Writing by Peter Hilton

Closed-down cafes and restaurants

Reviews that have become obsolete, because the place closed down.

Most new cafes and restaurants fail sooner or later, leaving the established few. This is where I move reviews of places that close.

De Blauwe Kater De Blauwe Kater, Hallengang (Naamsestraat), Leuven

Good for: beer and music

This small jazz and blues bar tucked away off the side of Naamsestraat is a classic dark-and-dingy den of good music and hip students, that’s loud even when it’s quiet, and dark even when it’s sunny. Although there’s only one beer on tap, there is an excellent selection of bottled beers.

Commedia Commedia, Oude Markt 55, Leuven

Good for: chilling out, drinks and tapas

Tucked away in the corner of the hectic Oude Markt, here's a pleasant modern cafe bar of a kind rarely found in Benelux, let alone in small medieval university towns. This is what we like - a bar that takes its cocktails seriously, with good results and reasonable prices. The decor is from the school of dark wood, white synthetics, chrome, purple stripes and rounded rectangles; the music is inevitably lounge and electronic.

Imanus Sandwich Club Imanus Sandwich Club, Naamsestraat 17, Leuven

Good for: sandwiches

The excellent baguettes and Italian sandwiches - fresh ciabatta and focaccia - give this place a regular lunch time queue between twelve and one, when it fills up with students getting take away. You can sit down at the back, which is convenient, but not somewhere to hang around.

Orient Orient, Oude Markt 15, Leuven

Good for: drinks

Above average cafe and cocktail bar, whose hint of colonial style goes well with the afternoon lounge music. It also goes down well with Leuven's smart set. The cooler interior is a pleasant venue for a series of white beers (Brugse Wit) on a hot afternoon, and if it's still hot the next morning then this is also one of the nicer terraces for coffee on the shady side of the square.

If you're not so lucky and it's cold and horrible outside, then you'll be glad to discover that the coffee's above average here. Like Metropole, Orient does a good job of being good whatever the weather. Most of the cafes on Oude Markt, on the other hand, have good terraces but are horrendous inside. The only disappointment here was our cocktails, which despite the above-average price were not as good as they could have been.

Il Pastaio Il Pastaio, Parijsstraat 33, Leuven

Good for: lunch, dinner

Excellent pasta dishes made with their own fresh pasta, and some delicious specialities. Last time, we preceded our pasta with a gorgeous wild mushroom and truffle-oil crostini. A welcome addition to the civilised atmosphere is the rather nice house red, for which you are charged by the centimetre so there's no need to stick to one or two glasses. The only annoyance was that the main course's plates weren't heated-up so the pasta didn't stay very hot for long.

Starbucks - Market SquareStarbucks, Market Square, Cambridge

In pavement-starved Cambridge, this counts as a reasonable terrace (three tables, twelve chairs) with lots to watch, but the air conditioning unit makes a lot of noise, which makes it less relaxing than it might be. More importantly, though, there are good metal and wooden chairs that make Don Pasquale's white plastic horrors opposite look all the more tasteless.

Last visit: June 2005

Teri-Aki Teri-Aki, Quayside, Cambridge

Good for: lunch, dinner

Dojo used to be the best noodle bar in town, back when it was the only one; now Teri-Aki has knocked it back to second place. I haven't tried King Street and Mill Road's offerings yet, but early reports are not inviting.

Teri-Aki combines excellent food with an interesting menu - vegetable tempura and fresh soya beans in their pods are a great way to start. After that the noodle dishes are tasty and generous.

Verdict: best noodles in town

Last visit: August 2004

Old Orleans Old Orleans, Mill Lane, Cambridge

More bland pop-food - this time supposedly Cajun-style, for all the difference that makes here. My 'Cajun grilled chicken' turned out to be a piece of plain grilled meat with no seasoning or spices whatsoever, served with some vegetables cooked in the chip fryer. Neither the poor service nor the fake atmosphere made up for this.

Verdict: go to Chilies instead.

