PARADISE IS A café in Great Dunmow, a small town in Essex. With several small eating areas and a cool breeze blowing through it, this comfortable eatery was a good place to eat lunch on a day when the air temperature was 32 degrees Celsius. Judging by its menu, which includes gözleme and shish kebabs, and the fact that the staff were speaking Turkish, it would be correct to say that Paradise is a Turkish run establishment.
Having noted that, it would be fair to say that this place is a well above average “greasy spoon caff”. However, the food is not at all greasy. In addition to food items usually associated with Turkey, Paradise offers the full range of English breakfast items, as well as wraps, burgers, sandwiches, and chicken curry.
One impressive feature of Great Dunmow’s Paradise, apart from the attentive and efficient staff and tasty food, was flexibility: we were able to order exactly what we wanted even if it was not on the menu.
It is always fun to discover reasonably priced, unpretentious places like Paradise. We will return there next time we are in the area.
BURNHAM-ON-CROUCH in Essex is a picturesque port on the River Crouch. Currently, it is a leisure resort and a centre for ship maintenance and boating. It was once famed for what grew in great numbers on the muddy bed under the water of the Crouch: oysters. For several centuries before the river became polluted in the 19th century, the oyster beds in the Crouch (and a few other places in Essex) were very profitable, providing much employment.
“On the shores of England the principal nurseries of oysters, not only for the English markets, but also for the foreign, are those on the coast of Essex and the estuaries adjoining: those taken there are called ‘ Natives/ Mr. Sweeting claims the name as peculiarly applicable to his fishery, as within his memory no strange oysters have ever been introduced…”
Men were required both to dredge the oyster beds and process the molluscs as well as to protect the precious creatures from thieves based in other places on the Essex coast.
Today (11th of July 2022), we visited the small but excellent museum in Burnham-on-Crouch. On the ground floor, we saw a retired mechanised oyster grading machine (made in France and capable of sorting 7000 oysters per hour) amongst the exhibits. On the upper floor of the museum, which is housed in a former boat repair building, we met the museum’s treasurer, who is a mine of interesting local history. He told us several things about Burnham’s oyster heydays. I hope that what I am about to tell you is a reasonably accurate summary of what he told us. If it is not totally accurate, I hope that he and you, dear reader, will forgive me.
For 10 years, I used to live in north Kent and often visited Whitstable to enjoy eating oysters for which this Kentish seaport is famous. The treasurer in Burnham told us that many of what are described as ‘Whitstable oysters’ were born in the mud beneath the river in Burnham-on-Crouch. From what I can recall, the young oysters, which grow in the mud beneath the Crouch, are dredged and then placed on boards to which they attach themselves. Keeping them submerged in seawater, the boards to which the young oysters are attached, were transported to Whitstable where they matured in its waters. The Burnham oysters were ‘native’, meaning that they began their lives there; they were not imported, as Thomas Campbell Eyton described in “A history of the oyster and the oyster fisheries” (published in 1858):
“On the shores of England the principal nurseries of oysters, not only for the English markets, but also for the foreign, are those on the coast of Essex and the estuaries adjoining: those taken there are called ‘Natives’. Mr. Sweeting claims the name as peculiarly applicable to his fishery, as within his memory no strange oysters have ever been introduced.”
One of the exhibits in the museum is a large model of the octagonal Victorian clock tower that dominates Burnham-on-Crouch’s High Street. The tower stands next to the building that used to house the former St Mary’s School. It was erected in 1877 to honour the local philanthropist Laban Sweeting (1793-1876). So, what, you might ask, and what has he got to with what I have been writing about?
Laban Sweeting, mentioned in the quoted from Eyton’s book, was a philanthropist; a member of The Burnham River Company; and he was one of the town’s oyster merchants. The museum has amongst its exhibits a small barrow, which used to be wheeled around Burnham by a member of the Sweeting family. It would have carried baskets of oysters ready for sale to the town’s populace.
We had visited Burnham once before, and although I was impressed by the clock tower, I knew nothing of its history. Neither did I know about the town’s association with oysters, which were poor people’s food in the 19th century, when chicken was a luxury. How times have changed.
