Visited at Duthie Park, Aberdeen
It’s been more than a year and a half that I have been living (and reviewing cafes) in Aberdeen – and still I find astonishing places within the city that take my breath away.
It is maybe with some embarrassment that I should admit I have only recently discovered Duthie Park – a landmark of some scale that has been on Aberdeen’s map since 1880. The single reason why I ventured to the park at all was the fact that I decided to pick up long-distance walking again, and that is where the road has led me one winter evening; quite frankly, I would have ignored its walls and gates all together if I hadn’t spotted a large playground with huge slides by the entrance that I had been passing. My inner child and natural curiosity pulled me inside – and I instantly fell in love with the place.
Following a lengthy refurbishment, the park truly is a refuge for all ages, and still has some historic charm to it. There’s a pond for model yachting and another water feature called The Three Linked Lakes which once welcomed real-scale boats; a former cricket/tennis pavilion has been revamped to accommodate bowlers, while the centrepiece of the park – a Victorian bandstand – is a great host for performers. However, out of the list of eco attractions and monuments, it is the botanic garden that has become my favourite feature.
I have walked past The Winter Gardens a number of times, but it was only in the new year that I have seen it open for the first time – the fencing that had surrounded it until then was gone, and the masses of families coming in and out of the glasshouses worked on me like a magnet – even though it was a late Sunday morning and mingling with children running all around is not my idea of relaxation.
The Gardens, rebuilt in 1970, extend for longer than it might seem from the outside, to accommodate a vast variety of exotic plants, including Britain’s largest collection of cacti. Walking over the wee bridges linking the different areas of the glasshouses, I thought about my visit to the botanic gardens off Aberdeen Uni, in the north-east part of the city, and how disappointing that experience was compared to the magnificent gardens in Edinburgh; well, at Duthie my spirits were lifted again, and I decided this would be a regular walking destination.
But why am I saying all this on Black Spot? Well, before I realised the Gardens were open, the only thing that I found missing at Duthie was a place where a tired traveller or enthusiastic walker could sit down for a cuppa – especially when my every trip led past a building that resembled a summer coffee house. But, alas! The families that I saw pouring out of the greenhouses on my last visit were clinging onto disposable coffee cups – and rest assured, the summer house was serving hot brews in winter.
This obviously called for a long overdue Black Spot review, and I was very happy to discover a mocha on the menu in the rather cramped Duthie Park Cafe. As I awaited my drink by the till, I took a quick look at the sitting area – a longish glassed corridor, with plenty of sitting (that was all taken), overlooking the park, basking in sunshine. Once served, I decided to take my coffee outside and sit on one of the benches, which provided the same sun-exposed luxury, without the central heating.
I should have said that I rushed outside to take a photo of my drink, but that required the sensible act of putting a lid on top of the cup, which spoiled the elegant latte art that put a smile on my face when I received my mocha. Duty done, I went for it; and sadly, was not as impressed with the brew as with its original presentation. Although the texture of the drink was nice and smooth, and the overall delivery showed the skill of the barista, the one key thing that was missing from the drink was the flavour – neither did it taste of chocolate, nor did a distinctive caffeine punch come through. Due to the chocolate sprinkling on top, it seemed more like a cappucino than a mocha.
However, I drank it gladly, as it was just the thing I needed during a chilly winter walk around the park; and with a selected but still varied offering of sandwiches, sweets, ice cream and soft drinks, the cafe serves its purpose, complementing the overall Duthie Park package – and, be it mocha or not, I will be back for my Sunday coffee and stroll among the plants, no doubt.
Verdict justification: Well prepared drink – especially considering the cramped working area – but lacking in flavour; still, a good effort for a semi-outdoor coffee house.