Jaffa Net CafeJaffa Net Cafe, Mill Road, Cambridge

Jaffa net café seems less of a cafe and more of a common room for international students than anything else, with posters, flags, computers for Internet access and small tables spanning two rooms inside and a covered outside 'greenhouse' that is way too hot for me today. The ambient sounds of typing and chat in languages I do not recognise form a steady background to the fairly loud commercial radio. Much of the decor and menu seem to be oriented towards the map of Palestine on the wall. The overall effect is lively and sociable - more a place to meet up with someone than to go and chill out with a book.

Last visit: August 2004

Dojo Dojo, Mill Lane, Cambridge

Dojo is clearly too popular for its own good; however quickly they get you through your meal there are still queues. They didn't actually bring the bill before we'd finished eating, but it was a close thing. You have to go to Dojo with the right expectations - if you don't mind the fast pace of the meal you'll love the excellent food. The portions are generous too; you almost certainly don't need a starter, which is a shame in a way.

The atmosphere is quite young and hip, and predictably studenty, given the trendy food and the low prices. This means that to really fit in you have to order a two-litre can of Japanese lager for your meal, rather than wine.

Verdict: Go with your mates repeatedly until you've tried all of the noodle dishes.

Chilies Chilies, 164-167 East Road, Cambridge

Yet another restaurant that serves American pop-food, distinguished by food that is actually rather good. Chilies is a huge place, which makes it ideal for large parties, and has much more convincing decor than Footlights had, say.

Verdict: go with at least a hundred people and eat lots of hot food.

Cazimir Cazimir, King Street, Cambridge

Good for: tea, coffee, cake, snacks

Cafe with international colour, colourful art, and bright orange paint colour. All this colour and the pop music make this feel like a young place, whoever is actually there, and in a good way that rubs off on you and makes you forget that you're not a carefree student any more.

The cakes and snacks are delicious, and more interesting than at most places around here.

Peculiarity: you have to ask one of the (always pretty) staff to use the staff toilet, because there is no customer toilet.

Last visit: August 2004

Caffe Uno Caffe Uno, Bridge Street, Cambridge

Good for: the terrace

Italian version of Café Rouge, only not as good, which in this case is a waste of Cambridge's best pavement terrace.

CB1 CB1, 32 Mill Road, Cambridge

Good for: tea, coffee, snacks, Internet, books, games

CB1 is, naturally enough, in Cambridge's CB1 post code area, which puts it on the dividing line between Town and Gown. Mill Road is the closest that Cambridge gets to being truly hip or bohemian. CB1 has an intellectual feel, with its second-hand books and people playing chess and other deeply thoughtful games. It isn't all intellectual though - CB1 is really a place to just hang around and drink coffee.

The books come in handy if no-one you know is there, or you don't feel like chatting to the people who are. Actually buying the books seems to be strictly optional, but they're very cheap and unless you lead a completely idle life you tend to have to be somewhere else after a couple of chapters and several coffees. Another side to CB1 emerges if you venture downstairs to find the toilet: there’s a deserted room - all that’s left from what was once a ‘cybercafe’, which is what people called them back before everyone had Internet access on their phone. This was unexpected in a cafe where people sipping coffee are actually having face-to-face conversations. Anyway, the cybercafe went back a long way - it was Britain's first outside London.

The most reassuring thing about CB1 is that this is an intellectual cafe that unashamedly shows a complete disregard for conventional style and presentation. The same is true of many of its customers, of course. Despite a comfortable lack of change in general, and of the comfortable furniture in particular, there have been relatively recent improvements in the coffee and number of sofas (now greater than zero).

Last visit: August 2014

Clowns, 54 King Street, Cambridge

Good for: coffee, cake, lunch

This 'Italian Coffee Bar' typifies the Cambridge phenomenon of British-style continental cafe. It looks more or less English but the owner, staff and menu aren't, except for the bits that are. It's like a bizarre reversal of the English-run 'continental cafe' that isn't. The final unique touch is the collection of entries in the childrens Clowns Art Competition that cover the walls.

Clowns is a very all-round place, with a mixed crowd, late opening hours and a broad menu that includes meals and alcoholic drinks.

On my last visit, I popped in to sit in the corner and read (and write). Clowns is great for this because there are several corners to sit and read in (I got the light one under the skylight) and because there is no annoying music. Well, actually, the radio was on behind the counter, but I could not hear it above the lively cosmopolitan chatter. There were lots of people in for lunch, and the chatter did not quieten down until later. Most people had the pasta dishes, which look large enough to preclude sampling the cake collection.

