Australian cafés in the Cotswolds – an interview with Rob Broadbent of Lynwood & Co
I’m currently travelling through the Cotswolds, a magical area in south-central England covering almost 800 square miles and running through five counties (Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire). It’s a part of the country known for unspoilt villages of golden stone, and for its gently rolling countryside, the ‘wolds’.
It’s also a foodie paradise; some of it is pretty posh (Prince Charles’ Highgrove produce for example…or the organic-galore on offer at Carole Bamford’s farm-shop-on-steroids, Daylesford). Much (teashops, sales of homemade jams and honey, discreet cheeseries) is as laid back and informal as the sleepy hamlets in which it’s embedded.
I asked Rob Broadbent, the Australian founder of three of the most relaxed and welcoming coffee shops in the region, how it had all started, and how his cafés were evolving. The cafés are branded under the name of Lynwood & Co – follow this link for the website.
How did it all start?
“Originally” Rob explains, “I came over to the UK from Australia to manage a pub, which I did for a year, and during that time it became clear to me that there was a real need for somewhere where people could get decent coffee. Then we went back to Australia, complete with one child and two dogs.”
“A short while afterwards, though, the site in Lechlade came up. It’s the perfect site. I’d always said that if that site came up I’d go for it. So we came back to England, and opened our first café in January 2015. It wasn’t easy initially. It was difficult to get a loan, and the concept didn’t take off immediately, but now in just three years we’ve tripled our turnover.”
How Lynwood has developed and how do you plan to grow it?
“The expansion into Burford was outside the original plan – it’s a larger town, and we are aiming for the smaller village sites – but although it’s quite a draw for tourists there is also a large community of regulars. It’s an expensive location and we had to wait for the right location to turn up at the right price in order for the numbers to make sense. Burford is probably the slickest, most sophisticated of our cafés, perhaps because we have a bit more to invest these days.”
“The plans now are to open two more cafés, but always in the Cotswolds, and in small villages. High Streets in towns everywhere are dying. The shift is to smaller, more intimate communities; and away from traditional pub food, from fish and chips, towards healthier ingredients: salads and grains. There’s a big emphasis these days on gluten-free and vegan.”
In your opinion has the role of the café changed?
“Yes, I think it has. Cafés these days are more of an approachable space. Many people work from home these days, but it’s difficult if you have kids. Many people use us as an office, they work from here. They have meetings here.” I look up, and indeed, opposite is a professional trio with one of them taking notes. “Also, we get a lot of cyclists.” Right on cue a black lycra-clad be-shorted gent squeezes into the table next to us. “Cyclists?” I question. “Yes,” Rob replies patiently, a bit surprised, clearly, at my ignorance, “you can’t ride a bike and not be interested in coffee. Cyclists plan their routes around coffee shops….
….and then there are the yoga girls, the post-school drop-off lot.”
“You can’t ride a bike and not be interested in coffee.”
What distinguishes Lynwood from other café chains?
“There’s definitely an Ozzie identity to our brand. And we’re serious about our coffee, for example, which is a very Australian thing. I buy our coffee from Easy José, it’s owned and run by a Portuguese friend of mine who roasts his own beans and has been making up a blend exclusive to Lynwood since we first started.”
There’s no doubt that Rob’s the master coffee maker here – he’s busy with a customer when I ask for a second cappuccino to photograph. “Oooo….better wait” says Harriet (who also does the social media for Lynwood – @lynwoodandco on Instagram incidentally), “if it’s for a photograph Rob had better do it!”.
“In fact,” Rob tells me, returning with the caffeinated work of art, “we’re also serious about our teas – we source from Birchall’s but it’s Kat, my wife who specifies the tea”.
How the menu is developed
“Josh Oram, the head chef here, jokes about being ‘the culinary director’, but that’s really what he is. Primarily he’s the one that comes up with the ideas, although we both work on it together. He’s big on north African and Mediterranean food, whilst keeping always within the Ozzie café style. So it’s also heavily bread-based.”
You only use sourdough – why is that?
“It has to be real sourdough, but be careful, that’s a term which is widely abused. Some supermarkets will simply include citric acid in their sourdough starter, and they’ll make it in half an hour. Good quality sourdough needs time, you can tell a good sourdough by the blistering. Ours takes 24 hours and it’s made by Max Abott, who used to make it for us here, and then he moved a few doors down in Lechlade and founded Sourdough Revolution Now he makes one and a half tonnes of bread a week! It’s all absolutely natural – no preservatives – just flour, water and sea salt.”
“Why do we use it? Traditionally sourdough tastes sour – this doesn’t, it’s got a really good flavour. But also its so versatile, it does well in everything. It toasts beautifully, it’s good grilled, and it goes well with all sorts of ingredients.”
Rob cut some for me to try – and it was, indeed, out of this world!
“It has to be real sourdough, but be careful, that’s a term which is widely abused.”
The ginger ninja – really ‘wowzers’! Tell me about it…
“The ginger ninja shot was developed by Charlotte – she’s the real juice queen here. But lots of juices are messy and time consuming to make. This one is very simple – you can make it easily yourself, it’s just a blend of ginger, apple and turmeric. But it certainly packs a punch – they’re like tiny bonfires, a real head starter.“ He offers me one to try – and I can indeed vouch for the fact that it set me pretty much alight! “Yep, they’re great for people who don’t drink coffee. I also have a theory that the ginger ninja also staves off colds – since I’ve been enjoying them I haven’t even had a sniffle, and I have two small children at school” Rob tells me with a wry smile.
“Ginger ninjas – they certainly pack a punch – they’re like tiny bonfires!”
I thanked Rob for talking to me, and left the café, with two cappuccinos and a ginger ninja under my belt, positively levitating, in spite of also having indulged in possibly the best, and most substantial, croque monsieur In The World. The secret, Rob tells me, is in the sourdough, and the béchamel – one more tip to bear in mind for the future. Post to come on that one!
Rob’s Ozzie Recipe for Smashed Avocado, Feta, Sumac on Sourdough Toast
- 1 whole avocado
- 2 tbsp good quality feta cheese
- 1 pinch of sumac..
- 1 squeeze of lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- 1 piece of sourdough
- 1 garlic clove
- olive oil to drizzle
- De-pip the avo and spoon into a bowl.
- Add feta, lemon juice and a good generous pinch of sumac and mix together. (I don’t like it too smooth)
- Season to taste (be careful with the salt as feta is pretty salty!!
- Grill a nice piece of sourdough toast and brush with a garlic clove cut in half (do this while the toast is hot).
- Spoon avo mixture over the toast and drizzle some nice olive oil and another pinch of sumac!