Those reading who have been to Penge probably live there and so find themselves in the postcode regularly. And so they are likely to already know all about the Garden Café, with its hallucinogenic pink chairs and mustard yellow signage.
Those who haven’t been to Penge are likely to either pour scorn on the area or declare they haven't heard of it, the London-bordering, mystifying place that it is. Penge is not Haggerston. Penge is not Chelsea. Penge is absolutely not Camberwell.
I am suggesting a visit. Or, in the least, a stop to attend if nearby or driving through. Which is likelier than some might suppose, despite being a transitory sort of place, because Penge sits snug below Crystal Palace Park, a keen and worthy attraction full of plastic dinosaurs.
The café is a lovely spot, with a Turkish owner (or two) and an orderly and efficient service. It’s also much larger than most greasy spoons and is therefore light and airy — favourable perhaps when hangovers are particularly belligerent.
As for the décor, it is part Wes Anderson, part Eastern European train station. Throw in a little provisional French booking office and a touch of Southeast Asian hairdressers and you might start to envisage the situation at hand. It could even be a Thai café dreamed up by a prominent London hospitality group.
Then again, Garden Café is its own world entirely, fabricated out of something unyielding, firm but cordial. The floor is chequered lino, the walls wood and plastic panels; there are a few mirrors here and there, paintings of leafy country scenes next to bushy plants and pink flowers. All this beneath ceiling fans, a tiled ceiling much like those in schools. Lighting is bright but not oppressively so.
There is an open kitchen but with glass and grey metal barriers separating the toils of the hot plates with the muffled thrum of the dining room. Never full but always busy. The breakfasts are set as is customary but they’ll do you a fry up any which way.
As for the décor, it offers elements of Wes Anderson, with a suggestion of an Eastern European train station
On my first visit I had a predictable arrangement of two sausages, two eggs, two bacon, two hash browns, and fried tomatoes. No bubble here — the cookery is more clinical, which might be instinctively edifying in such confines but has its place. Eggs are cooked and served as two well proportioned, neat little discs, though are still bouncy and jostling with texture. The sausages and bacon are cleanly done, a little on the salty side, and the hash browns are among the best I’ve tried thanks to their tremendous crunch. As for the fried tomatoes, well, these are glorious: sliced to be thin so that penetrating raw middle that sometimes makes its sorry way into proceedings has no chance of existing.
I have visited the café more than once on account of family members living in and around South London. It is a merry stop-off though I’d hasten to recommend it as a destination for anyone who enjoys spending only £10 availing themselves a happy fill before or after cantering around a large park.
Garden Café is open every day, life’s frangible cogs move within it, and I adore the fact that they haven’t taken the plastic off the bright pink chairs.
Garden Café, 108-110 High Street, Penge, SE20 7EZ, 07856 847337