Treats is the locals’ best kept secret.
Hidden on the high street corner at the top of a flight of stairs, this café has done everything possible to keep the students away. But as an Aidanite, I’ve learnt not to be defeated by steps.
It’s the only part of the city where the average customer’s age rises far above twenty. Your path to the counter may be obstructed by the assorted zimmer frames and shopping bags of the elderly, but the struggle is worth it. Rows upon rows of huge homemade delights will tempt you, particularly after a glance at the prices. The staff, though flustered, will greet you with a huge smile and probably the only Northern accents you will encounter in Durham. One of them even gave us a free coffee.
On to the food – the first thing to note is how reasonably priced it is. For under £4, you can feast on a curry or lasagne, build your own baguette (with unlimited fillings) or, if getting withdrawal symptoms from college brunch, tuck into a full English. There are homemade soups if you’re watching your weight, and stodgy pies and pasties if you’re not. My personal favourite is the Wensleydale and plum chutney panini. The sweet kick of plums complements this crumbly sharp cheese perfectly, particularly when encased in comforting crusty toast. With a fresh side salad and free crisps, you can’t go wrong.
If you’re feeling adventurous you could try a ‘stottie’. As Southerners, we were mystified by this Northern culinary enigma. No, I’m not telling you what it is. You will have to go to Treats to discover its wonder.
The menu’s showstopper, however, is undoubtedly the cake. Imagine you are climbing a mountain, struggling desperately to get to the top. Imagine that said mountain is coffee flavoured with giant boulders of walnut obstructing your path. That is the easiest way to describe the experience of eating cake at Treats. The journey is an emotional one, as you bravely plough your fork through the thick icing. But the cake must be conquered. Many have been beaten, fallen by the wayside. My friend Ella was one of these cake victims: she asked for half of the normal slice yet was unable to finish, wrapping the rest up for later in true student style.
In my eyes, £2.95 seems like a very reasonable price for a cake mountain, particularly when comparing it to Costa’s meagre servings. And with students’ infamous eating habits, it probably counts for two whole meals anyway.
The icing on the (ridiculously huge) cake is the drinks. Treats has everything you’d expect – coffees, teas, juices, milkshakes, as well as alcohol – but everything is at least £1 cheaper than what you’d find in a chain like Starbucks. I pretend to go to Treats as a political statement: because we should support local, hard-working businesses instead of feeding the corporate machine. But really, the drinks are better value, there are interesting twists (I’d recommend the mint latte) and, most importantly, there are free refills. Great for revision purposes when you’re in it for the long haul: just buy one coffee for £2, get out your books, and keep drinking until you get those all too familiar caffeine shakes. There are only a few downsides to this café. As more and more people discover it, Treats is becoming increasingly busy and cramped. A queue sometimes forms outside. There is, admittedly, a chance that someone will stumble over a chair and cover you in strawberry milkshake. Elderly locals may glare at you for polluting the atmosphere with your annoying student nonsense. In fact, after writing this, I may become the target of a witch-hunt by the local population. But that’s another matter, and, despite all this, Treats is probably the best café in Durham.
The city is generally considered to be a bubble of the South in the North, with such a large population of middle-class southerners and a solid economy. But somehow Treats has remained immune from the posh student infestation and still exudes a warm, modest, Northern glow. Low prices, proper comfort food, and staff that go out of their way for you: these are attributes you’ll struggle to find in cafés south of Yorkshire.
I would, therefore, definitely recommend visiting this haven. Take a break from your boring Starbucks haunt, save a few quid, and try something a bit different. And good luck with the cake, you’ll need it.
Value for money: 5/5