Archive for the ‘Cafes’ Category


Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Here’s a bit of a worry. The sign says ‘Closed Until Further Notice,’ which if this means what it usually does, would be a real loss, not just to Blackheath Standard but to London’s Greasy-Spoonland in general.

This place was like stepping back in time – those fab chrome strips holding faux-marble wall panels and groovy 1960s swivel seats at the front, black & red shiny panels at the back, formica tables and ketchup bottles. What I liked about it was that it wasn’t self-consciously ‘retro’ – it wore its British-caff heritage lightly.

There always seemed to be “characters” in Gambardella. Builders, families, harmless fruitcakes, slumming toffs, all human life was there. The tea was pleasingly orange, the fried food pleasingly greasy and the atmosphere pleasingly unpretentious. The staff were friendly and up for a joke – often at their own expense. After reeling off all the different varieties of coffee they do, they’d 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…

They already closed the more modern half of the shop – last year, if memory serves, which doesn’t bode well, but I thought one of the few things that were succeeding in this climate was cafes and coffee shops. Mind you, I guess the small independents have to actually pay tax unlike some of the non-profit-making big chains like poor Starbucks..

Perhaps it’s been closed for a refit, though I really hope not too much of one. It could so easily teeter – either with ill-advised modernisation or an equally dodgy trip down Theme Lane. Gambardella was a real caff, not a plastic imitation of what we might like to imagine 1950s coffee bars were.

If it is closed for good, it won’t just be the Phantom weeping into my PG Tips. Messrs Tilbrook, Holland and Difford, who met for the first time after his placing an ad in the window of Gambardella, will almost certainly join me in shedding a nostalgic tear. Maybe Jools might like to take it over himself. After all, it’s only a cough and a spit from the Holland Arms and everyone loves a nice cup of tea. As Mrs Doyle might say if she was actually relevant to this post, “ah, go on, go on, go on, go on…”

UPDATE: According to Mike, there has been a bereavement in the family. My thoughts and best wishes are with them. I hope that in time we will be able to visit again.

Black Vanilla

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Here’s a little gem. For months I assumed that the bar-space down the side of the chillers in Black Vanilla’s excellent gelaterie was the only place on the premises you could consume ice cream/ tea/coffee/ pastries etc. That and the teeny garden space a the back of course.

But then a pal told me to try upstairs. Lo and behold – a proper little tea lounge complete with comfy chairs, chandelier and fireplace. Tastefully decorated, quiet and delightfully free of pushchairs (I have no problem with small people, but sometimes it is nice to have a proper, adult space…) it’s a little haven for secret tete-a-tetes and a good old gossip. The coffee’s good, the service friendly and the ambience is just right for meeting pals.

Just don’t meet them at the moment while the weather’s like this. It’s bloomin’ freezing up there. Part of it is the large, single-glazed windows (which will be glorious in the summer – there’s a fantastic feel to the place) but mostly they leave the front door downstairs wide open. My friend and I sat there in our hats, coats and gloves and were still so cold we moved on after the first cup, when we had initially intended to stay there all afternoon getting quietly lost in a caffeine haze.

Don’t get me wrong – this is rapidly turning into one of my favourite places for coffee in Greenwich. But I’m not venturing back there until the weather warms up just a tad – or that fireplace gets lit…

Sunday Morning Fry Up

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Here’s an interesting one since I’m having one of those crowd-sorcery days.

John asks:

I was just wondering if you know of anywhere in the locality that is open on a Sunday morning, early, for a fry up? There are approx 15 of us cycling from Deal to Greenwich overnight this Saturday night and we will be finishing at the Cutty Sark, all tired and hungry at about 0730. If you have any knowledge of where might be open that would be fantastic!

