Before the days of – God help us – Instagrammable food, back when ‘street food’ was just a burger from a van by the side of the road, and before every pub thought itself worthy of a Michelin star, this country had a worthy if unheralded culinary tradition.
The caff – not a cafe – and its fry-ups was a fixture of our social consciousness, and while there are some great examples still around, it feels too often as if they have been shunted out of the limelight by bearded herberts claiming to have discovered the sausage.
The Dish Detective gets a bit dewy-eyed at the passing of the ways, but recently found cause for a spring in our cynical step – a caff, done properly.
We’d never paid much attention to Stones in Fareham’s West Street before, as it looks a bit unprepossessing, and there are plenty of pleasant caffs – and cafes – up that end of town. However, having tried Stones, we’re impressed… because the basics, the important things, are all there. Look at the menu and you will recognise the caff stamp – fry-ups, burgers, omelettes, jacket potatoes, sandwiches, many of which are combos of bacon, sausage and egg, and a few salads (which, and no offence, but why would you?).
From the outside it looks like a slightly dated coffee bar, and the feeling inside is a strange (but not unpleasant) blend of the 1950s with banquette seating creating back-to-back booths, but done in a very 1990s colour scheme of gentle browns and coffee-related words such as ‘latte’ stencilled on the walls.
I’m sure there are primary school children who could put together a better website than their current one, and it’s also not correct – opening hours are advertised as 8am to 5pm Monday to Saturday but we definitely went on a Sunday.
However, none of this matters. The DD is sure that Stones’ clientele are not fussed by jazzy interactive web pages. They’ll be returning for a solid, swiftly prepared, good-value plateful. And if they’ve got any sense they’ll return again and again. The DD will, now we’re in on the secret.
Despite the fact that above the door Stones advertises itself as a ‘cafe – restaurant – lounge’ you will recognise it as a top-notch caff. Fry-ups, some lunches, not open after dark. End of.
We ordered a Big Breakfast (£7.90, there’s also a slimmed-down version for £5.90) – two bacon, two sausage, egg, tomato, hash browns and it was good. Fried but not greasy, and it came sharpish; a big plateful that set me up for the day ahead. Not revolutionary but it doesn’t need to be. The thing with a full English is that you notice any bad elements – ie it’s easier to criticise than to praise. Here there were no bad elements. One observation – I’d include black pudding, but then I’ve always had a thing for bloodsoaked and fat-riven cereal.
The DD’s partner opted for a quarter-pounder with cheese (£4.40) and a side of onion rings (£2.95). She said, and being a child of the early 1980s you will understand the high praise this involves, that it was like a Wimpy but even better.
And the children’s plate of fish fingers, chips and beans (£3.60) for the toddler was spot on, and Stones gets extra points for friendly staff who play the peekaboo game well and unprompted.
Other things to note – not only was the service fast and the staff friendly and very smart, but the place was really clean. As in, clean-before-your-mother-in-law-visits clean. And the layout, with the seating down each wall, means it’s spacious enough to accommodate prams, wheelchairs, whatever. To be honest Fareham, you have a brilliant little neighbourhood caff on your hands. It’s got all the best attributes of a greasy spoon but, er, the spoons aren’t greasy. It’s a really smart little place. Result.