Viva la Lay-By!By Sally Bryant
July 03, 2008
When a ‘greasy spoon’ beats a Michelin-starred restaurant in hygiene and management ratings, it really is crying out for a review.
Last week, tempers flared in some kitchens when Wokingham Borough Council launched its Scores on the Doors scheme.
Every business preparing or serving food has been rated between zero and five stars after environmental health inspections.
The Lay-By Café in London Road has been awarded five stars, which shows the popular name for the Great British café is far from the truth in this case.
And it was enough of a reason for my colleague Hugh and I to call a business meeting – and that’s a blatant euphemism for starting the day with a great big fry-up.
I used to drive past the Lay-By on my way to work and there were always lorries parked up outside, but I had never been inside before our early start on Thursday.
Manager Rakesh (Ricky) Marwaha, who has had the café for two-and-a-half years, says there is passing trade but he suspects some Wokingham people might not even know it is there.
I suspect there aren’t as many local regulars as there might be because the traditional British café has been overshadowed by the ‘glitz’ of Starbucks et al (unless you live in Walford or Coronation Street).
Perhaps it is time for a revival – and as Hugh and I found out, if there is one we won’t be starting the day on an empty stomach.
Just to deal with the ‘greasy’ tag, the Lay-By wasn’t.
There wasn’t a trace of awful sticky-tables-and-floor syndrome, and crockery and cutlery was spotless.
Even more importantly, there was no excess grease on our plates and, as we both went for the all day breakfast, that’s quite an achievement.
After collecting mugs of steaming tea and coffee (I let the side down with the coffee, although I know tea’s really the thing), Hugh and I sat down and marvelled at how many people were already on the road and needing a break – well, we don’t get out much!
In only a couple of minutes, our order was ready and the platefuls were impressive. Just £4.45 buys two big rashers of bacon, sausage, egg, fried bread, either baked beans or tomatoes, a slice of bread and butter and your tea (coffee is 15p more).
Ambitiously, we ordered extras as well – Hugh had hash browns and I added mushrooms – but as we were almost too full to move by the end, we realised this might have been foolish.
I have to confess I did approach this ‘breakfast meeting’ with a little trepidation.
Not only am I not a breakfast person, I am amazingly fussy about the very, very few fry-ups I do eat and runny egg white or flabby bacon would see me running out the door.
I am happy to say everything was well-cooked, piping hot and tasty.
The bacon was smoked and lean, the sausage obviously wasn’t handmade by an awarding-winning butcher, but it was well-cooked, and the fried bread was impressively crisp and dry.
My mushrooms were finely-sliced, plentiful and again not greasy, while Hugh gave the hash browns the thumbs-up.
I do think fried fresh tomatoes would have been nice, but I did enjoy the tinned ones and I had more than enough (Hugh reckoned almost a whole tinful) to moisten the rest of my meal and cut the richness a little.
For less than a fiver, this was good value and there is a varied menu with plenty of other options like burger, chips and beans for £3.65, or an omelette or beans on toast for lighter snacks.
The café is open until 2.30pm and lunches include cottage pie (or steak and kidney), roast potatoes, peas, carrots and gravy for £4.60, which will barely buy you a takeaway sandwich and bag of crisps.
You can even follow it with good old jam roly-poly, and pudding doesn’t come more traditional than that – perhaps the soaps aren’t so silly and it is time to give the caff another chance.
- Address: Lay-By Café
380 London Road,