Now the only place I can think of off the top of my head that’s definitely going to be open at that time is the Blackheath Tea Hut (along the A2, on the heath, in between the park gates and Rangers House) , which is open 24 hours a day for tea and simple snacks. Of course it’s open-air – but it is an institution. I mean there aren’t too many tea huts that get their own documentary…

Here’s the trailer for the film Tea Time, which I heartily recommend as a wonderful little indie docco.

But are there others? Jamie’s Diner, perhaps, on Tunnel Avenue (I really hope that the new Jamies Italian isn’t going to kick up a fuss about the name – he was here first…) There are usually bacon sarnies available at Blackheath Farmers’ market but that’s much later.

To my shame, I’m rarely up and active at that hour on a Sunday (blush…)

Of course if you don’t mind waiting until 10.00am, you could get the cable car across the Thames (they fold up the seats for cyclists to get their bikes on) and go to Fat Boy’s Diner, an original 1950s airstream diner located inside Trinity Buoy Wharf a little further up river.

But then by 10.00am you can pretty much take your pick.

Full English

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Jane asks:

Any suggestions as to where to grab a good old English breakfast in Greenwich and / or Blackheath?

Want to impress some Spanish friends and their 11-year old son, whose one reason for coming to London was for a dose of bangers, beans, eggs et al for breakfast.

The Phantom replies:

The caff that first comes to mind is GMT down Woolwich Road, in the same row as the Labour party shop (have you seen that scary new picture of Nick Raynsford? I think I preferred the last one where he at least looked bashful…) and opposite the new Turkish supermarket with all the fruit and veg outside – used to be Shiva’s).

I like this place because it’s not in any way tried to be anything it isn’t. It has bare brick walls with faded pictures of nothing in particular, decidedly nasty yellow and green moulded seating and a hand-painted cut-out chef outside. The food is what you’d expect and yes, the full English is very full. Sandwiches consist of half a loaf with your ingredient of choice inside, beverages are tea and (if I recall) instant coffee.

The Trafalgar Cafe down Trafalgar Road near Hardy’s Pub recently had a refurb, which seems mainly have been to turn the space upstairs into a flat and has resulted in a smaller, slightly more awkward eating space, but it still does traditional food, is still always full and still bustling. I seem to remember the sign saying it’s been around for about 50 years, but I’ll need to check that.

My next choice – and probably the one I’d actually take visitors to – is up at Blackheath Standard, Gambardellas. This has changed little since the 1960s except to expand next door. So the decor is classic 1960s mod one side and stuck in the 80s the other. Again, it doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. And if you Spanish friends have ever heard of Squeeze, they may be impressed to know it all started here.

Over in Blackheath Village itself, the cafes tend to be somewhat more upmarket, so you’re not really going to get that full greasy-spoon experience, but that might not particularly distress your friends, who might be rather grateful for the sort of food Hand Made Food or Patisserie Jade dole out…

There are dozens of traditional, unreconstituted caffs in Greenwich, and they get more traditional as they get further out of the centre –  I’m sure everyone has their favourite – so expect a lot of other recommendations.

How Many Is Too Many?

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Elaine tells me that Laura, of the Nevada Street Deli, has been told by the council that she can only seat a maximum of eight customers in her delightful, but tiny, cafe and that’s got me to thinking. How many is too many in a cutesy little cafe that sells gorgeous food but is, frankly, very small?

I love the place – it looks good, the people are friendly and the food’s wonderful (though the ‘deli’ does seem to get smaller and smaller in comparison to the ‘cafe’). I am particularly fond of the savoury pastries, and I will be forever grateful for the the embarrassing time when I managed to order (and receive) a takeaway coffee before I realised I’d brought no money. Laura just gave me the beverage, though of course I was so mortified that I rushed straight round to the cashpoint to rectify the issue. 

It’s always a toss-up, though, as to whether I’ll get a seat or have to move on elsewhere. Like other favourite cafes – Royal Teas, Buenos Aires, Red Door, I have to take my chances, and that’s part of the charm of it. It’s small. But that doesn’t mean I want to be squashed in like a sardine, just to get a place. 

