Driving along the narrow country lanes between Northallerton and Yarm, on a sunny Saturday morning with the hawthorn blossom in extravagant display, we suspected something was up.

We knew where we were going but why were we being followed by lots of other cars? They seemed to be going our way too.

As we neared the village of West Rounton we found ourselves at the head of a veritable convoy and the other half dozen or so vehicles duly followed us into Whitegates Nursery.

As all the people decanted from their vehicles in the car park, it quickly became clear that they, like us, were not here to stock up on plants. They were heading for the café and at 9.30am there was already a queue of people forming eager to bag a spot in the light and airy space which sits in the middle of what was once a small horticulture business but is now an all-singing and dancing garden centre.


Eating Out at Whitegates Nursery Cafe, West Rounton

Eating Out at Whitegates Nursery Cafe, West Rounton


That’s garden centre in the modern sense of the phrase – a place that will sell you stuff that grows and a whole cornucopia of other paraphernalia for the outside and the inside of your home. And, of course, there is a café too.

Whitegates is a family business that has just grown and grown, like its plants, over the 50 or so years that it has been on its site on the edge of the village. Originally a market garden business selling soft fruits, salad vegetables and plants to the trade, it at one time specialised in growing cut flowers. The third generation of the Grainge family decided to develop the retail side of the business. The most recent expansions included the café, a bigger car park and new entrance to cope with the growing numbers of customers.


The vast selection of cakes and scones at Whitegates Nursery Cafe

The vast selection of cakes and scones at Whitegates Nursery Cafe


Garden centre cafes can be a bit rudimentary but at Whitegates they have done an excellent job of disguising the fact that you are eating in a steel shed with the aid of some rough-hewn painted timber, plenty of house plants and floral upholstery. It manages to be rustically stylish and comfortable.

And it is clearly very popular. Within 20 minutes of us taking our table, the cafe was pretty much full. A leaflet promoting the Whitegates afternoon tea (£17.50 per person – £22.50 with a glass of Prosecco) suggested that you need to book in advance – at least 24 hours.

We were there for breakfast – although we did notice a few folk starting their day with some impressive looking cheese scones.

The full English (my choice), or the "Gardener’s Breakfast" as the Whitegates menu has it, is a pretty generous plateful of fried egg, two pork sausages, two rashers of dry-cured bacon, two halves of tomato, baked beans, and two hash browns, with brown or white toast.


The full English, or Gardeners breakfast

The full English, or Gardener's breakfast


Given the quality of the bacon and sausage and the care with which it had been cooked and presented, nobody I think would argue with the price of £10.95 and there’s scaled-down "lite bite" version for £8.95.

Sylvia’s eggs benedict (£8.50) were similarly well cooked and presented. The poached eggs were just right – with the yolks not very runny because you don’t want that with the hollandaise sauce but still soft and flowing. Could the muffin have been a little crispier around the edges? Well, maybe but we are into the finer points of how to prepare a breakfast classic and everything else about it was pretty spot-on, particularly the hollandaise which was the perfect consistency and had the right balance of buttery creaminess and acidity.


Sylvias eggs benedict

Sylvia's eggs benedict


We also had some extra toast (60p), a latte and a pot of tea for a bill of £25.85. You’ll pay more and you’ll pay less elsewhere but you probably won’t get better quality.

With an operation that’s this busy, the staff need to be well drilled and that’s certainly the case. Service was prompt and always with a smile. From the moment we placed our order and paid at the till, everything ran like clockwork with our drinks arriving almost immediately and our cooked food within five minutes. Plates and trays were cleared and the obligatory question “is everything okay with your food” delivered with real sincerity.

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It's seriously impressive operation for a business which is primarily meant to be good at growing and selling plants.

We’ll be back in a week or two for some bedding plants – and probably a scone.

Whitegates Nursery Café

West Rounton, Northallerton DL6 2LL

Tel: 01609 882355 Web: whitegatesnursery.co.uk

Café open: Monday to Saturday 9.30am- 4.30pm, Sunday 10am-3.30pm

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 9 Service 9 Surroundings 8 Value 8