Cafe Rafina, 45 West St, Reading RG1 1TZ.
Theme restaurants. They’re a bit weird, aren’t they? Rather than catch a diner’s attention because of the quality of the menu, they stick out because of a daft gimmick. Whether it’s a Medieval banquet, a rainforest cafe or bistro called ‘Fred & Rose’s’ that’s decked out as an exact replica of 25 Cromwell Street – they’re often style over substance. But not at the unique dining experience that is Cafe Rafina. Themed to give the full experience of eating in a roadside cafe in the early seventies, this place backs up its clever idea with excellent grub.
What They Sell: ‘Rafina’ is actually Portuguese for ‘sausage, egg, chips and beans’, so you know from the get-go that you’re dealing with a greasy spoon. The fry-ups are called ‘grills’, though. They also sell weirdly cheap burgers, omelettes, sandwiches and a few other things (including something called a ‘salad’). SEE?
In Their Own Bullshit: They have no website or social media presence, so there’s no bullshit. It’s a very clever and edgy marketing tactic.
‘Restaurant’ Decor: It looks like the kind of place that someone scoping out locations for a new ITV drama about the Yorkshire Ripper would cream themselves over. You can imagine a scene filmed inside Cafe Rafina – doubled as a roadside cafe – where Peter Sutcliffe buys a hungry young prostitute a slap-up grill before leading her into the cabin of his lorry and using her bonce for hammer practice.
What We Ordered: A simple toasted fried egg and bacon sandwich. With an orange juice.
What We Received: Exactly what we ordered.
Number of Mistakes to Order: None.
Clientele: A mixture. Not of classes, obviously. This is firmly a working class establishment (for fans of the ‘socio-economic’ grouping system, we’re talking C3, D & E here). Clearly, they’ve misidentified Cafe Rafina as an actual greasy spoon with early seventies decor and not a very clever and ironic eatery. So expect to find women with unruly kids, the elderly, the dentally challenged and the odd dad on bi-weekly kid duties desperately trying to think what else to do to entertain their spawn (we recommend the cinema, then a long lecture about why the child’s mother is a heartless bitch).
Service: We went fairly early on a Saturday morning and it wasn’t packed. Even so, we were pounced on unusually quickly and enthusiastically by the lady serving. We ordered and were served oddly briskly and efficiently. Is this what the early seventies were like? If so, Showaddywaddy, flares and rampant child sex abuse by entertainment figures aside, what a decade to be alive in!
Specials Worth Going ‘Off The Menu’ For? A cup o’ beans, man. With a sausage in n’ all. It’s like a savoury 99…
Time Taken From Order To Leaving: Four minutes.
Highlights: This astonishing exclusive one person VIP area or ‘table for one’. With stunning views of what appears to be a small electrical cupboard, this seat is not for the claustrophobic or panicky fried egg sandwich eater.
Digestive Impact: Unlike Chicken Base, there were no ill effects or emergency toilet trips required after this quick breakfast stop-off.
A blast from the past, Cafe Rafina – for all our piss taking – is a cracking little place. Humble, ‘down to earth’, modest… There are loads of words to use when you mean ‘a bit shit’. But we reckon it’s worth its weight in bacon. It’s clean, the service is disturbingly quick, the food’s fried and tasty and cheap. Go there, eat a fry-up and don’t forget to tip the waitress you tight-fisted sod.