How many can a place this size realistically seat, one wonders? The council says eight, which I think is too few. Elaine tells me they can seat twelve to fifteen ‘comfortably’. I’m not sure I agree with that either. I’d like to know what you think. And whether you count the dreaded pushchairs in that figure.

Part of it comes down to whether or not there are large parties. People who know each other are much happier to squash up together than total strangers. That’s what makes us British. You could have a birthday tea for twenty all together and be quite happy one day. Another, one snogging couple, a pair of old ladies, one lone Phantom, a couple of mums and accompanying pushchairs and you’re full. Less of a problem in the summer, of course, when those lovely pavement tables are at a premium. 

So – how many would you say is ‘too many?’

Oh – and while the council’s exercising its brain, how about allowing the deli to open for pre-theatre snacks occasionally? Or the theatre could up its game. Either would do for me. Or – how’s about this – Laura could expand and provide pre-theatre yummies IN the theatre. I’m sure an agreement could be reached…


Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Mezzanine Level, National Maritime Museum

Last week I promised Pram-o-philes somewhere where you can easily manoeuvre a pushchair, meet up with other parents and spread out, knowing your little bundle of joy is absolutely safe. And here it is. Despite its being on the first floor, Paul at the NMM is a parent’s paradise.

The mezzanine is a wide, virtually empty area that for some time has puzzled me as to its purpose, its exhibit-to-available-space ratio being – well – sparse.

But whatever the failure to put much to actually look at in this part of the museum, this area provides a perfect spread-out space for your entire post-natal group to ascend the great glass elevator and meet, whatever the weather, in a bright, dry environment with halfway decent coffee, slightly overpriced sweet-treats and no sharp edges.

Service on the day I went was, frankly, hap-hazard, probably a combination of busy-ness and, perhaps, a bit of a language issue. I had a cup of coffee, which they got right second time around, and a half-warmed-through quiche which tasted perfectly fine if a little undecided as to whether or not it should have been reheated. Although this is Paul, and therefore never generally a bad option, the very fact that the chain seems to be becoming as ubiquitous as Starbucks has seen service slip since the cafe’s finding its way to our shores.

I was the sole lone-customer on the day I went. There was one other group – some bemused French tourists – but everyone else seemed to be part of one of several baby/toddler get-togethers. I wondered whether by the end of the day, they would have formed one huge posse, but I confess that it was all a little bit much for me (besides – staying would have run the risk of my looking like some dodgy pervert hanging round. It’s the cloak and mask that does it…) – I finished my coffee and left the small people to explore the further reaches of Fluffy Rug Land.

So – not one for pram-o-phobes (especially since the glass roof’s acoustics are perfect scream-o-conductors…) But if you have lots of pushchair pals, a wriggly two year-old and the desire for not-bad-coffee, this is a fine destination.

Red Door Gallery/ Cafe

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Turnpin Lane has seen a lot of change, probably all its (very long) life. Shops come and go; some never seem to open at all (those grubby buildings behind Joy, for example.) It’s a curious mixture of scruffy and quaint, downmarket and decidedly upmarket. Two of the cutest shops in the row were Daisy Cakes Bake Shop and Red Door Gallery. It’s been all-change down Turnpin Lane again. Some of it is good.

I was gutted that Daisy Cakes very cute shop has closed. I know she’s gone online and that you can buy her fabbo cupcakes at three places – Bar du Musee, Biscuit and Red Door, but I used to love nipping in to buy a cake or two for later scoffage at home; I can’t do that any more.

I will try out the decidedly average-looking cafe that’s opened in its stead at some point (is it just me, or wasn’t Greenwich Council refusing any more cafes in Central Greenwich? I thought that was why the Organic Cafe guys around the corner got kicked out…) but at the moment I’m too depressed.

