‘I visited one of the best cafés in Essex, and the highlight was its tight-knit community’

I was invited to visit Chantilly, nestled on Crown Street in Brentwood, to try their afternoon tea, and it was absolutely delicious. The café's unmistakable pink storefront instantly catches the eye, offering a delightful introduction to its charming pink-themed interior.

Chantilly is a finalist for The Muddy Stilettos Regional Awards 2024 in the "Best Café in Essex" category, and it's easy to see why. Beyond its mouthwatering locally sourced food, the true highlight of this establishment lies in its strong community.

From the moment I walked in, I was struck by the genuine camaraderie among customers and staff. Natalie Sunderland, the owner of the café, says this is what makes Chantilly successful.

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Chantilly's owner, Natalie Sunderland, opened the cosy tea room in August 2022
Chantilly's owner, Natalie Sunderland, opened the cosy tea room in August 2022 -Credit:EssexLive

She added: “What makes Chantilly special is our customer service. We take pride in listening to our customers, understanding their needs, and creating a space where everyone feels welcome, creating a ‘homely’ feel."

As I settled in with an oat cappuccino, I had the pleasure of chatting with some of Chantilly's regulars. One elderly customer, who has been visiting the café with her brother since he broke his leg, spoke fondly of the sense of comfort she found in the café.

She said: "One day, we came to Chantilly because it was close to home. Now, we visit it every day and absolutely love the tea, the cakes, and especially, the staff! There’s even a lovely girl who carries my shopping bags!”

After working in the NHS, Natalie seized the opportunity to open her own tea house and contribute to the local community, never looking back. Now, she proudly serves locally sourced food, with the spotlight shining on the exquisite afternoon tea.

The Afternoon Tea features fluffy scones, delicious cakes and four varieties of tasty finger sandwiches
The Afternoon Tea features fluffy scones, delicious cakes and four varieties of tasty finger sandwiches -Credit:EssexLive

At the top layer, there are fluffy and surprisingly light scones, both plain and fruit ones, sourced from a local bakery. Their petite size is ideal to savour them alongside the delicious cakes in the middle tier.

There are four delightful varieties of cakes, each lovingly baked by a café staff member: blueberry and lime, raspberry, chocolate, and Victoria sponge, accompanied by two incredible mini lemon meringue pies. Among these, the moist blueberry cake, studded with real blueberries, stole the show for me.

Lastly, the bottom layer features four finger sandwiches, each blending amazing flavours with a buttery touch. From coronation chicken to cucumber and cheese, egg, and salmon with cream cheese and lemon, each sandwich offers a unique culinary experience.

Additionally, on the same shelf, there’s a sausage and a vegan sausage roll. To complement the food, you can indulge in unlimited high-quality tea or Americanos made from Britannia, a coffee brand owned by a friend of Natalie’s.

Natalie and her team are also dedicated to fostering inclusivity, offering options for those with dietary restrictions such as diabetes, gluten intolerance, and vegan preferences. It's a testament to their commitment to ensuring that everyone feels valued and catered to.

Chantilly's storefront is completely pink
Chantilly's storefront is completely pink -Credit:EssexLive

Natalie said about being a finalist for The Muddy Stilettos: “It was unbelievable to secure a spot in the Top 5, since we haven’t started long ago and we have limited space. While we're still finding our footing, the nomination shows the unwavering loyalty of our customers, who generously voted for us."

As I bid farewell to Chantilly, I carried with me not only the taste of their delicious treats but also an appreciation for the power of community. Chantilly serves as a reminder of the joy that comes from coming together, sharing stories, and creating lasting memories.

Next time you're in Brentwood, make sure to stop by Chantilly. You'll find not just coffee, but also a welcoming atmosphere full of warmth and togetherness.