EGLOSHAYLE IS ACROSS the Camel river, facing the Cornish town of Wadebridge. The Earl of St Vincent pub is hidden away up a hill behind Egloshayle’s St Petroc church. It is housed in a building built in the 17th century as a boarding house for masons. Later, it became a pub. One of its many guests was Admiral Sir John Jervis (1735-1823).
The interior of the pub has timber roof beams and a delightful feeling of times long gone by. It is a great example of many people’s idealised vision of a typical ‘olde worlde English’ country pub. Soon after entering the dimly lit establishment, and your eyes adjust to the low light levels, it becomes evident that the pub is full of clocks, mostly differing in design. Most of them appear to be in working order, but not many of them show the same time. A great number of the clocks chime at least once an hour, but not all at the same time. This being the case, there is usually at least one clock chiming at any given moment. This produces a lovely background symphony of chimes.
I asked one of the pub’s staff why there were so many clocks in the pub. She replied:
“Some people like children. We like clocks”
Later, I asked the landlady about the clocks. She told me that when they took over the pub some years ago, there was no clock in it. She and her husband bought one clock for the pub, and this became the start of their collection. They could not stop buying timepieces. She told me that there are over 200 clocks in the pub and winding them up every day is quite a huge task.
Apart from the fascinating clocks, the pub can be recommended for the delicious, excellently prepared, unpretentious food that can be eaten there.
JAN GARRIGUE MASARYK was born in Prague (Czechoslovakia) in 1886. Son of the first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), Jan was Foreign Minister of his country between 1940 and 1948, when two things happened. First, the Communists began tightening their grip on Czechoslovakia and possibly connected with that, Jan Masaryk was found dead in his pyjamas in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry in Prague on the 10th of March. By 1948, Prague already had a reputation for defenestration. Whether or not Jan was pushed out of a window remains uncertain. Two years earlier, a large non-descript house in Hampstead’s West End Lane became home to the recently formed National House, a meeting place for Czechoslovaks (mainly war veterans) in London. Now, it is known as Bohemia House. Its website (https://bohemiahouse.london/beginning-of-national-house/) explains:
“After communist revolution in 1948 and the USSR invasion to Czechoslovakia in 1968, providing the homely atmosphere as well as traditional cuisine. Converted into public house in mid 80’s, the National House serves also as a traditional restaurant showcasing Czech & Slovak cuisines to the public.”
It was in the 1980s that I first began visiting the place to sample Czechoslovak food and drink. After many years, I revisited the place recently (in March 2022).
If it were not for the sign advertising Pilsner Urquell beer projecting above a tall privet hedge, most passers-by would hardly notice that they were passing what is now a bar and restaurant. Immediately after entering via the front door, I noticed several commemorative plaques. One of them honours the British historian RW Seton-Watson (1879-1951), who fought for the rights of the Czechs and Slovaks and other subject people/nations of the former Austro-Hungarian Empireafter WW1. Next to that, there is a large metal plate remembering the Czechoslovak “soldiers, airmen, and patriots”, who fell in WW2. It makes special mention of the Czechoslovak men who flew from Leamington Spa and were parachuted into their Nazi-occupied country to assassinate Heydrich (see https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2021/11/25/leamington-spa-heydrich-and-the-tragedy-at-lidice/).
A doorway from the hallway leads into a front room used as a formal dining room. This is decorated in a mildly baroque style. A gold-framed portrait of TG Masaryk faces the door. Various other framed portraits including one of Queen Elizabeth II hang on the walls. A metal bust of TG Masaryk stands on a mantlepiece next to a credit card machine and a metal sculpture of a Czech airman and there is an old-fashioned gramophone with an LP on its turntable between the two metal sculptures. The formal dining room is separated by a folding screen from a much larger room behind it. The latter, with tables and chairs, a pool table, and a table-football unit, is a less formal space, which I do not remember from the 1980s. In those days, food was served to ‘outsiders’ in the formal front room.