Verdict: one of the best Bohemian places to hang around for hours, with great cake

Last visit: July 2010

Cafe on the Round Cafe on the Round, Round Church Street, Cambridge

Good for: coffee

This small unpresuming cafe, previously called Dining Out, has a wide selection of sandwiches and coffees, and its simple decor style makes a nice change from the repeatable engineered design of the big chains. The coffee is good and I appreciated the huge cup for my double espresso having been pre-heated.

Last visit: July 2010

Richard'sRichard’s, Norfolk Street, Cambridge

Richard's is a pleasant little cafe, a copule of doors down from the much bigger and more cosmopolitan CB2. Richard's is more about food, and has an interesting menu of soups, salads, jacket spuds and sandwiches. My soup was good, although the bread was disappointingly boring - there are other places that would cater to my lust for crusty granary doorsteps.

Despite the inevitable sandwich bar aspect, there is some decent furniture to hang out on - five armchairs around two coffee tables and three small tables along the wall bench. Unlike most small cafes there seems to have been a little thought to the decor, with good use of colour and some pictures on the wall. It is just a shame that commercial radio spoils the atmosphere, although at least it is not loud.

So all in all this is a proper cafe that is well worth a visit.

De Volendammer De Volendammer, Coolsingel 107b, 3012AG Rotterdam

Recommendation: stop by and have fish or soup for lunch.

This above average fish bar is a good place to grab lunch on your way around town. There's a big menu, and the soup is recommended.

Peculiarity: fish and chips?

Cambrinus Cambrinus, Blaak 4, 3011TA Rotterdam

Recommendation: go to Locus Publicus for beer instead.

Good for: beer, drinking, beer, drinking beer

This Oude Haven bar used to have an excellent selection of beers, with eight on draught, but now the place has gone seriously down hill - past glories mostly forgotten. The knowledgeable (ex-)student staff and the legendary beer menu are gone, leaving an empty shell of a pub that seems rather desolate these days.

They also serve cafe food, which I do not normally associate with a busy pub atmosphere. Cambrinus is certainly more popular than most of the other local bars, probably because its interior is better suited to the dark winter evenings.

Cambrinus is okay in the summer, when the bar moves to its terrace out the back in the corner of Oude Haven. Cambrinus’ terrace used to the others on account of its decent furniture and better selection of draught beers, but not any more - now its lack of early-evening sun make it second-choice.

Even the menu used to be better several years ago, but now the food really lacks the originality it used to have and the quality to justify its above-average prices: you can get a better €15 steak and chips elsewhere.

Coopvaert Coopvaert, Blaak 776, Rotterdam

Try the sun-trap terrace, or the fancy food and spacious interior.

Coopvaert is a new cafe in the big and open ground floor of the new tower block next to the Maritime Museum.

The interior is big, open and white, with well-spaced small tables and lots of warm wood. The bustle of the open kitchen, lots of flowers and cool music do well to stop the plece feeling empty. The terrace on Plein 1940 is also somewhat special, with the whole square and the maritime museum as backdrop, and sun all afternoon.

Our first visit was just a quick coffee, but the menu looked interesting enough for a more foody visit. Since it reopened, Coopvaert has new people and a new menu, but the same interior. This time around, it is more about the food, with a fancy restaurant menu (PDF) whose three three-course options (€32.50/€22.50) are almost the whole à la carte menu.

The limited selection of meals includes plenty of interesting options when we went for dinner, so we had all three menus between us. The carpaccio was great: a generous portion with plenty of rucuola, and tasty pesto and capers. The fish main course - sole - was also good, but less interesting, like the chocolate dessert: nice, but nothing special.

Coopvaert is defeinitely worth a try, especially if you like the decor, but ultimately the food needs to be better to compete at this price; for the same money, we prefer to eat at Soit and Zinc.

Peculiarity: the menu features the most bizarre spelling mistakes, which you might think were deliberate if that were not so tacky: 'genocchi', 'pannacota', 'fettecini', 'jakki torri', 'harricote verts', 'compotte', 'kommer', and even 'Coopveart'.

