How would the British Scene be complete without those little cafés in every street in town? Many have moved with the times, and may nowadays have a 'Continental' air, with outside tables - as if they were the very hub of street life, just as they would be in France.
But an English Café is quite different. It's open at odd times, not all hours. And no Pernod served here! No French-style plat du jour, come to that.
The unmistakable signature of an English Café is its traditional and faithful emphasis on a fried meal built around the hearty Full English Breakfast. The menu is all some variation on that high-calorie dish - at its best tasty and succulent, full of colour and flavour and different textures. All washed down with a big mug or cup of proper English Breakfast Tea. [Lucy waves her Union Jack]
There may be umpteen variations on this one basic meal, larger or smaller, all the classic ingredients or just some, possibly with a quirky twist too. The less gargantuan permutations are presumably a nod in the direction of 'health', or as some pretence to gentility, catering for the sensibilities and smaller appetite of 'the missus', or the traditionally lean pocket of the old age pensioner. I dare say some of these establishments still dream of the Queen passing by, and suddenly fancying double fried egg, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, baked beans, tomato, hash browns and fried bread, all garnished with brown sauce. Or the Duke might. And is it so unbelievable? So often the general standard of cleanliness is good, the welcome cheerful, and a nice round of buttered bread all part of the package. Even Royalty could go for that.
To be honest, the quality of local café cooking is not always sky-high. It's usually perfectly all right, and the results perfectly edible; but the bacon might be a bit too streaky, and the sausages a bit too tasteless - indicating corners cut here and there. But it's all still often better than what you might get in, say, a department store.
The cooking can be excellent, though. When my Volvo dealer was in Portslade, in Victoria Road, there was a café called Wheelies just a few steps away. The road was in fact the HQ for a number of motor dealers - all the usual big names - and Wheelies' clientele consisted of not just locals, sundry tradesmen, delivery drivers, mechanics, and showroom staff, but also hungry car-owners like myself who had got up early to drop their car off for its service or whatever, and felt like a cooked breakfast just for once. The all-female crew in Wheelies always served up a very good meal. And it wasn't expensive. Their meals were named on a motoring theme, such as 'the 4x4', and they were a reason to look forward to having the car serviced. Thus fortified, one could face the day (and the big servicing bill) with equanimity.
Alas, in 2015 the Volvo dealer moved to East Worthing, and although the new premises were very posh, very Scandinavian, the local café up the road was not up to Wheelies' very high standard. It was certainly friendly, but I used it only the once.
You mustn't think that I am constantly popping into these places for a fry-up. They are a treat for three or four times a year only - like seaside fish and chips when on holiday. But I do know a thing or two about what makes for a good corner caff, one that I would recommend for instance to Her Majesty. (God Bless Her - my goodness, ninety today!)
And just as there are pubs you'd like to try, there are cafés you'd like to visit.
One of these is in Pier Road at Littlehampton, the smallish seaside resort on the River Arun with the big sandy beaches, west of Worthing. It's called the Dinky Doo Diner. I've known of its existence since 1993, when walking by with Mum. 'Oh, what an unusual name!' she cried. And so we had a good look. This would be during the afternoon, when it had done its morning trading and was now closed for the day. It seemed very smart, a bit out of the ordinary.
This is what we saw on that day in 1993:
The front part was indeed a bit small and intimate. We wondered what the 'Back Cabin' - with seating for twenty - was like. Hmm...'Top Class breakfast and grills'...it sounded a cut above the usual. But of course we had to leave it for another time. And that 'other time' never came. I passed by several times in the following years, when I came to Littlehampton with M---, or latterly on my own. But always in the afternoon, when it had closed for the day. It didn't seem to change. Some places grow old and tatty with their regulars, but the Dinky Doo Diner didn't. Here it is in 2007, and 2015:
Repainted, but with the same greenish colour scheme, the same style of menu - so I supposed it had remained in the same hands.
I was in Littlehampton a week ago, and decided to have a cup of tea and a bacon roll as my lunch. And I would have it (at last!) at the Dinky Doo Diner. But of course, as usual, I turned up after twelve noon, and was too late. I had a good look at the place though.
Well, this was a bit disappointing! I'd been anticipating a nice café experience, and couldn't have it. I'd wanted to get into a chat with the owners - surely not difficult, considering the close proximity of counter and tables - and find out more about the origins of this little business, and why that name, and so on. Of course, I still met the need for something hot to eat just up the road, at Osca's Fish & Chips - a child's portion of chips for 75p, which I ate on the quayside:
I will just have to return. I'll do this one morning soon, before I go away, and satisfy my curiosity! Yes...a nice morning out, even if it rains, ending up in Chichester or Bosham or West Wittering perhaps.
About that name. 'Dinky Doo' suggests something small, and that certainly fits. Ignoring the crass Urban Dictionary entries, I found this at http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/forums/viewthread/4132/ - which suggested that 'dinky doo' meant little, good, or or was a term for hard work. And the 1993 photos have 'Little & Good' under the name on the wall-mounted board outside. You could even speculate that the owners were a couple called Mr Tom Little and Miss Phyllis Good, or some variation on that. Well, I would ask!