The larger, rear room with windows overlooking the back garden has several interesting objects on its walls. A sombre-looking metal plate covered with many names lists those who “gave their lives for Freedom” between 1939 and 1945. On the wall facing this, there are two posters with photographs of Alexander Dubček (1921-1992), a Slovak Communist politician, who tried to reform the Communist government during the Prague Spring of 1968, which ended after a few months when the Soviet Army invaded his country. On a wall behind the table-football unit, there are two large, colourful, framed maps. One is of the Czech Republic and the other of the Slovak Republic. Between the end of WW1 and 1993, the two now independent countries were parts of one country: the former Czechoslovakia.
A visit to the toilet involves climbing the stairs to the first floor. After ascending the first flight of stairs, the next short flight approaches a huge painting depicting TG Masaryk dressed in a flowing light beige coat and sporting a straw hat with a black ribbon tied above its rim.
Today, Bohemia House continues to welcome guests, both from the lands, which were once Czechoslovakia, as well as others. Its bar offers a range of beers, spirits, wines, and soft drinks, from that region of Central Europe. I sampled a can of Kofola, a carbonated Czech soft drink, whose taste vaguely resembles Coca Cola. The pint of Pilsner Urquell beer was more enjoyable. We also tried a variety of dishes typically cooked in the Czech and Slovak republics. They were enjoyable enough, but I prefer the cuisines of both Poland and Hungary. However, do not let this comment put you off paying a visit to Bohemia House, where you will receive a warm welcome from its charming staff. And … if you wish to know more about Hampstead’s Czechoslovak, other Central European, and Soviet historical associations, you could do no better than to read my new book about the area, available from Amazon [https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92] and bookdepository.com [https://www.bookdepository.com/BENEATH-WIDE-SKY-HAMPSTEAD-ITS-ENVIRONS-2022-Adam-Yamey/9798407539520]).
THE SHED IS aptly named. It is a restaurant in a long lean-to shed amongst the more solidly built edifices on Palace Gardens Terrace in Notting Hill Gate. This ramshackle-looking wooden structure has been home to a restaurant for many decades. For most of that time, it was called ‘The Ark’. It served lovely French-influenced food including my favourite on its menu, rack of lamb. The Ark was a popular local eatery, which attracted some celebrities including Prince Charles and Ingrid Bergman in the 1960s.
On one occasion a friend, let us call him ‘X’, who had eaten at our home many times,offered to treat us at The Ark. We accepted willingly. As soon as we sat down, X ordered the restaurant’s most expensive bottle of red wine. When, during our meal, it came to an end, he ordered another of the same. When the bill arrived at the end of our dinner, X fumbled in his pockets, blushed, and then, stammering, said:
“Oh, I have left my wallet at home.”
His home was a long way from Notting Hill Gate. He continued:
“This is all I have got”,
and placed a £10 note on the table. £10 barely covered half the cost of one of the bottles of wine he had ordered. Naturally, we paid the bill, and he said he would refund us the money, which he must have forgotten to do.
The Ark closed and then re-opened as a branch of the restaurants run by the chef Jean-Christophe Novelli. It served what I considered to be rather over-priced pretentious food. On one occasion, the Novelli restaurant took part in a scheme run by the Evening Standard newspaper. For £15, restaurants in the scheme offered a full meal without drinks – a bargain. My wife rang Novelli at the old Ark and asked whether we could book a table that day and use the voucher in the newspaper for the discounted meal. She was told that the restaurant was fully booked. So, I rang about two minutes later and asked to book a table, but without mentioning the newspaper offer. The lady, who answered the ‘phone at the restaurant, told me:
“Certainly, we have plenty of tables. Come when you like.”
Novelli’s closed, and the old Ark building remained empty for a while.
“Tucked away behind a curtain of tousled ivy, The Shed serves up small, resourceful dishes built with foraged and locally-grown ingredients from the countryside. Led by the Gladwin Brother trio, who have their own farm and vineyard in Nutbourne, West Sussex, as well as two additional London restaurants, their flagship Shed was quick to become a local neighbourhood favourite when it first opened in 2012.
Though the menu changes seasonally, the original plates are still the best bet. (Note: everything is served tapas-style and 2-3 dishes per person is the recommendation.)”
I have been there a couple of times and found it to be both pleasant and original from the culinary vantage point. The serving staff, which briefly included our daughter, are obliging and well-trained. When ordering, the waiter or waitress discusses the dish and its ingredients knowledgeably. Pleasant as it is, it is not as enjoyable as The Ark was in its time.
