I fully expected it to just get better and better, and they’ve not let me down.
Central Cafe is located in a busy industrial space on the outskirts of Hamilton and is located off the main A725 East Kilbride Expressway. Not perhaps your first choice of dining locations, but just bear with me on this one folks, and don’t be too hasty.
Back then, some two-and-a-half years ago, I remember saying to my good friend Bryan Price who owns the garage next door and who had tipped me off about this place, that I’d be back for an updated review because I knew it had such untapped potential. And so it has come to pass. I can count on one hand the number of establishments I’ve reviewed twice!
I remember turning up on a Friday afternoon at 12 noon for a lunch, having heard about this new business. I have to say I was intrigued back then – and the thought did run through my mind as to what quality of food could ever be offered by a ‘greasy spoon cafe’ on a dull, and rather forlorn industrial estate in Blantyre.
I chastised myself at the time with that old saying ‘never judge a book by the cover’. Well in this particular case it was never more aptly applied.
My return visit, well, actually, I’ve since been several times, however, for the purposes of this review, I went back at the same time 12 noon on a Friday.
Luckily, I had the foresight to pre-book a table, on my arrival, there was a queue. And that has always been the case at Central Cafe.
The place was busy, with a number of people waiting on take-away orders at the newly installed window serving hatch, several more full tables on the patio outside, and only two tables free inside.
There was an equal mix of people in boiler suits, your standard salesman in a suit, the girls from the local offices, and some passing local custom.
That’s a sign immediately that this place has just got it right, for without that magic mix of good food at reasonable prices, served by staff who are happy at their work, and a business that caters for all demographics of society, they wouldn’t have lasted – but not only that, they’ve not stood still in all that time, always looking for the next dish to put on, or the next revamp. They are keeping the competition on its toes and dancing to their tune, and what a great place to be.
Central Cafe is run by the Stirling family who themselves are no strangers to the catering industry, having run mobile catering vans for close on 30 years. This new venture back in 2019 was being run by mother and daughter, Kerry and Jade, with dad Brian occasionally stepping in as the hired help. Now they have several people working for them at way above Living Wage rates.
I was delighted to learn that all throughout this global pandemic and lockdown, the business held onto all its staff and never let a single person go – that’s some achievement when one considers the food industry was hit severely. Yet, that didn’t stop this team, they rolled up their sleeves, gritted their teeth, put a covid safe plan in place and opened for take-away food using a newly installed window serving hatch.
The choice of location is excellent. Plenty of free parking, good level disabled access, and a captive mixed-business audience within the industrial estate showed that this was always a very carefully thought out plan.
Spotlessly clean and sparklingly fresh looking, it’s 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 normally large selection, although, if like me you’re late getting there, don’t be disappointed to find they’ve sold out!
And you won’t miss it either, it stands out from everything else in this estate, which is generally industrial grey in colour.
The cafe features an open-plan interior design, with a mix of tables and booths set against the rear wall. 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 still actively supporting local businesses with their milk, meat, bread and vegetable orders all being sourced within a 10-mile radius. They have maintained their ethos of buying locally where possible as they feel they can not only get a better service but can keep an eye on the quality of the raw ingredients. Sound business practice and one many others could and should be looking to follow. But my experience in this line of business tells me it’s still very rare.
The cafe is on one level, therefore, is ideal for the elderly or infirm and has a fully accessible disabled toilet available.
I watched with interest as Brian, who appears to be the main Covid-19 safety anchor fastidiously wiped down every surface the minute a table became vacant. Nice to see they’re doing more than just paying lip service to hygiene in these uncertain times.
Looking in on the kitchen, not something I often get the chance to do as a reviewer, but this one is still a testament to the high priest of health and safety and every environmental health officer’s dream of a 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. Remarkable to think that way back in 2019, we had never heard of Covid-19. How life changes so quickly…
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 could ever possibly find north of Watford Gap.
The menu is still as extensive ranging from an all-day breakfast priced at an absolutely stunning cut-price £4.20 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, beans, 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 and quality of ingredients. Don’t fancy a full brekkie, then there’s beans on toast for £1.60, scrambled eggs on toast for £2.50 or a simple bacon roll at £1.40.
The lunch menu features daily specials, but generally 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 and frozen rubbish. They have a selection of filled toasties or ciabatta all served with salad and crisps as a lighter alternative. However, one of their specialities has to be the burgers. Prime beef on top of a proper Scottish morning roll, with a selection of toppings that include, bacon, cheese, onions, tomato and lettuce with a selection of sauces or dressings.