Het Gelagh De Boer Buyten Het Gelagh De Boer Buyten, Witte de Withstraat 40b, Rotterdam

Recommendation: go for dinner, but not in a big group.

Het Gelagh is a fairly upmarket eetcafe style restaurant that serves an unusual selection of Dutch dishes with a Caribbean influence, or perhaps the other way around. The food is great, which along with the warm cosy interior makes this place worth a visit when you want something more fancy than Opa across the street, but with a similar atmosphere.

The main annoyance at Het Gelagh is that it is so cramped. It is fine for two, but on a previous visit with four people we had a table at the front that was not big enough, so there was no room to sit comfortably. The two tables at the very back are even worse. Our last visit was better, since the six of us had enough space, and we had a good experience because of the excellent service.

Peculiarity: you get Cinerama cinema discount tickets with your bill.

La Cantina del Coronel La Cantina del Coronel, Parijsstraat, Leuven

Good for: Mexican food and cocktails

This place has excellent cocktails for only €4.50, including a delicious house cocktail made with pisco, lime, egg white and topped with cinnamon. The piña colada, complete with fresh pineapple slice, was also rather well-received, but the churning vat of margherita behind the bar didn't look very appetising. Oh, and you can also get a wide selection of Soth American meals here whose quality and size makes up for the price on the menu. It's only a shame that the service, or should I say our waiter, was rather miserable.

Panem Unium Panem Unium, Tiensestraat, Leuven

Above average sandwich place with a more traditional menu than Imanus.

Good for: sandwiches

Social Ground Coffee LoungeSocial Ground Coffee Lounge, Botersloot 18a, Rotterdam

Good for: coffee, cake, terrace

Social Ground Coffee Lounge is Rotterdam's first real taste of the modern transatlantic multiple-choice coffee concept. The combination of smart decor, comfortable furniture and great coffee and cake make you want to outsource your lounge and just move in. So although the comparison with Starbucks is inevitable, and the similarity striking, Social Ground Coffee Lounge is a much better cafe than any Starbucks we have been to.

The decor is modern and refined, but has enough colour to make the place far less austere than Urban Espresso Bar, say. Best of all, though, are half a dozen leather armchairs that are comfortable enough to make this place seriously compete with your lounge at home. But then, face it - your home is probably not this cool. Meanwhile, most of the other nearby cafes are starting to look very old and tired.

The coffee is great, as expected. However, it is the element of choice that we really appreciate: sometimes you want an espresso, sometimes you need a huge milky coffee - especially in the winter, and sometimes you want something in between. Having to choose between gewone koffie and koffie verkeerd is just, well, wrong. Needless to say, there are a lot of other things to eat and drink: our grilled sandwiches were suitably tasty and the brownie was impressively big and chocolatey. It is going to take lots more lunches to sample everything on this menu.

Not only is there a decent terrace, but a welcome addition is the rain protection, which is bizarrely missing from terraces elsewhere in rainy Rotterdam.

Peculiarities: Social Ground Coffee Company's modernity is not just skin deep - one day every cafe will have a non-smoking policy and wireless Internet access.

CoffeeStudio CoffeeStudio, Binnenrotte 77

CoffeeStudio CoffeeStudio, Binnenrotte 77

Recommendation: fish club sandwich for lunch.

Coffee Studio is a great improvement on the previous cafes that have occupied this location. The cafe's bright colourful interior, the collection of pictures on the wall and the eclectic mix of cafe furniture are all much more cool than the previous interiors. What has not changed, of course, is that this side street of the busy Meent is just far enough around the corner to slightly less crowded than all of the other nearby cafes, which makes for a welcome escape from the weekend shopping frenzy.

On our first lunchtime visit we had sandwiches - the Spanish Serrano ham and the smoked trout were both excellent. Having also heard good reports from other people we went back to try the vegetarian quiche and a club sandwich, which were both impressively creative and tasty, and featured a generous side salad.

The best thing on the manu is probably the outrageously large and delicious fish club sandwich (€10.90), which is so well-filled that it is well worth the meal-sized price, unlike the comparatively meager offering for the same money at Hoofdstuk II. Needless to say, we have been back for the club sandwich several times, and have also enjoyed the excellent salads.

