Every time you sip a cup of coffee in a café, you’re part of a 360-year-old ritual which started in the UK in a muddy churchyard in London.
The first coffee house was opened by an eccentric Greek – Pasqua Rosée – in 1652. A British Levant merchant in Turkey, Rosée developed a taste for the Turkish drink and decided to import it to London.
People swarmed to meet, greet, drink, think, write and gossip, all fuelled by coffee. By the 18th century, there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses in London and, although drinkers found it disgusting, it was addictive. It was a mental and physical boost to punctuate the working day.
Nothing seems to have changed over the centuries, and Nino’s at Havant is one of those cafes.
Enver, the Turkish owner, has a mature coffee machine with the usual suspects of cappuccino and lattes.
The menu was completely embracing of British favourites – all day breakfast, omelettes, burgers, sandwiches, panini and deep fried items such as fish and chips.
There were also 11 grills on offer, as well as 10 types of set breakfasts, (from £2.80-£6.40) and 15 other breakfast permutations ranging from just a fried egg.
Grills, from £4-£7.80, included pork or lamb chops, liver and bacon, and chicken. Or there were roasts of beef, chicken, lamb or pork.
Despite the website suggesting ‘cuisine from different parts of the world’, the café remains true blue Brit in its offerings. The bread was white-sliced, beans part of many deals too.
Oddly, there were no boiled eggs or Marmite. A recent survey suggested not many Brits know how to boil an egg, so the café is missing a culinary trick here.
Diners order at the counter, with its soft drinks and newspapers, or one of the friendly staff takes the order at the table.
I ordered cod and chips with peas and sat at one of the spotless, well-ordered, brown tables lined up in three rows. Little décor graced the place, with a few small pictures of flowers and cocoa beans and that was about it.
It was quiet at a post-lunch hour. Enver was on the phone getting cross with some official, and dishes were being noisily washed - just like home. And it seemed to be the same for other customers too, with many ordering breakfast well past lunch.
I wish I had had the breakfast. The chips were good, the peas sweet but the cod, one of the cheaper varieties, was odd-tasting, rather metallic, very over-cooked and somehow watery. It wasn’t edible. I managed a bite or two, but soon turned to the chips and ketchup.
A microwave pinged its way through most of the orders, which possibly explains how the café is able to offer so many dishes and permutations.
Although handy for those at the station, most customers were local and knew staff by name, which points to an appreciated community café, not a destination one.
I didn’t hang around for a dessert or a coffee as the machine’s steam arm for frothing needed a good clean.
We may have vastly increased the numbers of cafés since 1652, but quality in too many seems to be at a premium.
Nino’s did not make the grade, despite willing staff. My bill came to around £6, including Turkish bottled water.
Nino’s, 32 North Street, Havant, PO9 1PT, (023) 92 641666.
Open 8am-5pm Mon-Sat and 9am-3pm Sun.
Disabled access: Fine.
How to get there: Take the A27 to Havant, and then follow the station signs on to North Street. The cafe is on the right. Parking is available on the street.
Ratings (maximum *****)