SOUTH OF KENSINGTON Gardens, just west of the Royal Garden Hotel, there is a small green hut with a pitched roof beside Kensington Road. It is one of the thirteen remaining cabmen’s shelters dotted around central London, which were established by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund (‘CSF’) in 1875 and are still maintained by this organisation. Back in those days, cab drivers could not leave a cab stand whilst they were parked there. This made it difficult for cab drivers to obtain food and drink whilst on duty.
The solution to this problem was devised by the newspaper editor George Armstrong (1836–1907) and Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885). They conceived the idea of the shelters to provide cabdrivers with refreshment. By law, the shelters had to be no larger a horse and cart, which explains their small size. That way, they did not encroach on the carriageway too much. In the past, these shelters confined themselves to serving cabmen. More recently, members of the public can buy snacks and drinks at these huts, whose attendants are supposed to make a living from their shelters. Cabmen can eat within a shelter, but others can only use them for take-away refreshments.
Recently, when passing the shelter on Kensington Road, I noticed that there were a couple of menus attached to it. Next to them was a small blackboard on which the following was written in chalk:
“Till Rolls 3 for 2.50 Receipt pads 4 for 2£”
This is stationery for the exclusive use of taxicab drivers. I was pleased to see this because it means that although they are open to the public, they are still of special use to cabdrivers.
I have never sampled anything at a cabmen’s shelter, so have no idea of the quality provided. Years ago, when I was practising dentistry, one of my patients was a taxicab driver. He was a ‘foodie’ and told me that he knew great quality, reasonably-priced eating places all over London. I cannot recall that amongst the many places he told me about that there were any cabmen’s shelters.
NEEDING BREAKFAST ON our way from Warwick to visit Baddesley Clinton House, we chose to stop at the Hatton Locks Café, which we had noticed on our road map. What we did not know is that the café is located next to the uppermost of a flight (or series) of 21 canal locks. The locks are situated on a stretch of the Grand Union Canal that was, when it opened in 1799, the Warwick and Birmingham Canal, which was built to carry locally mined coal for use in power stations and nearby factories (https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/canal-history/history-features-and-articles/the-history-of-hatton-locks). It became an important transportation link between London and The Midlands.
The 21 locks are spread along an almost 2 mile stretch of the canal and the towpath along this section of the waterway is popular with cyclists, walkers, and their dogs. Some of the locks are narrow. They were built when the canal was first constructed. Other locks on the flight are far wider. They were built in 1932 and allow two craft to use the lock simultaneously. The newer locks were built at a time when the canal system began to have to compete with motorised road and rail transport.
The café is about 310 yards northwest of a small car park and is reached by walking along the towpath. Near the café, there are some unusual looking tables and benches made of old timber. Most of the timber pieces are planks with a short semi-circular projection at one end. These wooden piles used to be driven into the floor of the canal between parallel wooden blocks that held them straight upright against the walls of the waterway. Their purpose was to prevent the banks of the canal from being eroded by the water flowing past them. Nowadays, they have been replaced by coir matting that serves the same purpose because it is considered to be more eco-friendly that timber. The wooden piles were driven into place by a mechanised hammer system aboard a motorised boat that plied along the canal. One of these boats, now disused, has been preserved near the café.
The locks on the Hatton Flight looked different from the many other canal locks we have seen on our travels around the country. Each lock is flanked by what looks like a pair of tall, stout candles. These things house the mechanisms that control the flow of water into the locks and are operated by canal users equipped with a special handle or windlass that fits onto a projection that is linked to the gearing that operates the valve.
The Hatton Locks Café is a real treat, both visually and gastronomically. Both inside and outside, it is decorated with a profusion of objects, some folkloric, some whimsical, and others related to the life and traditions on the canal. A team of friendly workers produce simple but excellently prepared English breakfast items as well as very acceptable coffees. So good was our breakfast that we made a detour to return to this place on the following morning. Most of the clientele seemed to be locals, many of whom were on friendly terms with the staff. Although we had only been once before on a busy morning, the staff remembered exactly what we ate and drank on the day before. When we are next nearby, we shall certainly visit this wonderful establishment again. On our next visit, we will join the other walkers and stroll past all the 21 locks.