As well as the decent decor and food, the above-average service makes a great change from the competition, and seems to have largely survived Coffee Studio's rise to the popularity level of Urban Espresso Bar and Cappucino.

Deli-Chat Deli-Chat, Karel Doormanstraat 332

Recommendation: go to Bagel Bakery instead if you are fussy about your bagels

After taking over Bagels & More, the new owner's did not change a whole lot more than the name of this bagel cafe. The interior and decor is the same kind of smart modern, but with just enough extra kitsch and clutter to spoil the effect, albeit with some nice plants. The menu, similarly, still features bagels, sandwiches and toasted sandwiches, but now has a few Asian snacks such as bari and chicken curry sandwiches. We tried a bagel and a salad, which were okay but nothing special. The ham and chives cream cheese filling was good, but the bagel was not great, and both its side-salad and the separate salad were both marred by the sort of overly-sweet prefab dressing that presumably sells well in Dutch supermarkets.

Our first visit was on a deserted weekday late-afternoon, which was nice and relaxing until someone decided to start using an incredibly loud high-pitched hoover in the customer area. What are these people thinking? They recovered someone on our next visit, with better service, taking advantage of not being too full to do table service, despite instructions to the contrary on the menu.

Simply Bread Simply Bread, Oude Binnenweg 122, tel. 2827192

Good for: lunch

Simply Bread is part of a new clothes-stylist-cafe combo that is the first new sign of Oude Binnenweg's inevitable yuppification since Daily Wok opened.

As a cafe, Simply Bread is a bold step that ultimately does not work very well, because the shop and its associated noise spoils the cafe atmosphere, which ends up looking good but lacking calm and warmth.

The menu is good, with a big variety of about 20 interesting sandwiches, including a club focaccia, five bagels and lots of vegetarian options. The hummus bagel is especially good.

Koosie Koosie, Witte de Withstraat 51a, tel. 4142266

Recommendation: go for a hearty but refined dinner.

Koosie, opened in 2008, takes Witte de Withstraat upmarket with excellent traditional-style food, of the kind that we have previously enjoyed at Zinc. With its smart decor, dark wooden tables and lack of noise, Koosie achieves the same classy but informal atmosphere that is so successful at other good restaurants in Rotterdam, such as Soit and Look. Koosie also has excellent service, which you do not usually find in the cheaper restaurants.

On both visits, we could not resist the huge beenham (leg of pork), served on the bone with asparagus, which tasted great and fell off the bone with the slightest prod of the fork. The steak was also excellent, also with tasty potatoes and sauce, but the pork is a dish that we have not seen anywhere else in Rotterdam and is itself a good enough reason to try this place out. The starters and desserts we had were also good, and the large selection of fish on the specials board got our attention, so there will be plenty of menu to explore on future visits.

Peculiarity: 'Koosie' is the name of the owner's cat, which probably explains the various feline iconography.

Last visit: 19 August 2010

Entrée Entrée, Karel Doormanstraat 352, Rotterdam

Recommendation: go for a relaxed an tasty lunch, inside or outside.

Entrée is a rare find - an excellent lunch cafe in a town centre full of dreary and/or awful places to eat. Entrée boasts that rare combination of a pleasant environment, an excellent menu and good service. For lunch, we particularly like the elaborate club sandwich, which uses decent bread rather than the cheapest possible sliced stuff, and the large salads.

Entrée is also good for dinner; it has been a while since we tried it but the lasagne was great - far more refined than the usual eetcafe version.

Last visit: 4 September 2008

Beyzade Beyzade, Nieuwe Binnenweg 135, Rotterdam

Recommendation: go for lunch and dinner and try everything.

Beyzade is a relatively new Turkish restaurant that took a chef from Nazar to offer a similar menu is slightly more hip surroundings. The menu, food, service, decor and atmosphere are all at least as good Nazar's, perhaps slightly better. So far this place remains pretty quiet, but it certainly competes well with Nazar, at least for us.

After our first evening meal, we went back for lunch a couple of times. As well as the hot and cold starters, and the grill and oven dishes, the soups are a welcome and tasty addition to the lunch menu, and the Su Böreği is excellent.

