I reckon I have eaten in a fair number of eating places in my sixty odd years but not excessively so given I usually reserve my visits for business trips, holiday times and special occasions. I reckon I am a fair judge on the relative merits of individual restaurants, knowing how to appraise things like food, value, service and ambiance and, although I reckon I am biased, I do have a good inkling on what I am looking out for when it comes to favouring good quality, but just as important quantity, grub, English and foreign, served smartly and efficiently, with a smile and good value, in a nice setting, rather than fancy frills stuff and not enough of it and which flatters to deceive.
Being frugally minded, I tend to look for value for money. Often it is a matter of mood and occasion: for my birthday, the old White Horse in Southchurch might have got the nod in the past, and if it is my wife’s birthday it may well be Tomassi’s in the High Street we visit to celebrate the occasion, or a good Indian (wife), good Chinese (me) and, if not a drawn out affair, of the eat what you want as much as you want and serve yourself sort, although there are times when waiting is good if the occasion demands and what is served is worth waiting for. I reckon, if one of those newspapers that do taste tests and publish their results wanted someone to do this on their behalf, I would be happy to oblige for the price of the meal, and they would benefit, as would their readers – but I am still waiting for that call!
One special category of eating out place, often overlooked when it comes to taste tests, are cafes that serve breakfast, and by that I mean “full English”, often rough and ready, good value and scrumptious all at the same time, although not necessarily meeting the approval of the healthy eating brigade. I reckon I have visited a good number of such establishments in my own local area, over the years, although, as I have come to discover, there are significant variations. Many have a community feel given many of the clients are regulars who know each other, with the cafe providing the type of neutral safe place long associated with pubs, although the down side is they can be quite cliquey. Having sampled what is on offer, although not for the reasons given above, but rather as a means to get a decent breakfast that I don’t need to prepare, that isn’t that costly, often having just worked out in the gym, even if it does mean undoing the good I had just done, I feel I am qualified to comment. When it comes to value for money, you can’t beat the eat as much as you like Toby Carvery but, for a good all round breakfast, and I mean egg, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, toast and tea, all for £3, Deb’s diner in Sutton Road is my current favorite.
But returning to the sort of restaurant that attracts reviews, the latest in a long line to try out was Grumpy’s diner in Southchurch Road. It was a joint family, spur of the moment, decision to visit this restaurant, aptly named after its veteran owner, of fish and chips fame, and my local councillor, Paul Van Looy. The restaurant has been opened for less than a year and has an interesting take as to what the punters might be looking for, and which has been on my “must visit” list for some while. Not only did it serve the sort of food my family likes but it has adopted an intriguing 1950’s American theme, something I hadn’t come across before. I am happy to report we weren’t disappointed. It should be added that my family (me, wife, son) all have our own ideas on what it is we look for in a restaurant, many of which were seen in practice, and we all liked it.
We each had our own peculiar, high culinary and good service expectations and quirks and these were humoured. I am no fan of American mustard but English was on hand. My wife just loves seriously hot chilly sauce and got it. As for my son, the burger served to him looked and tasted yummy such that a hard to impress 16 year old was actually impressed! We were served by a cheery waitress, who told us what we wanted to know, and the service was prompt, friendly and relaxed. Even Mr Grumpy himself was on hand affably exchanging banter with his customers, all of whom seemed to be enjoying their dining experience. It was nice to see coke served the old fashioned way, look with nostalgia at the old style juke box and stare at the pictures on the wall of well known figures of that era (although my favorite, the Fonz, was absent) as well as other 1950’s paraphernalia and furniture and decor appropriate to the period.
In terms of food, value, service and ambiance, Grumpy’s scored highly, although when I next chat with the owner I might have minor suggestions to improve but the positives far outweigh the negatives. As for the 1950’s American theme, it wasn’t over the top for those who don’t care for such things, and contributed to the wow factor we felt when we visited Grumpy’s. Me and Councillor Van Looy don’t always see eye to eye but, as far as restaurants go, he knows his stuff and this is one venture that deserves to succeed.
I have no hesitation in recommending to those that are reading this that they schedule in a visit to Grumpy’s diner. I believe that like us they will not be disappointed if they do.