Instead I went next door. I’ve always rather liked Red Door Gallery – an independent little craft gallery/emporium, full of glass cabinets with curious jewellery/pottery/homewares/accessories, but I felt the (tiny) back room was a bit underused.

It’s still mainly a gallery/shop but the owners have decided that it was underused, too, and have turned it into what has to be one of the smallest coffee shops (I know – yet another one) in Greenwich.
Take your pew – or cinema seat – or plush tart’s-boudoir sofa, and perch around a bunch of completely mis-matched coffee tables made out of all kinds of wrong things (they’re even at different heights to each other) for a coffee – and yes – one of Daisy Cake’s cupcakes.

It’s cosy and quirky, and if the music is a tiny tad too loud it’s in excellent taste. The lighting’s muted by sticking a couple of sheets of pink paper over bare bulbs and it’s all a bit make-do-and-mend – which is absolutely perfect for the venue.

The coffee’s not bad either. Not Beehive quality (oh, how I’m missing that place…) but still perfectly enjoyable. They even have a slightly ramshackle “Bring One, Swap One” bookshelf with a surprisingly good selection of books people have brought to swap – on the day I was there, Clive Aslet’s superb The Story of Greenwich was up for grabs…

Downsides – it IS tiny – and the way the seats are laid out, it’s somehow not very private – don’t go there for an intimate discussion with your best mate about that embarrassing medical problem, eh…

Also – and, to be honest, some may not see this as a downside; it depends on where you stand on the whole pushchair issue ;-) – the entrance is narrow, and the cafe-area down steps, making access difficult. This is partially remedied by a couple of chairs and tables outside if you just have to have that Daisy Cup Cake fix, but Turnpin Lane itself is not wide, so there’s still not much pram-room.
So ideal for pram-o-phobes, but worry not, mums and dads. I have found a good alternative for pushchairs that I will post about another day.


Thursday, March 19th, 2009

16, Nelson Road, SE10,

I’ve not been doing much restaurant reviewing recently. A combination of Really Busy and credit crunch have meant sticking with old favourites rather than venturing out anew.

Which is probably very silly. A few places that I once raved about have been slowly sliding – or have had new ownership that has traded on the name whilst dropping standards.

So, after a frankly dull curry from what used to be Caffe Massala (a strange combination of sugary and un-spicy) and a non-curry from Raan (now a Greenwich Inc joint selling the same sort of bland stuff it sells everywhere else), I decided it was time to get back on the trail of new places to eat.

I was tipped-off about the newly spruced-up Saigon by Luke, who told me that despite its unpromising appearance (it has that same half-baked ‘almost-trendy’ look that most of Greenwich’s cheap eateries have) the food was good.

It’s true. The place isn’t going to win any prizes for pretty. It’s been simply kitted-out – plain walls, red plush ‘banqueting’ chairs, dark melamine tables with condiments very obviously from See Woo’s catering section and a rather odd grey brick wall at the back of the surprisingly-spacious back room. The whole thing’s brightened with the usual gang of gaudy porcelain characters from all-purpose Far Eastern mythology. The lighting’s somewhere between intimate and canteen.

But I warmed to this place as soon as I stepped inside. It was clean and fresh, it had proper diners in (which is not a given any more in these cash-strapped times) and I was welcomed by a friendly, articulate host.

The prices are almost suspiciously low. £4.30, to be precise. For all main dishes. So whether you’re going for a Beef Flank, Roast Duck or a simple Wan Tan Soup – all you’ll pay is £4.30. And this is eat-in price, along Nelson Road, one of the priciest bits of real estate in Greenwich. Side orders are a whopping £3.30.

I had a quick look around the other diners to see what they were getting for their cash – and it looked – well – pretty good really. Big platefuls, and accompanying big smiles.

I didn’t dare try the halibut – I’m sure it’s fine but I’ve seen the prices in the Fishmonger for fresh stuff and it bothered me that this was so cheap in comparison. So I settled for a King Prawn Chow Mein. The Phantom Companion Du Jour chose the all-in Vietnamese Fried Rice.

