Sunday, 30 November 2008

T is for team

It has been nine weeks since opening and having received some really positive reviews, especially about the food, I have a humbling admission to make to myself. There is no ‘I’ in LanTana.

While I may be the chirpy proprietor steering the ship, below deck there is a formidable team beavering away in the kitchen and propelling us forward.

All of the awesome food we serve at our stunning café, from the properly scrambled eggs, the super salads and sunny breakfasts offerings, to the irresistible home baking is made at Lantana by a small dedicated team who arrive in the dark early hours of the morning and leave in the dark hours of the late afternoon, rarely surfacing from the basement kitchen to see daylight.

There’s Lisa, our calm, unflappable head chef from Newcastle Australia who handles a squeeze bottle like a sheriff handles a pistol;

Pete, our sous chef, who left the poorly paid, shallow world of advertising to pursue a more glamorous life as a chef, knowing he looked his best in white;

Slimane, our multilingual French Moroccan kitchen assistant who never loses his cool or his sense of humour, no matter how high the dirty dishes stack;

and Becky our part time chef, who is to vegetables what Gok Wan is to women- the makeover queen.
They spend their days sating the appetites of people they don’t know and rarely even see, so if they could have any meal prepared for them, what would it be and who would they want it prepared by?

For Lisa it’s a Lebanese feast with homemade chapattis, tabouleh, hummus and kibbeh made by her flatmate Candy. Pete requested roast swan or peacock prepared (posthumously) by Auguste Escoffier the grand-pere of French cuisine. Slimane misses the cous cous that only his mother can make, and Becky wants to re-experience the 14 course vegetarian dinner she had in a 12 seater restaurant in Japan, made by a chef called Mr Michi.

For me, it would be roast chicken made by my dad....but this is not about me.

Lisa, Pete, Becky and Slimane, thank you - from the bottom of my stomach.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Everybody loves Lucy

When Lantana was still a building site and I was surrounded by debris, dust and builders I would often look up to see a curious pair of eyes peering through the glass front door. That was how I met Lucy, oldest resident, matriarch and unofficial Mayor of Charlotte Place.

Lucy and her husband Dave moved into their small first floor flat above what is now Lantana in 1950 when rent was 7 shillings and sixpence.

I imagine it was a very different looking street in the 1950s than it is today.

Dave was the morning postman for 34 years, starting on a wage of £5 a week, and together they raised four children with no bathroom and only one bedroom to share between the six of them. Their children and grandchildren have now scattered across the globe to New Zealand, Sweden, Australia and Switzerland but Dave and Lucy have always been happy in Charlotte Place and say they will never leave, despite still having to walk down the street to a neighbour's to have a shower.

True to her Irish roots, Lucy is utterly charming and has the gift of the gab. I used to look forward to her daily visits when she would tell me about the various residents and businesses in Charlotte Place and see how our building works were progressing. Lucy’s oft repeated phrase, which did little to assuage my own concerns was, ‘You’re spending a lot of money dear, I do hope you do well’.

Everyone in the neighbourhood knows and loves Lucy. At lunch time she can be seen taking a stroll along the street, chatting to her subjects, receiving kisses and settling any disputes.

When one of the neighbours stopped to complain about my sign being too far out on the pavement, Lucy had a quiet word to her and the woman was on her way.

Once we were up and running I managed to convince Lucy to take me up on my offer of afternoon tea at Lantana. She came with Veronica, who has also lived in Charlotte Place for over 30 years, and after dismissing my suggestion of tea, ordered lattes and tried our banana bread which Lucy had never heard of ; “I’m a daft ol buggar”.

They were soon chatting to customers at the tables either side and told them that they were going to try to find me a husband- one with some money as "You don't want a husband with empty pockets".

I think Lucy’s a lucky ol buggar to be so well loved and content at the age of 84.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Today we're feeling...

Last week I had a phone call from the marketing department of Timeout Magazine to tell me the exciting news that Lantana is to be included in their Cheap Eats Special.

First thing on Wednesday morning I was at the newsagent to pick up a copy of Timeout, eager to read what they had written about the cafe.

While I don’t want to sound ungrateful for any free publicity, I admit, my brow did furrow and heart sank a little when I read the opening sentence: "This new Antipodean-style eatery is run by chirpy proprietor Shelagh Ryan."

Chirpy? Clowns are chirpy. Couldn’t I have been described as charming, charismatic or even good humoured? Chirpy just sounds annoying.

I thought I may have misunderstood the meaning so I looked up the definition of ‘chirpy’ and my heart sank further as I read some of the useage examples.
"He's driving me mad, he's so chirpy and chatty I want to kill him".

"Reese Witherspoon came on set about noon and seemed chirpy".
Suspicions confirmed. Chirpy people are annoying.

So if I seem a little mysterious and aloof when you next come to Lantana, don’t take it personally, I’m hoping its not too late to re-invent myself.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Soup cup alley

In an effort to let people know that we are not just an eat-in cafe but also do takeaway food and coffee I came up with the ingenious plan of setting up a soup urn with sandwiches and tarts on the outside table at lunchtime. The day before I planned to start the outside sales, I discovered that the butcher shop next door had the same bright idea and had also set up a soup urn in front of their shop.

I consulted with Simon, one of the owners of Blackfoot Butchers, and we agreed that this alley was big enough for two soup urns and that together we could make soup in Charlotte Place what music is to Tin Pan Alley.

Feeling slightly like amateurs trying to sell lemonade, Ulrika waits patiently for the punters to start queuing...

which the English are famed for.

Unfortunately this queue is for the burrito shop opposite us and our queue was a little more modest,

but appreciated.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Americans get the vote

On Wednesday the 5th of November we will wake to news of the American election results. Whatever your nationality or political affiliation, it has been hard not to become engaged in what has become one of the more compelling US soap operas with guest stars such as Bristol Palin and Joe the Plumber stealing the show.

My involvement has been largely through watching The Daily Show which, I suspect, has given me a slightly skewed perspective on the presidential candidates.

Whoever the American people choose as our President of the United States, Lantana will be celebrating the end of one of the longest running election campaigns with a £12 breakfast special for both the winners:

Prosseco with ricotta pancakes, crispy bacon and maple syrup

and the losers;

Bloody Mary with ricotta pancakes, crispy bacon and maple syrup

(Vegetarians can have poached fruit with their pancakes but that would be very unAmerican).

Come and join us.
"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter". Winston Churchill.