Wednesday, 29 April 2009

I know a place to go

All my adult life I've had a greasy spoon to go to. My first regular cafe was The Newbridge in a small Welsh town called Lampeter. It's where I was a student and soon into my first term I was eating there at least three times a week. After some initial sampling I quickly settled on sausage, egg and chips. And this remains the benchmark meal against which all cafes will be judged. Decor-wise, from a purist point of view, The Newbridge wasn't a classic cafe (eg: no formica) but it obviously hadn't been done up for decades so in spirit I think it qualified. Resistance to the outside march of progress is essential in making these places such sanctuaries. After wolfing my food down in a matter of minutes I could sit there for ages smoking fags, chatting to a friend or doing the crossword; almost in a trance, lulled by the indistinct babble, the noise of the teamaking machine and the rain lashing against the large, steamed up windows. In addition to the atmosphere the sausage, egg and chips were the best I've ever had, probably due to the chip-making machine they had on the premises. The place was run by three little old ladies; on graduation day I was going down the line of dignitaries shaking their hands and there one of them was, wearing a Henry VIII style hat and a huge gold chain of office. I went back a few years ago: the place had been renamed (Dai's Diner I think), the little old ladies were gone, the lighting was about fifty watts fiercer and the chips were oven chips. Oh well.

In London I used to go to Farina's on Leather Lane but now I'm nearer The Regency in Pimlico. The Regency looks the part and the food is good, better than Farina's, but I always feel a bit rushed in there - it's very popular. And it's a bit bright. Farina's is nicely dingy and the flow of customers is much gentler. Just up the road from The Regency is the not-at-all-cosmic Astral Cafe, which is okay.

Way out west in St Margarets is the excellent Ches's. I haven't been in since it was done up a year or two ago - but it certainly used to be the most perfectly preserved 1950s cafe I've ever eaten in. The food's brilliant as well. I used to make a point of getting my breakfast here before long car journeys. In the same neck of the woods is The Quality Fish Bar in Richmond. Not sure if chippies count as greasy spoons but just look at the place - it has booths. I wish every eating establishment had booths. Another nice thing about it is that the cutlery and crockery is all mis-matched. Hmm, I might go there this weekend actually.

Finally, my favourite, The Forge Dam Cafe in Sheffield. Not only is it a prefab 1950s hut that serves a very respectable sausage, egg and chips it's also situated in the middle of some lovely woods and, as the name suggests, right next to an old mill pond. It's open every day of the year and the food there has restored me to life on New Year's Day a couple of times. Because it's not an urban cafe it feels less weird going outside to have a cigarette after the meal (I've given up smoking really but I'll always have about three fags rattling about in a twenty pack on the morning of New Year's Day). I'm grateful for the smoking ban but it has diminished the greasy spoon experience.

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