Is this tearoom near Ipswich one of Suffolk’s best-kept secrets?
- Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND
Next year Julia Symons’ lifestyle tearoom, The Old Stores, celebrates a decade in business.
It’s always a surprise when I mention this spot (just outside of Ipswich in Tuddenham St Martin) to others, only to find they’ve never heard of it.
Julia’s done a brilliant job, then, of attracting such a fan base that she’s been able to rely on word-of-mouth for nearly 10 years.
I remember, probably not long after she opened, being lured to The Old Stores by a friend, and coming away positively wowed by what really is a little oasis of peace, tea and cake. If I recall correctly, I had a gingery sticky toffee cake, laden with sweet fudgy icing.
The Old Stores, though, is so much more than a place to satisfy your sweet tooth. Former commercial interior designer Julia is a magpie for beautiful things, and has curated the layout of the eatery to immerse diners in an ever-changing display of lifestyle products, jewellery, bags and more – all for sale.
Julia did not open the tearoom for the duration of lockdown, reopening only once all restrictions were lifted. And now she’s looking forward to a summer where she can finally see the lovely gardens and indoor dining spaces filled with customers again after nearly two years of disruption.
Certainly, she’s getting very very booked up for the Last Friday Club – a one-of-a-kind bottomless brunch experience that takes place...as the name suggests...on the last Friday of every month.
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“There’s such a nice atmosphere,” Julia says, “and it’s really taken off. We have just one sitting and fill the place. It’s £30 per head and for that, you’ll get our house grazing board with cheese, and cured meats, pickles and bread, then you get another grazing board with sweet things on, like chocolate brownies and strawberries – whatever I have at the time. It’s always something different.”
Bottomless wine, prosecco, tea, coffee or cold drinks are included. And you’ll have to be quick if you fancy giving this a try, as Julia says the next couple are fully booked!
The Old Stores was opened in 2013 as a passion project, with Julia saying it was her “dream”. She was joined by a group of friends to get it up-and-running, opening only during school term time.
“I just always wanted a little shop that sold tea, cake and gifts,” she says of the beginnings of the business, which allowed her to fulfil her aspirations, while raising her family.
There are no ovens at the tearoom, and no chefs. Instead, Julia has brought together sweet and savoury offerings from trusted local suppliers, including Michelle of The Mixing Bowl, who’s been crafting their cakes for a long time.
“We’ve got scones, chilli jam sausage rolls, grazing boards. We don’t have a menu. We give you a verbal menu as you come in. There’s always around three options for lunch...things like quiche in the summer. And we usually have about eight cakes.”
Julia reels off some of the most popular varieties – coffee cake, carrot cake, Guinness Cake, Battenburg, toffee cake - to be washed down with wine, fizz, tea, or Coffeelink coffee.
“It’s just the ideal place for a girly meet-up,” she says. “I like to think it’s a lovely, warm, homey place and that’s why we’ve been so successful.”
Now they’re back she adds they’re “trying to make it as good as it’s ever been, despite the economics of it and the background of life as it is at the moment. It’s an escape. A happy place.
“Our regulars are over-the-moon we’re open again. It’s somewhere they really love to come to.”
The Old Stores is open Tuesday to Thursday (during school term time), 10am to 4pm, and the last Friday of each month. It’s bookings only, so always call ahead to avoid disappointment.
The tearoom is open on other days for exclusive hire for parties and celebrations. Call 07398111366.