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Review: The Preston park cafe that’s a thorn amongst roses

Posted on - 11th December, 2021 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Avenham, Food & Drink, Opinion, Parks, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News, What's On in Preston
Pavilion Cafe soup and scone
Choose your weapon

The last venue to be reviewed in Blog Preston’s series on dog-friendly establishments is Avenham Park’s Pavilion Cafe.

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Next to the cafe is a wide pathway and cycle route – part of the Guild Wheel – which runs alongside the River Ribble. It can make an enjoyable walk or ride, although dog walkers and parents need to be wary of the small but dangerous minority of cyclists who resent sharing the space with any person or animal failing to move at a speed that could send them Back to the Future. I find they prefer to silently zip up behind pedestrians without warning and then berate the owners of whichever inconvenient dog/child/nana that dares to slow them down by getting dragged along in their mud flaps.

Read more: In defence of Preston’s cyclists

Once inside, the Pavilion’s more fortunate customers can sit in seats that face the two windowed walls, admire the beautiful park and remember a happier time when they were still in it. However, the seats aren’t set out like an amphitheatre so the unfortunates facing the inside of the cafe can only stare at the blank walls or watch with trepidation as a server approaches with a bowl of primordial soup that looks like something squelchy might drag itself out of it, have a quick look at its new world and flop sadly back in.

There was a bit of a queue waiting to be served so I had time to look at a menu that was uninspiring apart from the waffles, which were no longer being sold. According to the polite young staff members nothing was homemade, although one of them gamely ventured that the sandwiches were assembled on site. I settled on the leek and potato soup and roll for £3, a hot chocolate for £2, a scone and cream for £2.20 and a cheese and pickle sandwich for £3.50, which struck me as pretty good value before I saw it.

Read more: Review: Not a Yacht of homemade fare at this Preston Docks cafe

The lukewarm bowl of what staff later informed me was Knorr’s packet soup was bland and oddly slippery, and instead of the promised roll there was a wilted piece of sliced brown bread. The sandwich, despite me eating in, was handed over the counter packed in a plastic container without a plate and held the minimum legal amount of cheese. The scone was tiny and dry. The only thing that wasn’t awful was the small mug of hot chocolate, which was okay for the price. 

Pavilion Cafe greige soup
A delicious bowl of lukewarm greige

As I sat there plodding my way through the food I noticed that despite the long queue at the counter almost nobody sat inside. 

That was understandable as – although the cafe is positioned in one of the most breathtaking parks in Preston and is an interesting, modern building from the outside – upon entering it becomes apparent that the interior designers have cleverly enhanced the impact of the beautiful outdoor setting by contrasting it with an inside that looks like the waiting room of a blood test clinic.

Read more: Review: Enjoy pie and grog with your dog at this Preston city centre ale house

According to the latest home design blogs this season’s trendiest wall colour is a cross between grey and beige, dubbed ‘greige’, and the Pavilion Cafe has smashed that look out of the park (sadly only metaphorically).

The walls, floor, tables, chairs, sandwiches, soup and scone were greige. My hair, clothing, face and Chihuahuas covered the rest of the greige spectrum so completely that it must have looked like The Predator was sitting in the corner waiting for whatever might evolve in the soup to grab the butter knife so he could kill it.

I left the slice of bread and the soup after one spoonful and the bottom half of the scone which crumbled into pebbles when I tried to butter it. I could only manage half of the sickly hot chocolate but didn’t care at that point because I wanted to get out of the dull cafe to enjoy the park as soon as possible. The £3.50 sandwich was edible so I didn’t waste it, but it was nothing that couldn’t be found and avoided in a hospital vending machine.

Pavilion Cafe sandwich
Three pounds fifty. Three. Pounds. Fifty.

The ever-present queue combined with the empty tables suggests that those in charge of the Pavilion Cafe are comfortable existing on easy money from the high mark-up takeaway sales of hot drinks and ice cream, and are providing only packet fare and a choice of fresh, prepared food so small and basic that it wouldn’t make much of a dent in the profits if it went unsold and was binned at closing time.

Inside the Pavilion Cafe
A huge queue but an empty cafe. Sherlock Holmes would’ve taken one look and legged it

I’m aware that this review is brutal, but going off my own experience, that of friends and the 2.5 out of 5 stars awarded by the Pavilion’s customers on Tripadvisor, it’s way past time for Preston City Council to insist that any business wanting to lease and operate the cafe commits to making it a venue that showcases all the fabulous fresh produce that Preston has to offer.

Read more: Preston City Council will continue to run Avenham Park’s Pavilion cafe

It should open when people who are walking to and from work can grab a coffee and a breakfast roll, and should be fully utilised as a hub for culture and community events. It should be cared for, be as attractive a space inside as it is outside, and be run by Prestonians who are passionate about their city and providing hospitality. The venue also has a license to serve alcohol, so could potentially be a beautiful place in summer to have a meal and a glass of wine al fresco by the river. 

Sadly the Pavilion Cafe, especially when compared to other local park cafes such as Moor Park’s Rosemary On The Park and Penwortham’s Hurst Grange Coffee House and Cafe, is a disappointment that has consistently failed to justify its right to such a privileged location, year after year.

Preston’s beautiful Avenham Park deserves more than a drab, under-utilised venue that could be replaced by a coffee cart, a vending machine, a couple of portaloos and a bus shelter. 


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Have you ever been attacked by a bowl of Knorr’s instant primordial soup or murdered by Arnold Schwarzenegger? Let us know in the comments.

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