Move over, there’s a new kid on the block, quite literally – at Block three, Blantyre Industrial Estate, Lanarkshire.
Central Cafe is located in a busy industrial space on the outskirts of Hamilton and located minutes off the main A725 East Kilbride Expressway. Not perhaps your first choice of location to travel to, but don’t be too hasty – bear with me on this one folks.
I turned up on a Friday afternoon at 12 noon for a lunch, having heard about this new business from a friend. I have to say I was intrigued – and the thought did run through my mind as to what quality of food could ever be offered by a ‘greasy spoon cafe’ on an industrial estate in Blantyre. Have you ever heard of that old saying “never judge a book by the cover?” Well in this particular case it was never more aptly applied!
The place was busy, even at 12 noon with what appeared to be a mix of tradesmen, businessman and local customers. That’s a sign immediately that this cafe and I hesitate to call it that because it’s so much more, is doing something right, particularly as it had only just opened the week previously.
The Stirling family are no strangers to the catering industry, having run mobile catering vans for close on 30 years. This new venture is run by mother and daughter, Kerry and Jade, with dad Brian occasionally stepping in as the hired help. It was also nice to see that the business is helping buck the unemployment rates in the area employing some local ladies to help out.
I mentioned earlier it was busy, and I now suspect the choice of location was quite deliberate. Plenty of free parking, great level disabled access, and a captive business audience is no small feat to pull off. I’m betting that at the time of my visit it was busier than many town centre establishments.
Being sited in a former industrial unit which has been completely refurbished at huge expense, it’ll take more than a few burgers to recoup the start-up costs for Central Cafe. But the benefits of starting from the ground up was a sensible one because the family could specify exactly what they wanted and how to make the best use of the available space. Spotlessly clean and sparkling, its a very pleasant environment in which to sit and have a nice home-cooked lunch, or, perhaps a morning coffee and a slice of delicious cake from a large selection in the cabinet.
There’s no missing it – well lit from the outside with good signage, it stands out from everything else around it in this estate, which is either industrial or commercially-based businesses.
The cafe features an open-plan interior design, with a mix of tables and booths set against the rear wall. From a design point of view, there’s nothing garish or too jarring on the eyes with a mix of creams, blacks and greys. The tables seat four customers and will easily accommodate four plates. Don’t you just hate it when you are eating out and there’s not enough room for everyone to actually use a section of the table at the same time! Not a problem here.
I had a chance to speak with Kerry briefly in between serving the queue that had built up and it was pleasing to see that they were also supporting local businesses with their milk, meat, bread and vegetables all being sourced within a 10-mile radius. They have adopted an ethos of buying locally where possible as they feel they can not only get a better service but can keep an eye of the quality of the raw ingredients. Sound business practice and one many others could and should follow.
The cafe is on one level, therefore, is ideal for the elderly or infirm and has a disabled toilet available.
Looking in on the kitchen, not something I often get the chance to do as a reviewer, but this one is a testament to the high priest of health and safety and every environmental health officer’s dream for kitchen design. Fully kitted out in stainless steel – from work surfaces to cabinets, sinks to service areas, there’s not a chance a germ would ever survive the daily cleaning regime in operation.
So, you’ll remember I said earlier to bear with me. Now you know why – this is as far removed from a greasy spoon cafe as you’ll ever find. You could transplant this into any rural location, call it a country tearoom, charge double the prices, and it would sit very happily in such a scenario.
The menu is extensive ranging from a breakfast priced at an absolutely stunning cut-price £5.00 consisting of an egg, potato scone, bacon, pork sausage, a slice of steak Lorne sausage (for my American followers, that’s square sausage), black pudding, hash brown, beans, fried tomato, mushrooms, toast, and tea or coffee. I’m going to stick my neck out here and challenge you to find one cheaper in the whole of Scotland offering the same quantity of food. Don’t fancy a full brekkie, then there’s a smaller one at £4.00, a bowl of porridge for £1.20, or French toast at £2.00. The lunch menu features daily specials, but always has fish and chips; Lasagne; steak pie, macaroni cheese; steak ciabatta; or breast of chicken curry – all priced at a very reasonable £4.20. Remember this is all home-cooked grub. None of this is pre-packaged rubbish. They have a selection of filled toasties or ciabatta all served with salad and crisps as a lighter alternative. However, the piece de resistance has to be the burgers. Prime Scottish beef on top of a toasted bun, with selections of toppings that include, bacon, cheese, onions, tomato and lettuce with a selection of sauces. Or why not ring the changes and opt for a chicken fillet instead. I saw some going out to tables and realised that I’d have to have been able to unhinge my jaw before even attempting one!