Last visit: 23 June 2007

In 't Knijpke In 't Knijpke, St Bernadusstraat, Maastricht

Good for: beer, hot and cold snacks

Maastricht's answer to the 'bierkelder' is a great place to pile in for drinks and hearty meals, especially in the winter. The so-called kaaskelder is all low curved brick ceilings, wooden benches and candles, which is just the right atmosphere for beer and cheese. The food is truly excellent stuff: sit downstairs and order from the 'small menu', which has simple but tasty dishes like goulash soup, snails, pate and cheese boards; a couple of these will satisfy most people.

Peculiarity: a small one-screen arts cinema upstairs.

Last visit: June 2004.

The Mill CafeThe Mill Cafe, Mill Road, Cambridge, UK

I was intrigued this 'traditional English food' cafe, newly-opened in August 2004, having enjoyed the bizarre Englishness of The Little Tea Room the day before. Here, this seems to boil down to a clean and freshly decorated greasy spoon with nice service. There were no menus yet when I visited, but it is going to be English Breakfasts, burgers and variations thereof. Hesitating between a bacon sandwich and scrambled eggs on toast, I opted for the latter since this is a dish that I am fairly opinionated about. It was good, but predictably greasy, which is not always what you want. However, opening hours are 7.30 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, so this might be just the thing from time to time.

I look forward to coming back in a few months to see how the menu and clientele progress. I do not expect to see Japanese tourists experimentally ordering beans on toast, but then I do not know what I do expect either.

Last visit: August 2004

Footlights Footlights, Cambridge, UK

This 'pop mex' place almost escapes from the fact that it is in a shopping centre, but not quite: the atmosphere is rather flat. The food and service suffer similarly; the cocktails are all right though.

Verdict: go to Sainsbury's instead, and do it yourself, or go to Chilies.

Chopsticks, Castle Street, Cambridge, UK

While this Chinese restaurant has plenty of character; the food suffers from being too greasy, as if it were a below-average take away.

Verdict: try somewhere else or get a take away instead.

Ye Olde Coffee House Ye Olde Coffee House, Lensfield Road, Cambridge, UK

Good for: tea, coffee, cake, snacks

This odd cafe has the Tudor-with-fresh-paint style that is normally only found in pubs. It's all very cosy, but the heavy traffic right outside the window rather spoils the moment.

Verdict: not bad, but lacks the creative spark and cosy location that makes Indigo Coffee House great.

No. 1 Kings Parade No. 1 Kings Parade, Cambridge, UK

English restaurant hidden away in an intimate (i.e. cramped) cellar. The quality of the service is surpassed only by the excellent food. The carrot and orange soup I had was very tasty and the salmon en croute sublime. The atmosphere is full of the character of the place, which makes it easy to relax.

When I went back for a second meal I concluded that this restaurant isn't as special as I had first thought, the food is certainly still good, right across the menu.

Verdict: go with your girlfriend, who should be well-off and willing to pay, and eat the soup of the day followed by the salmon special.

Note: I haven't been here for years, and when I walked past in June 2004, the menu looked a lot less traditional, and therefore less interesting and different to so many other places in town that serve slightly upmarket pseudo-mediterranean cuisine.

PHO Coffee House PHO Coffee House, Regent Street, Cambridge, UK

Good for: tea, lunch

Despite featuring the tacky Mini-Cab Firm school of interior design, this tiny cafe has a very pleasant atmosphere. The reason to come here, though, are the simple Vietnamese meals - rice or noodle dishes with fresh herbs and vegetables, with unlimited refils of jasmine tea. Perhaps because of the small number of seats, the polite service is prompt and food is served quickly.

Verdict: not cosy enough for you to want to hang around and chill out, but great to pop in for a quick no-frills lunch.

ToasterToaster, Pannekoekstraat 38a, Rotterdam, NL

A rare event, this new cafe's opening adds a whole new category to Rotterdam's cafe choices - big, bright and summery, with student-food menu and a decent terrace that has lots of sun and hardly any traffic-noise. Perhaps this is another sign that Pannekoekstraat is the new Witte de With.

So far, the service is mixed, with very inexperienced staff the first time we went, but the second time it was much more polite and efficient, which was just as well for the people at the next table who got the wrong food. In any case, the service is friendly, which is already enough to make it way better than most other places in Rotterdam.

