Northern Fish Restaurant, Elgin

So, we got to Elgin and to be fair there isn't much to report. It's a nice enough place. Unexpectedly grand with a big wide main street, classical architecture etc. The funny thing was it hadn't changed in five years. But the important point to note is not one but two classic caffs thriving in its main street.

Happily The Northern Fish Restaurant was still intact with its pristine booths so we stopped in for dinner. The macaroni cheese was nothing to write home about but surroundings were very pleasant and the boys enjoyed picking songs from the jukebox which played everything a little too fast.

Northern Fish Restaurant, Elgin

I can't place this time-wise - any ideas? There's a nod to rounded corners but all the angles are straight. What does that mean? The proportion of the tables and seats is a bit stingy. You have to perch on the bench to reach the table. But the formica has a jolly 1950s aspect to it. Sometimes I ask the owner but we were stuck at the back in this case.

Ca Dora

A cafe of this calibre would lighten any high street but Elgin is graced with two. Further up the high street, towards the town centre sits the Ca'Dora which has lost its shopfront (the horror) but retained its fabulous low rounded booths (very similar to Glasgow's magnificent Val D'Oro). It was a curvy antidote to the Northern Fish Restaurant, and was busier, suggesting the chips were of a higher order. Experience shows that the quality of the chips is much more important than the quality of the surroundings. Can't say fairer than that.

Sundae Sundays

I was at the Glasgow School of Art degree show last week, and was delighted by Sundae Sundays: a guide to Glasgow's ice cream parlours by Rosie Ferrier and Louise Lockhart in the Visual Communication Dept. As the name suggests, for their research they ate a sundae every Sunday in Glasgow's finest classic cafes and selected their top ten. The surroundings (and often the owners) are sketched and compiled into this lovely book, with a handy map included.

Queen's Cafe

Obviously, this made my heart sing, but the one thing that makes it even more amazing is my family are in it. We visited Tomasso's on Crow Road (an old haunt of mine) a few weeks ago and I did notice that the girls at the next table were sketching away. While they were surreptitiously sketching our table I was surreptitiously looking at their sketch book which is why I'm not in the picture - they finished off while I was getting up to pay in case I minded. I didn't want to pry but was intrigued and am now delighted to see where all their efforts were going.

The boys in Tomasso's

At the moment there are only two copies of this book but Rosie and Louise are keen to get it printed. Anyone fancy a copy? There are more pictures on Louise's website - tasty stuff. The degree show is on for the rest of the week (until Friday?) and there are some other great things in it so it's well worth a visit.

Nardini's Cafe - vignette

We went to the newly reopened Nardini's today. It's looking fine. For anyone that wasn't treated to a trip there in their childhood (you poor mites), Nardini's is an amazing Italian cafe in Largs on the west coast of Scotland. Due to some family feud or other, it's been closed for years (there are warring factions of Nardinis and yes, Daniela is a relation).

Nardini's, Largs

It's in a really public spot on the Esplanade and was a bit of an eyesore. We peeked through the hoardings a few times - it was completely gutted inside which was heartbreaking as it's a big place and was full of art deco grandeur. So, finally it's back, looking very well, dispensing ice cream sundaes to locals and daytrippers. Like a little bit of the world has been put to rights.

A pea fritter

In the interest of research I had to try a pea fritter when the opportunity presented itself in Swanage. It was surprisingly spherical which made me worry the pea:batter ratio would be well off in the centre. But it works. Like its sweet relative the deep fried Mars Bar there's a magic moment on the first bite when the softness of the centre contrasts with the salt and crunch of the batter. The mushy peas were fantastically flavoursome and just the right texture - not too gooey and not too hard. This colourful write-up suggests they're predominantly northern (is that right?) so all the better to find one in the south.

As part of my London jaunt I tried to cram in as many classic caffs as I could. The results:

Gambardella's, Greenwich

Gambardella's, 47 Vanbrugh Park, SE3 7JQ

We took a long hike through Greenwich Park especially to check this out. It was worth it. Sizeable, with one big room, a back salon and a whole other (non-classic) cafe next door. Run by the same family since 1927 the decor is mostly original with some extra bits and pieces like the fab chairs added in the 50s. The family that run it were lovely and chatted to us for ages. The food was good - crispy chips hotter than the earth's core and ice cream that was out of this world.

The photo on the back wall (the Trevi fountain?) is a recent addition as Richard Curtis has been filming his new film in there. Something with Rhys Ifans apparently. The owners thought it looked the part so they're keeping it up. Other celebrity guests include Jools Holland, Danny Baker and George out of Men Behaving Badly who comes in for his breakfast every day. More photos here.

The Lorelei, Bateman St, Soho


[Photo by Tsingtao] I've long fancied a trip to The Lorelei after seeing pictures of that weird mural so dustysevens and I met up for a pizza and a chinwag. It's a very strange place, deathly quiet, sitting on a bustling Soho street. It feels like the world stops turning as soon as you step in the door. Good pizzas though and very cheap. Good to keep in mind if you ever need a seat in Soho.

Pelicci's, Bethnal Green

E. Pellicci

Friday, Craig and I met up (for the first time! exciting!) at the Olympic posters exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. He took lots of pictures of the posters so I didn't bother and has reported back in a fulsome manner. I was a bit early so went looking for Pelicci's, the UK's only listed cafe. Sadly it was shut for the holidays but even gazing on its locked door was a pleasure. Maybe next time.

