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Friday, 31 May 2013

Knickerbocker Glory

When I'm feeling stressed, as I am all too often, my lovely wife knows what to do. She grabs me by the ear and takes me to the seaside. A day trip always loosens the valve and lets the pressure off a little, and in recent years we have become a little bit addicted to visiting classic British seaside resorts. Walk up and down the front a bit, have some chips, maybe some ice cream, cliff top walk, maybe find a nice cafe. All good.

So we went to Eastbourne, and boy howdy did we find a nice cafe.

We've always loved a good greasy spoon - they kept me sane and fed on countless harsh winters in my street performing days, and when you step into a good one, it still But the sad fact is that the number of good London greasy spoons, especially in the West End where the property scene is as valuable as it is crooked, is dwindling. Luckily, if you venture a little out of London, you can still find gems like Notarianni's.

The walls are covered with framed black and white photos of the cafe through the years, gorgeous shots from the 50's with the original signs for fruit salads in the background, and then, on the wall next to the photo, there's the same sign for fruit salads. Original menus on the wall, offering such out-of-time delights as ice cold Ovaltine, and arctic flavour ice cream. "We've been here since 1936", says the lovely, chatty lady behind the counter, "Same year I was born!".

We get stuck into plates full of fried wonderfulness, and then focus on the real reason to come here. Desserts. Home made ice cream. I get a knickerbocker glory, partly because I'm a greedy, greedy man, partly because there's a running joke in my family about a time when I asked for one as a child, and then cried when I saw how big it was and realised that I couldn't finish it, and partly because it's rare that a 44 year old man can say words like "Knickerbocker glory" in public without fear of ridicule. It was excellent. You could taste the milk in the ice cream, it tasted fresh and gorgeous and now as I write this at home all I want to do it go back there right now and get another one. As I said, I'm a greedy, greedy man.

A gaggle of old ladies shuffle in and struggle to inhabit a booth. "Alright girls!", says the lady behind the counter, and much chirping banter ensues as the old ladies all order something and then take it in turns to go to the bathroom, in what seems to be a pre-arranged order. There's someone I feel confident describing as an old geezer having a lemonade in one of the other seats, "Eastbourne ain't changed much", he says as he pays. A well turned out, bleached blonde middle class, middle aged woman comes in to get an ice cream to take away. She looks around, smiles at the counter-lady and says "I came here when I was five". Beautiful.

Very little recharges my soul as efficiently as a place like this. It reminds me of my childhood, sure, of the Golden Egg in Waltham Cross that was sunk into the floor, so as you looked out of the windows all you could see were the feet of passers by. And you can't beat egg & chips and an ice cream for comfort food, and I've always been a comfort eater. But more than that, in a world where the notion of community has become just another piece of jargon thrown around by crass, shallow politicians, places like this is where it really is. They've been serving egg and chips and ice cream since 1936. Plating up toast through wars, depressions and booms. They've given kids ice cream as the radio behind the counter played skiffle, then rock & roll, then R&B, then hip hop, then dance. A constant. Nothing is forever, of course, but Notarianni's, and its kind, need to outlive us all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I used to be taken there as a kid when visiting my grandparents who lived in Eastbourne. I am now retired and living in the US. On a trip to the UK i was in Eastbourne with my American wife and by chance happened to walk past Notariannis window. I stopped and looked and looked again and then dragged my bemused wife in. This is THE place to get a knickerbocker glory I said. A what?

And yes it was an amazing trip back in time to sit there after 50 odd years, each of us with our own tall glass of ice cream. Long may it continue!