouraged to be adventurous.
Incidentally, the point Claire made to me when we chatted was backed up a couple of days later in a Guardian piece by Sue Quinn.
BRILLIANT FOR BREASTFEEDERS
I doubt any of the cafés in Lewes would balk at mothers breastfeeding at their tables. This is Lewes after all.
But there’s something nice about a quiet, comfortable corner to feed your baby in.
The Buttercup more than doubled its size a year ago. Beneath the wooden trapdoor in its tiny main dining room is a basement. This comes in to its own in the winter, when the bunting-filled courtyard is less appealing.
In the corner is a squishy red sofa covered in squishy cushions. This is of course for anyone to sit on, but Claire says this area was created specifically with breastfeeding mums in mind.
Newbie mums, get down here for a relax and a scone!
This doesn’t need much explanation. The cake is not good; it is amazing.
The portions are massive, too.
All the cakes are baked on site by Biddy, and I’m always intrigued (and never disappointed) by the ones that include vegetables.
Pistachio, courgette and lime? AMAZING. (Sorry, it’s with good reason that I cannot stop using that word).
TO BE AWARE OF
When the Buttercup is really busy, things can slow up. This is because the kitchen is tiny and on show and the food is at least semi-made fresh-to-order (aside from the salads and cake, which is pre-made). Be patient, it’s worth it.
Nuts and seeds are used in the dishes, cakes and kitchen.
If you have a crawling or newly-toddling baby you’ll need to be vigilant. There’s a lot to distract them (boxes of peppers, for example). When I first went there the high chair scenario was the type you strap to actual chairs. I would need to check whether that’s still the case.
On the above point, there is also now the open trapdoor in the floor, with steep brick stairs going down to the basement. For this reason for goodness’ sake sit in the basement with tinies!
The Buttercup is sweet. There’s a fair amount of Cath Kidston-esque print and bunting going on, but still the café is authentic and non-cutesy.
I don’t know how it manages it, but I suspect it’s down to Claire. She knows her vision very well, because it reflects who she is. When staff join her team, they need to understand the character and ethos of The Buttercup.
In winter, it’s embracing and cosy. In summer the pretty courtyard makes The Buttercup one of only a few café’s in Lewes with outside space.
This café is perfect for a leisurely breakfast or lunch with friends or just your kids. It is ideal for in-law/grandparent scenarios.
If I was a visitor from out of town I’d be chuffed to find it. If I was a tourist from abroad I would think I had struck quintessentially English gold. And I would have!