Biggar fish and chips

After all that debate a while ago on where to find the best chippies here's a short field report on the UK's best fish and chips of 2007. It's official. They're at the Townhead Cafe in Biggar in South Lanarkshire and were very good indeed. You get a huge portion, the fish was light as a feather and there was something almost architectural about that batter.

Cafe, Gretna

For cafe lovers everywhere, I tried to capture the atmosphere of this very strange place in Gretna. Full story of a cafe with no name, an ominous photo and a cranky parrot on Nothing To See Here.

Dish of the day

Present & Correct who made the wonderful Alphabet of endangered species have done it again with a really smart set of classic cafe notecards. 4 different designs celebrate great British dishes in a fitting old-timey way. There are other items to coo over in their new shop.

Fried food key

I liked this little diagram, from the Smiler Take Away in Burnham-in-Sea. It's a bit blurry but you should be able to make out the names of fried foods found on their hot shelf with a rough approximation of their shape. The man behind the counter, who was indeed very smiley, explained that he'd knocked it up because he was always being asked what things were. Nice touch, I thought. Continual improvement and all that. Incidentally, he also mentioned that some people think they're England's smallest chippy, but were struggling to corroborate that. It certainly was tiny. So anyone in the chip shop measurement business check it out.

The New Piccadilly now

Gareth found this graffiti on the boarded-up New Piccadilly. It's amazing how one sentence can be funny, evocative and sad, all at the same time.

Boni's Cafe, Clarkston by Michael Prince

Michael Prince, who took those great photos of the George Hotel has been on a cafe tip lately. He has superb photos of Boni's Cafe in Clarkston, near Glasgow and The Ritz Cafe in Millport. They're both real favourites of mine and feature on the second set of I like postcards. They won't be there forever so enjoy while you can.

Gateshead Get Carter car park

We Live Here from Sheffield make wonderful art prints, t-shirts and accoutrements featuring risky modern buildings. The prints feature Owen Luder's Get Carter car park in Gateshead, soon to be demolished apparently, Sheffield's Egg Box, New Roxy Disco and Cooling Towers, remaindered from a long gone power station. If you like these, wait 'til you see the memorial Sheffield Castle Market Greasy Spoon Mug.

Sheffield Castle Market greasy spoon mug

Deep joy. Thanks Simon James for the tip (via Creative Review blog).

From YouTube, 3 delightful short films by Saint Etienne and Paul Kelly about London's disappearing classic cafes. It's even more precious because they've all closed now. Each features a voiceover from the owner telling the tale of that particular establishment. Great stuff.

Today's Special 1: Tea Rooms

Today's Special 2: Eldon Street

Today's Special 3: New Piccadilly

More on these and other great caffs at Classic Cafes.

Ritz Cafe, Millport

We took a wee trip "doon the watter" yesterday to Millport. This is a little island resort, like Rothesay, that used to be very popular with Glaswegian holidaymakers before the lure of the Costa del Sol. A highlight of any trip is a visit to The Ritz Cafe, run by the Giorgetti family since 1908. It's a wonderful dayglo vision of formica and geometric patterns - what a gem. The good/bad news is that it's up for sale and has been for the past 2 years. The good side is an opportunity for someone sympathetic to own their own classic cafe, the bad is the thought of it getting bought over and ripped out. I worked in a cafe for a year and it was one of the best jobs I ever had, so I wouldn't rule out running a cafe. It's such a nice pipe dream but having no money and no business sense probably rules this out. Anyone else interested? Can you help keep the Ritz in good hands? More details from Christie + Co.

Pavilion Cafe window, Troon

There was a nice article about classic cafes (scanned) in the Scottish Sunday Times today, featuring quotes from Adrian Maddox and yours truly on the delights of caffs. It bills I like as a classic cafes site which isn't strictly true. It's a classic everything site, if it's anything. So anyone looking for cafes might like to see these photos and more on Flickr. They're all due for a clear out so please bear with me. Nice to know that all those hours spent filling my face has paid off.

Otherwise, there's been a lack of cafe news lately. I revisited a few over the summer and was pleased to see so many still standing. In Troon, Togs has gone, but the Pavilion Cafe (pictured) still survives against all odds. It's also worth mentioning that the New Piccadilly, one of London's finest is due to close forever on 23 September. Go now while you still can.

99 flake advert

Firstly a discussion on BBC News about the origin of the 99. I don't want to spoil it for you but there are no conclusive answers. Fun reading though. UK ice cream trade organisation The Ice Cream Alliance (imagine their conferences!) has some Fantastic Frozen Facts (see Info for Ice Cream Eaters) - "Ice Cream Sundaes were created when it became illegal to sell ice cream with flavoured soda on a Sunday in the American town of Evanston during the late 19th century. Some traders got round it by serving it with syrup instead, calling it an 'Ice Cream Sunday' and eventually replacing the final 'y' with an 'e' to avoid upsetting religious leaders". More on ice cream's secret history at Wikipedia - "One important development in the 20th century was the introduction of softer ice cream. A chemical research team in Britain (of which a young Margaret Thatcher was a member) discovered a method of doubling the amount of air in ice cream, which allowed manufacturers to use less of the actual ingredients, thereby saving money." That bloody woman. Also, an explanation of brain freeze, or ice cream headache. Ooch. Find out about the history of the ice cream trade at London's Canal Museum. This Much I Know by Wayne Vineer Ice Cream Man. For fans of the regional ice cream variation, read up on the Top Hat, invented by the Zavaroni's of Rothesay. Finally, if you haven't sickened yourself by now, check out the Ice Cream and Ice Cream Van pools on Flickr.

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