Classic Cafes
Reportage Special: Times 'Rip Off' Supplement




The Times: Feb 2002 - As filched from Classic Cafes website...

Forget McDonalds, everyone from truckers to Gilbert and George knows the
place for a good feed is an old-fashioned family diner.

We all grew up with them, and for many of us they still have a place in our
hearts. Often they were next to the bus station, or maybe on the fringes of
the shopping precinct. You went there after school - though you wouldn't
have wanted your parents to know. Later, perhaps, they were where you had
your first teenage assignation. And always, it seemed, the windows were
streaming with the condensation from warm bodies, damp overcoats and
steaming mugs of tea.

Today traditional family-run caffs are sometimes dismissed as greasy
spoons. But in an age of ubiquitous Starbucks, Costas and the inevitable
McDonalds, these temples to the all-day breakfast are surviving and
thriving.

How do they do it? Are they destined always to fulfil their role in the
popular imagination as the haunt of the lonely, the lorry driver and the
little old lady? Or are they a genuine and valuable part of British urban
culture - where the tea is always strong enough to stand a spoon, the
rashers are crisp and the bread is never, ever organic brown wholemeal?

 

Florence Street Cafe, Leeds
Ambience warm, steamy temple to Northern soul-food.

History trading for 62 years in multiracial Harehills, with present owner
there for 16. Frying pans go on the stove at 5.30am and stay there for
eight hours. First in are night-shift workers, police and flagging
clubbers. Refuge for the press in the Harehill riots.

 

Pop In Cafe, Walthamstow
Ambience Formica heaven.

History Opened three years ago. Before that Sozos had a caff in Edmonton
for 20 years. Holding its own against McDonald's. Ex-Walthamstow types are
known to make the trip from sophisticated Chingford to meet over a cuppa.

Regular May Moss, 70, sits alone nursing a cup of tea. 'As a child, I lived
round here. I still come every day, have my egg on toast and meet people
that I've known all my life. What I like most about this place is the
gorgeous young waiter.'

 

Beano, Kings Cross
History Topalca family have been there for seven years.

House special gargantuan sausages, mushrooms, bubble and squeak, tomatoes,
hash browns, beans, two slices and tea (£3.20).

Regulars John Bodycomb, 62: 'You think we come here for the food? It's
lousy. We come to see Ali.'

 

Market Diner, Brighton
Ambience Little Chef meets prison canteen. The gaffer Alec Ross: 'We've been on
television quite a few times. Watchdog
filmed us when they were doing something about nutrition.'

History: 24-hour caff opened more than 25 years ago. A local institution.
Clubbers queue in the small hours. Saturday-night waiters serve around 800
orders on average.

Regular: Mick Atkinson, cabbie, amid his colleagues: 'I've been
coming here since 1974. The food's good value and you can park outside. You
get quite a few nutters, though. I wouldn't come on Saturday night.'

 

Chelsea Bun, Battersea
Ambience: upmarket aspirations, but essentially it's still a traditional
family-run caff. Two hundred items on the menu.
The gaffer: Ersin Sirer, 38, from Turkey. 'People from New York say it is
better than their diners. I want the place relaxed and selling good quality
food.'
History: Ersin has been running the Bun for five years. Been in the
business since his teens.
House specials: perennially popular big breakfast (£3.99); fried liver and
bacon special (£6.95).
Regulars: the Rowe brothers. Steve, 33, covering his food in sauce: 'We've
lived round here all our lives and have come here for as long as we can
remember. These places are part of our culture.' Chris, 36: 'We always
order the same thing. It's proper food and you get time to eat it.'

 

Enterprise, Walworth
Ambience surreal mÈlange of steaming espresso machine, cigarette smoke,
Formica and tape of Lark Ascending alternating with Robbie Williams.

History Carlos has been in the business for 30 years, has had the 40-cover
Enterprise for three. Most of the customers are regulars and are served
without ordering.

House special cottage pie, roast potatoes, and peas (£3.50). Also lamb chop
or roast chicken, same price.

Regulars Sandra Skibsted, 30: 'I've been coming here for years. They make
the best milky coffee around.' Sharon Greer, 40, and Debbie Lynch, 39,
order egg or bacon sandwiches every weekday on their way to run a nearby
bridal shop. 'Brides sometimes come here to get opinions on their outfits,'
says Debbie.

 

University Cafe, Byers Road, Glasgow
Ambience Edwardian tearoom meets 1950s ice-cream parlour. Rosewood wall
panelling and elegant mirrored booths, flock wallpaper.

The gaffer Rina Verrecchia, 75, has worked at the cafe since 1952, when she
married into the family. Now her three sons, two of her grandsons and two
grandaughters are there too. 'When I started, the customers were content
with a plate of peas and vinegar, and an ice-cream. Nowadays the children
have more money than sense.'

History Opened as a family-run outfit in 1918 selling homemade Italian
ice-cream and coffees. The original marble tables and cast-iron chairs have
gone but otherwise the decor has hardly changed. Despite its name and
location near Glasgow University, customers are mostly locals.

House special Homemade ice-cream, spaghetti, mince and tatties. Breakfast
is £3.80 and you won't need another meal all day.

Regulars Mark Mournian, 34, taxi-driver, is there every morning for a
sausage sandwich and a mug of coffee. 'The staff are friendly and I like
the company. There's always someone to chat to. It's a traditional,
family-run place. Some customers have been coming here for decades.'

 

 



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