However, that was last time, now we have a menu and a selection of specials that causes a hiatus in the waiting hordes as you have to read the various cards printed above the hot-serve area. Bear in mind, as long as you don’t mind the tutting behind you because you’ve not had the foresight to decide in advance what to eat, then you should cope just fine.
The one overriding feature that I have to admit threw me then, and still does now, is the pricing structure. I still say they are simply 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, but they obviously are. Still, on the positive side of that argument of underselling, they could so easily have gone in the opposite direction as many others do – and found it was their downfall – when, with a captive market, bumped the prices sky-high. To Kerry and Brian’s credit they haven’t done that.
The cafe is open six days a week, from 7.30am until 2.30pm Monday to Friday and until 1.30pm on a Saturday. I am surprised that my prediction of them holding an alcohol licence hasn’t come to fruition, but then again, all things considered, it’s maybe been for the best!
Anyway, back to the food. I decided to road test a couple of their lunchtime specials.
But before I did that, being a sucker for a good lentil soup, I just had to try a bowl. Out it came, steaming hot, and in a bowl that would have served two people, but I’m really not complaining, I like my soup. This was pure delight, a soup lovers manna from heaven. Did you know it’s not that easy to make a proper tasty lentil soup? For a start you need a good ham hough to get the stock first, then do you wash the lentils or not? That’s a debate for another day. Anyway, this was a very fine soup, the blend was great, a nice ham taste with little bits of ham through it suggested it was made with a bone or two which had been stripped of their meat after cooking. There was no splitting of the soup which is my pet hate for lentil soup. Go on, try it, see for yourself.
Starting with the chicken curry which I had last time around too. 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 yellow sauce, which had that taste you’ll only find at your favourite Chinese takeaway. It was mild, yet still had an afterbite to it, and should easily suit most palates no matter how picky they might be. The ones you hear with “I can’t take hot food”, even they would be hard pushed to find fault. The chicken was perfectly cooked. It was succulent and tender, juicy even. My suggestion to consider serving this with a small bowl of prawn crackers and adjust the price accordingly obviously fell on deaf ears, although I can confirm the portion size hasn’t changed – it’s still huge.
Moving onto the shredded honey chilli chicken, served with either chips, rice, or, as in the case of my daughter half and half. As any good reviewer will tell you, it’s an impossible task to write about food without actually eating some. And therein lies the reason I nearly ended up in A&E with a fork-stab incident. The things I do for my career!
This isn’t fine dining, and you need to remember that, but what it is, is damn fine dining, there’s a very subtle difference in that statement. I’ve tried shredded chicken at home myself, dusted, seasoned, slaked in cornflour, fried – nope, not a bit like this. The chicken was tender and soft, hadn’t been overfried, and wasn’t greasy or oily. Drizzled with a sweet chilli dressing with peppers and onions sitting atop a platter of chips and boiled rice. It almost beat the youngster into submission, but she gamely kept going until the plate was cleaned. This was that good, I’ll move across from my chicken curry favourite next visit for this instead.
Now the chips, while they are 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. Cooked in fresh oil too so weren’t oily or with that horrible taste you get when a chip has been fried in oil that’s been used so often it makes them almost inedible.
Mrs M, the boss, was with me on this visit and opted for the steak stew. This time I was warmly welcomed into trying the stew. Lovely large chunky pieces of steak, so well cooked that you could tease it apart with a fork. Soft, tender, tasty, and all served with a lush beefy gravy. Never mind chips, get this on a plate with a dollop of mash – it’ll be a best-seller.
Unfortunately, when it comes to desserts, you’re limited. I did manage to bag the very last of a new cheesecake range the café is now stocking. A white chocolate and coconut version. Sometimes you just have to tell it the way it is, so rather than go into all the superfluous descriptors of smooth, lush etc, I’m going to say – try one. That is all!
This is a cafe – not a Michelin restaurant, although it’s fair to say it is at the highest pinnacle of the cafe industry, and many would do well to emulate the sheer genius of their business plan.
These dishes, along with the other specials are available as takeaway dishes in a medium or a large portion, as well as on a meal deal which provides a canned soft drink.
I’d recommend it wholeheartedly if you’re looking for a lunch or light snack comprising good home cooking at very reasonable prices. In fact, I’d go further and say it’s the best local cafe in Lanarkshire, offering cracking food and huge portions in comfortable and clean surroundings – what more do you want?
Check them out on Facebook at: Central Cafe