Now. I’m not going to claim this as a gourmet spectacular. But just across the road, at Noodle Time, I was once unable to finish one of the worst meals of my life, and round the corner at Tai Won Mein I virtually couldn’t start the hideous mess I was served up after a very long wait and indifferent service. And both cost more than this, despite being classed as bargain-basement cheap-fills.

Our food arrived swiftly, was served pleasantly and appeared to have been made from decent-quality ingredients. My Chow Mein was well-flavoured and, if a little oily, I couldn’t complain about the number of good-sized, succulent prawns in it. The Phantom Companion’s fried rice came with lots of different meaty bits and bobs – and, although I noticed some experimentation with chilli dip and soy sauce, it was declared tasty and the plate was cleared.

If we’d stuck to soft drinks, our entire meal would have cost us exactly eleven quid. As it was, some Vietnamese beer ‘accidentally’ got ordered and pushed our total to a dizzying £12.60.

This is not the place to take someone for a 25th wedding anniversary meal – unless you don’t want to see your 26th. But as a cheapo place to fill up for under a fiver, (and I mean fill up – I felt rather uncomfortable after I’d stuffed away mine) I heartily recommend this over pretty much any similar joint in Greenwich. Certainly the aforementioned Noodle Time and Tai Won Mein, which vie for the dubious honour of ‘worst restaurant in Greenwich’ in my book (now that the execrable Alamo has rightly gone the way of all undercooked flesh.)

Saigon is fresh, bright and clean (even the loos are spotless,) the service is swift and charming – and it won’t break the bank. If I was into cliche, this is the point where I’d say “what’s not to like?” But I’m not, so I’ll just say ‘run it up the flagpole, suck it and see. It’s a no-brainer…’

Sad Beehive News

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Rebecca has just confirmed JohnSE’s note that Beehive will be closing at the end of the month. Apparently it just wasn’t really worth it to just serve coffee – and I guess there was no room to serve anything else.

There’s a small silver lining to the cloud this brings to anyone who’s ever enjoyed a cup of the best coffee in Greenwich. They will continue to sell their coffee at the Nevada Street Deli – and, I understand, will honour the loyalty card system too.

It’s good-ish, I guess, but I liked having them both. I had always cherished dreams of Beehive moving into that shrine to 60s Mod culture, the Coffee Cellar in Turnpin Lane, (which always used to be the best coffee in Greenwich until it died last year…)

Maybe when things calm down financially….

Nevada Street Deli

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

This one has really crept up on me.

I confess I was a bit ho-hum about the whole thing when this place first arrived. Another ‘deli,’ another cafe. And I was still smarting at the demise of the old junk shop which I used to love. To be honest I didn’t bother going in at all.

But after a sudden caffeine craving whilst walking in the park when I just rushed to the first place that would sell me a coffee, in the past few weeks I’ve found myself going in more and more. The first time was, of course, just that sad dash for coffee – but the service was so very friendly and the coffee really not bad (not quite up to Beehive standards, but still good) that I found myself going in more often.

It’s fresh and clean-looking, with cream walls and scrubbed wooden tables. There’s a good selection of chilled deli stuff (at first I thought it was one of those ‘delis’ that are really just cafes and hardly have any goods in them, but it’s deceptive) meats and pies (with really good pastry) salads and pates. They sell bread by the loaf, half-loaf or quarter (though you’d get a lot of crust if you just bought a quarter) and there are a few token dry goods – not a great selection, but I’d guess they’re short of space.

I’ve eaten in there several times now. The food is always really tasty, there’s lots of it and it’s served with a friendliness that’s very becoming. And there are always lots of newspapers around so I have something to read.

The website’s not much cop, but at least has contact details (if not opening hours.) The Phantom is happy to eat Humble Pie in this instance and say that this place is rapidly becoming a Favourite Haunt.