The one overriding feature that, I have to admit threw me, was the pricing structure. I think they are too cheap and are underselling themselves, because, put simply, the quality and portion sizes are such, that I am struggling to try and work out how they are making a profit from a homemade chicken curry with boiled rice at £4.20. My serving had a full chicken breast diced, half a stone of rice, and a half-pint of delicious Chinese curry sauce. I’d pay £10 for this in a Chinese restaurant any day of the week.
The cafe is open seven days a week, from 7.30am until 2.30pm at present, although I suspect they might manage to do some evening meals at weekends if there was enough interest. I believe a liquor licence would be the next step and who knows what could happen from there.
Anyway, back to the food. I decided to road test a couple of their lunchtime specials.
Starting with the chicken curry. This is cooked in a Chinese curry sauce along with onions. Served with a portion of well-cooked white boiled rice, which retained a loose texture and hadn’t been boiled to the point where it becomes gelatinous and lumpy. The chicken was irregularly shaped proving it did indeed start off as a chicken breast and not some mechanically-recovered muck. I estimated my plate had a good 8oz of chicken pieces, enrobed in a light sauce, which had that specific taste of your favourite Chinese takeaway. It was mild, yet still had an afterbite to it, and should easily suit most palates. The chicken was perfectly cooked. It was plainly obvious that it had been cooked in the sauce and not precooked then added later. The latter method generally overcooks the meat and dries it out. This was succulent and tender, juicy even and could be pulled apart using just a fork. I worry about dishes that are cooked in advance for ‘mass catering’ purposes, but that simply wasn’t an issue at Central Cafe. My only suggestion would be to consider serving this with a small bowl of prawn crackers and adjust your price accordingly.
Moving onto the macaroni cheese next. I’ll stand up and be counted right now, my name is John and I’m a mac cheese aficionado, there, I’ve said it! So, it’s fair to say I can be a harsh critic of bad versions of this homely dish. I’m going to get this out of the way straight off by saying this was a little too mild for my liking, and I’ve have preferred to have seen a grilled cheese topping. For my taste, I like my cheese sauce made with a stronger mature cheddar, a wee tablespoon of Dijon mustard and a dash of Worcestershire sauce for a kick. But, and here’s the bit, at £4.20 I don’t believe they could make it with these ingredients, so it is what it is folks.
This is not fine dining and I had to remind myself of that more than once – this is a cafe – not a Michelin restaurant, although it is at the top of its game in the cafe industry. The pasta was soft and tender, not overcooked, and was a proper macaroni, which we all know, don’t we, holds a good portion of sauce both inside and outside the pasta shape. The sauce was of a consistency that it provided a good coating, it was creamy and cheesy, just as it should be, and more than acceptable. I’ve had much worse mac cheeses served to me in many places where it was dry, tough, inedible, the cheese topping having been burnt etc. My portion was served with a slice of garlic bread, and a side order of chips (USA: fries). While the latter was of the frozen variety, they were cooked fresh to order, so were piping hot. A nice golden colour they had a crispy outside while the inside was still light and fluffy, just as a chip should be.
These dishes, along with the other specials are available as takeaway dishes in a medium (£3.20) or a large portion(£4), as well as on a meal deal (from £3.70) which provides a canned soft drink.
The toilets, which I always visit on food reviews can tell a whole different story altogether about a businesses attitude to cleanliness. There are three, including a disabled toilet properly fitted out for wheelchair users with an emergency alert cord – and it’s huge! Like the cafe, they were spotless with liquid soaps, hand dryers, and plenty of toilet rolls provided.
If you’re looking to visit, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly and without reservation. In fact, I’d go further and say it’s the best local cafe in Lanarkshire, offering cracking food at very reasonable prices in comfortable and clean surroundings – what more do you need?
Check them out on facebook at: Central Cafe