Monday, 2 November 2009

Grease is the Word

Button up your sheepskin Carraway, rainy cafe, Kentish town, Tuesday
Barry's looking through the racing post,
Orders coffee, another round of toast
Lucy writes a letter, she'd like to spend an evening with Prince B
When we meet for a while, Tuesday morning 10am
Everyone's dreaming of all they've got to live for
Joking around, still digging that sound

Everyone's dreaming of all they've got to live for
Mario’s Café by Saint Etienne (So Tough 1993)

If there’s one thing I love more than food, it’s a list. Imagine my joy then when I found out about, a UK-based site which neatly brings these two bits of happy together. Formerly known as the National Greasy Caff Database, it aims to be the internet’s singular resource for lovers of cheap and cheerful cuisine served up in establishments long abandoned by property developers and old father time.

But we have café culture now’ I hear you cry, ‘we are a modern, cosmopolitan society with coffee houses and eateries and lattes on every street corner. What need have we of such a guide?’ Well, I say to you – there are cafés and there are cafés - and if you don’t know the difference, is here to help you out.

Amongst the identifying features they list are ubiquitous all-day breakfasts, the inclusion of chips with most meals, deep fat fryers that never get turned off and a hot drinks menu limited to tea or coffee (although there is a grudging recognition of Bovril and Ovaltine). Decorative paraphernalia to look out for includes Slush Puppie machines, formica tables, booths, wood panelling and pencil caricatures of the caff owners.

Photo: Getty Images

As a former grease(y) monkey who started working life making early morning bacon sandwiches and cups of tea for tourists and trawlermen (an excellent name for a band by the way) I support these as key features of any good caff. However, I would also like to advance some of my own favourites, including:

- Assorted white bread sandwiches in a glass cabinet with a sliding door, labelled with handwritten stickers that say “HAM” “BEEF” or “CHEESE”

- Star-shaped pieces of card in various neon colours stuck on the walls and windows like exploding post-it notes with things like cans of pop and chips and toast written in black felt tip pen. Apostrophe abuse is a given.

- Menus that add an item on each line like a children’s memory game to give the impression the menu is more diverse than is the case (Bacon – Bacon and Egg – Bacon, Egg and Sausage – Bacon, Egg, Sausage and Chips - Bacon, Egg, Sausage and Chips and Beans and so on before starting again with Sausage - Sausage and Chips – Sausage, Chips and Egg etc)

- The absence of an actual paper menu – just little white plastic letters on a black background that have been there so long that where letters are missing you can still see their outline in grease

- The impossibility of conversation every few minutes as a result of antique steam powered milk boilers for people wanting 'frothy coffee'

I'd love to hear of any others you may have experienced. is still in its infancy and is a long way from being comprehensive. Do your bit for the cause by letting them know about your local greasy haunt.

No comments: