The Cottage Cafe in Southsea.
Nestled in the armpit of Marmion Road and Victoria Road is the Cottage Café, one of the last bastions of the greasy spoon caff.
This tiny outfit could be seen as a snub to the big coffee corporations – we all know who they are. And they won’t rest until every British high street is turned into a branded bland mall pushing their mega cupfuls.
This brutal Starbucking of our towns has led to the phenomenal erasure of British vernacular retail architecture. Classic old-style cafes and working men’s caffs - those unchanged Formica places which retain most of their 1940s-1970s fixtures and fittings – are particularly badly hit by this avalanche of homogenisation.
It’s a simple space: a few faded pictures, a Chinese calendar, an unfashionable heater, plastic green and orange chairs and a newspaper rack. This is not where you’ll find the Guardian.
The huge wall signage above the tables on the left is naff caff.
On the right are two filled-to-the-max noticeboards, some cards pinned to them, I bet, there since Terry opened the business.
There are signs for a Sixties Roadshow, hair braiding extensions, portrait painter, roofer, glazer, window cleaner, vintage retro clothing, signwriter. Who needs Yellow Pages when you have the Cottage Café as a signpost to local businesses?
Terry, in braces, is usually to be found pouring tea and coffee – he adds the milk too in time-honoured fashion – at his black canopied counter and takes orders for the on-view kitchen, manned by Malee. He offers friendliness and neighbourliness to all, not just saved for the regulars (of which they are many, mostly working men).
As befits a caff, All Day Breakfasts feature heavily. Choose from Breakfast Special, All Day Breakfast, Veggie Breakfast, Midi Breakfast, Jumbo Breakfast, all a permutation on the well-worn theme of egg, bacon, sausage, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms and hash browns.
The Specials Board is, yes, Breakfast. At lunchtime chips are added, or sauté potatoes. There’s black pudding too, one breakfaster on the table behind me turning up his nose at ‘intestines’ his pal was eating. Er, no, actually, just pig’s blood, oatmeal, onion and seasoning. And fabulous.
The keenly-priced menu also includes burgers; jacket potatoes; sandwiches; baguettes; lasagne; ham, egg and chips; snacks and salads. Bet those salads stay firmly put, the All Day Breakfasts the thing at this caff.
So I had one too. It seemed churlish not to. And at £4.70 including tea or coffee and buttered bread, the only extra were sauté potatoes at 70p.
I can understand why, whenever anyone was served their breakfast, silence reigned. Even mobiles were left unanswered. Newspaper pages were left unturned.
This breakfast demands full, unadulterated attention. The bacon, several slices of excellent back, was cooked to perfection, the one egg just how I like it(runny) and the sauté potatoes were delicately cooked to gold. And the beans? Just beans. But good. As was the plain white bread and the tea. Forget ‘lifestyle options’. Support your local café, retro or greasy.
Cottage Café,60B Victoria Road, South, Southea, PO5 2BT
(023) 92 75 1794
FOOD Four stars (out of five)
SERVICE Five stars
ATMOSPHERE Three stars
Disabled access: Fine, one step to toilets.
How to get there: Victoria Road South joins Victoria Road North off the roundabout by Churchill Avenue or by Lennox Road off Clarence Parade. The café is on the corner by Marmion Road. Parking on-street.