Saturday, 21 July 2007

Blast from the past

Before anyone starts accusing me of going all Andrew Brown on you and posting pictures of my dinner for no discernable reason, let me just explain.

Anyone who has lived in these parts for a more than six years or so may remember the legendary Heather's Bistro in McMillan Street, just off Creek Road. Heather's started off in a scruffy little cafe down on Trundley's Road in the New Cross wastelands; during the day it was a regular greasy spoon, but a few evenings a week, it was transformed into a vegetarian buffet which soon attracted rave reviews. Its location made it difficult to find, but kept it from getting too overcrowded.

When it relocated to a former pub in McMillan Street, not only was it more accessible but it was on much larger premises and was open six evenings a week. Having been meaning to try it for years, but never being quite sure how to get to the place, I started visiting the new premises fairly regularly.

The food was magnificent - even die-hard carnivores were forced to admit that this veggie stuff was quite tasty! It was also very good value - customers paid £14 a head to visit the buffet as often as they liked for soups, salads, main courses (usually a choice of several) puddings, home-made bread etc etc. In fact, here's the menu from 2001 just to give you an idea of the sort of thing we are talking about. They also had a great organic wine list (long before anyone else did) and I think this was the first place where I tried English wine, and was pleasantly surprised!

It was also memorable for me because of the lavender shortcake I tried there; the delicate, slightly perfumed flavour was a revelation to me, I hadn't imagined that something which was usually found in overpowering bubble bath could produce such a delicious taste.

Yesterday I decided to try and recreate it - having bought some 'culinary-grade' lavender from the Herb Garden near Chesterfield in Derbyshire. Here it is - a regular shortcake recipe (mostly butter, sugar and flour in unhealthy quantities) with a bit of lavender mixed in. I'm looking forward to a taste of it, and being transported back to that revelationary experience that night at Heather's.

Sadly, the restaurant closed down in 2001 when the owners decided to move out of London and couldn't find anyone to take it over. Writing this post has reminded me what a great place it was and how much I missed it. Although I'm generally of the opinion that change is a good thing - if places and people stay the same, they become stale and tired - but I would have liked a couple more years to enjoy Heather's!


Anonymous said...

Absolutely, Heathers was brilliant - I was living in Camberwell back then but travelled to Deptford to go to Heathers. Could someone please open another Heathers, preferably in Ladywell this time ;)

Anonymous said...

Incidentally the original Heathers continued to operate in Trundleys Road during the whole lifetaime of the veggie Heather's. I haven't been there in years now but it still appears to be open. It was run by Heather herself - I don't know whether it still is.

Although it served traditional cafe stuff I think it's unfair to call it "scruffy". The surroundings seemd to me to be clear and restful - with changing displays of original art on the walls and very friendly service.

Again - this is from memory of about 10 years ago.

DDKK said...

Apologies John, my use of the word 'scruffy' was based entirely on the outer appearance of the cafe (and seeing it from a bike as I pass by, what's more!). Thanks for the information, I hadn't realised the distinction between the two either!

Andrew Brown said...

"no discernible reason"

Maybe; but I've had more invitations to swanky North London bars as a result of my inept food blogging than I have as an inept social activist blogger.

So don't knock it 'til you've tried it. :-)

bob said...

I always thought Heather's was a bit overrated myself, but was sad when it went. It's interesting how the two pioneers of catering for the boho gentrifiers in Deptford (Heather's and the Revival) moved on just as the area became "hot property".

The original Heather's on Trundley's Rd (see Johnse18 above) was one of the best greasy spoon type cafes right up until its closure some months ago. I heard it closed because of intimadation from the neighbouring horrible greasy spoon, but that might be the malicious Deptford rumour mill, and also that some of the Sandford Co-op posse were thinking of taking it over, but that's probably the utopian Deptford rumour mill.

Slightly related: I'm currently a big fan of Cafe des Amis at the top of the High St.

And finally, Andrew, who wants to go to swanky North London bars when you can go to scruffy South London ones?

DDKK said...

Bob, you're right, the Cafe des Amis is the best breakfast caff on the high street. Sadly we have lost two traditional caffs in the last two years - the former Buddy's Music Cafe is still there under a different name but serves no pork, a major consideration for an old-fashioned English fry-up, and Little Mo's, at the north end, closed down a few months ago. We only recently discovered the Cafe des Amis as it's the furthest walk for our lazy legs on a Saturday morning, but we now know it's worth the effort! I think they use REAL BUTTER too! How's that for a rare thing!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear that the original Heather's has closed. It's horrible if it really was due to intimidation.

Heather always struck me as an highly articulate woman of wit and education. If you met her away from work you wouldn't put her down as a cafe owner in Deptford (sorry if that sounds snobbish - it's not meant to be).

I seem to rememeber overhearing that at one point she left to live in Italy, handing over the running of the cafe to her daughter, but later returned.

The cafe was originally open just for breakfast and lunch, but then the veggie people (who I think may have lived upstairs as lodgers) started as a separate enterprise in the evenings. later moving to the separate larger premises.

Anyway - all very sad.

Reidski said...

Heather's both at the caff and in the restaurant was ace. Of course, you liberal veggie lot will try and ignore the politics of the folks who ran it as they were both good Communist Party members and put on benefits for the party, Cuba Solidarity Campaign and all sorts of progressive causes!

Anonymous said...

I'm told they also held fundraising nights for the Green Party too ;).

bob said...

To be honest, Little Mo's and Buddy's were not great caffs, by South London standards. But it's a pity that they are gone. How come Deptford can't manage a single decent greasy spoon?

I was shocked to be told Cafe des Amies has been there for 3 years, and somehow I didn't notice it.

Terry Chappell Seal said...

I hope Heather finds this post, I loved walking off to have a break from the firm there. Trundles road was my other office. So before you all get off on technical things. Heather worked hard at building the place up, serving breakfasts and then Bistro at night. I wanted so bad to see her again. She lightened up a stressful day. With all the regulars, it was a bee hive of jokes etc. Whatever you did after, may it go well.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, remember this place, Heathers from 20 odd years ago, had my partners 40th there. Wonder what happened to the people who ran it? shame it is still not going, would have paid a visit for old times sake.