BRADFORD IN YORKSHIRE is a vibrant multi-ethnic city. Many of its inhabitants have their roots in the Indian subcontinent. We found that many of these people with subcontinental ancestry regard themselves as neither Pakistani nor Indian, but Kashmiri.
When we first visited Bradford a few years ago, we were itching to try the local restaurants serving what is generally called “Indian food”, regardless of whether it has been cooked by an Indian, or a Pakistani, or a Bangladeshi, or even a Kashmiri. As we drove from the station to our hotel in a taxi, we asked the driver, who was of Kashmiri descent, where he thought we would get good Indian food. He recommended ‘X’ in Bradford and ‘Y’ in nearby Shipley. A couple of other people, of whom we asked the same question, both recommended X. With three different recommendations for X, we decided to book it for that evening.
When I phoned the restaurant, a lady answered. I asked to book a table for two. Then, she asked:
“Is it two males or a male and a female?”
Puzzled, I replied:
“A male and a female.”
When we reached the restaurant, we were given a nice table. We had arrived at X with high expectations and good appetites. It was a pleasant restaurant with obliging staff. However, we were served one of the worst meals I have ever eaten in a restaurant serving Indian food. After this experience, we did not try another ‘Indian’ restaurant in Bradford.
During that unsatisfactory meal, the head waiter or manager came up to our table to ask if all was well. Politely, we replied that it was, but my Indian wife, who had seen ladies entering the restaurant but disappearing up a flight of stairs, remarked:
“I have noticed that apart from those little girls with their father, I am the only woman in this room. It does not bother me, but it is a bit strange.”
The head waiter looked perturbed and said:
“Sorry, so very sorry. You should not have been given a table in here. I was not aware of your arrival. Had I greeted you, I would not have seated you in here. It is reserved for men, and sometimes they can get rowdy. Can I move you to another table?”
We said that we were happy where we were. After the man left, we wondered how it was possible that men could get rowdy in a halal restaurant that clearly did not serve alcohol. At the end of the meal, we noticed that there was another section of the restaurant where men and women could dine together, a sort of ‘family room’. We also noticed that groups of women unaccompanied by men were directed to another part of the restaurant on the floor above. While the food at X was memorably poor, the experience was far from dull.
Recently, in September 2021, we revisited Bradford. There, we met our Polish host. Remembering our unfortunate experience at X, we thought it would be fun to try something different, a Polish restaurant perhaps. We asked Pavel if he could recommend one. To which he replied:
“There used to be a Polish restaurant here, but it’s closed. Anyway, I don’t like Polish food. You should eat curry here. Try the International. It’s just around the corner and gets good reviews on Tripadvisor.”
In view of our previous ‘Indian’ meal in Bradford, we entered the bustling International with some trepidation. When the food arrived, our fears evaporated rapidly. We were served some of the best ‘Indian’ food we have ever eaten in the UK. The portions were enormous, and we noticed that at every other table, diners were taking home the remains of their meals in packages. We also noticed that at almost every table, diners had ordered chips (French fries) with their ‘Indian’ dishes. The restaurant’s owner, the son of its founder who opened it 50 years ago, told us that in Bradford:
“These young people eat chips, pizzas, and burgers all the time; sometimes they don’t even eat curry.”
We asked him whether the International was an Indian or a Pakistani restaurant. He told us that it is the latter, but he and most of his staff are Kashmiri.
We enjoyed the International so much that we returned there for dinner on the following day. Once again, we enjoyed first class food served in huge portions. Thinking of the tandoori king prawns and lamb chops makes my mouth water as I write this piece.
On both occasions, we sat at tables on the ground floor. On the second evening, our table was next to a staircase leading to an upper floor, which we were told was used for parties. Both waiters bearing trays loaded with dishes of food and also customers continuously dashed up and down the stairs. At one point in the evening, a group of heavily bearded Asian men dressed in loose fitting robes, Pathan suits or similar, began ascending the stairs. One of them looked down at us, an Asian and European dining together, and we saw him smile and then heard him say: