Balckheath Royal Standard, SE3
An unreconstituted caff, Gambardella’s has been here for what seems like ever. A family-run greasy spoon, what I like about it is that they realise that they have a 1950s classic here, but they don’t milk it by overdoing the decor and adding extra things that would make it more ‘themed.’
It’s a caff of two halves – on the one side what is clearly the original shop, complete with its original sign outside, A. Gambardella, High Class Refreshments, chrome strips holding faux-marble wall panels and groovy 1960s swivel seats at the front, black & red shiny panels at the back. On the tables can be found the usual bottles of ketchup, mustard, vinegar etc – though you don’t get tomato-shaped ketchup dispensers. That would be a kitsch too far.
The other side of the cafe is clearly a more modern (though we’re still not talking last year) extension. This is much plainer, though there’s a hole in the wall so that the business-bit where they do all the actual cookery faces both ways. In this room the only decor is a few framed 1950s adverts and covers of Picturegoer magazine – a nod to the past but not a slavish refit.
There always seem to be “characters” in Gambardella. Builders, families, harmless fruitcakes, slumming toffs, all human life is here. The staff are friendly and up for a joke – often at their own expense. After reeling off all the different varieties of coffee they do, they’ll admit it was all so much easier when all they did was instant – so much for the fantasy of the ancient Gaggia in the corner…
The tea is pleasingly orange, the fried food pleasingly greasy and the atmosphere pleasingly unpretentious. It could so easily teeter – either with an ill-advised modern refit or taking an equally dodgy trip down Theme Lane. As it is, Gambardella works as a real caff, not a plastic imitation of what we might like to imagine 1950s cafes were.
There seem to be a lot of references on the internet to local council people called Gambardella. Presumably the same family?
BTW Glenn Tilbrook and Jools Holland met Chris Difford for the first time after his placing an ad in the window of Gambardella. They formed Squeeze and the rest is R&R history…