We had toasted sandwiches, which were excellent. They must have a fancy toaster or something. My sandwich (mature cheese, courgette, sun-dried tomatoes and aubergine, €3.75) was tasty, filling and well-worth it - good competition for the toasted sandwiches at Urban Espresso Bar around the corner.

ToenToen, Meent 121/123, Rotterdam, NL

Although Toen is not the best eetcafe in Rotterdam, it has a reasonable selection of standard cafe food, such as saté and steak. The hot food tends to be basic and filling, and is not cheap enough to get away with such boring food for an evening meal. It does far better with winter lunchtime basics, like fried eggs savoury pancakes and soups that are all tasty and filling.

The interior is a strange combination of traditional cafe furniture - veneer tables with cast-iron legs and dark wooden bistro chairs - in a large high-ceilinged room whose bare concrete subtracts from what would otherwise be a warm atmosphere. Some painted wood panelling on the walls and ceiling would make all the difference.

All in all, you get a better experience for the same kind of thing at Opa.

Peculiarity: random objets d'art hanging from the ceiling.

Take A SaladTake A Salad, Pannekoekstraat 89a, Rotterdam, NL

Take A Salad is a relatively new cafe in the centre of Rotterdam, having opened in December 2003. Given that it's a salad bar, summer is a better time to visit, and we were certainly fairly impressed on our first visit today. The decor is bright and trendy and the salads are excellent; although it's not particularly cheap, the mixed plate (€6.80, up to five salads, photo) is good value because it's so much food, with extra bread on the side. Lunch for two, in fact.

The only downside is the mediocre weak coffee, whose Illy brand doesn't save it; perhaps the staff need training sessions from the experts at Urban Espresso Bar opposite. Still, I'm fairly easy to bribe with chocolate, and Take A Salad's coffees come with a mini muffin on the saucer, which tops the mini-cookies that you get at Urban Espresso.

Verdict: come here for food, with fresh orange juice, say, and cross over to Urban Espresso for coffee and cake.

CoopvaertCoopvaert, Blaak 776, Rotterdam, NL

Try the specials that you would not normally see on a Chinese menu.

Coopvaert is a new cafe in the big and open ground floor of the new tower block next to the Maritime Museum.

The interior is big, open and white, with well-spaced small tables and lots of warm wood. The bustle of the open kitchen, lots of flowers and cool music do well to stop the plece feeling empty.

Our first visit was just a quick coffee, but the good service and interesting lunch menu led to more, for breakfast and lunch. In any case, a cafe that serves a mini-brownie with the coffee cannot be bad.

Bagels & MoreBagels & More, Karel Doormanstraat 332, Rotterdam, NL

Recommendation: go for bagels and enjoy a smoke-free lunch.

Bagels & More is a promising cafe with good bagels and a decent interior and terrace, that just about manages when it gets busy. The service is now better than it used to be, and the bagels are generally good enough to make it worth the wait. The only real problem is that the relatively small room gets very smoky when it is busy and the door is closed.

Compared to Cappucino [sic], this place has slightly better and cheaper bagels, but is not as cool or popular. The decor and furniture used to be far more stylish, varied and comfortable here, but Cappucino has since taken the lead. Bagels & More has small tables with wooden chairs and a big vinyl bench on one wall, a reading table and comfy stools along the bar and half a dozen tables outside. Best of all there is a big shelf along the front window with more stools - the biggest loss when Gary's Muffins became Bagel Break (now Cappucino).

The styling is similarly mixed: the pale wood and beige vinyl sit next to shiny glass and metal, and one white wall. Most interestingly, two walls are pop-art murals that add more colour. The overall effect is odd, with so many competing colours and textures, and so many elements thrown together. I like the eclectic nature of it though, like the five kinds of lighting, which challenges the conventional elegance of simplicity of design.

TastoeTastoe, Soetensteeg 1, Rotterdam, NL

Good for: coffee, food - lunch or dinner

Tastoe is a great cafe to sit around in, because of its cosy character, slow pace and charming friendly staff. The lunch food is pretty good, with excellent ciabattas, and the soup of the day is occasionally brilliant. The evening meals are good too - well-executed standard eetcafe stuff, with a couple of interesting dishes such as the Tandoori chicken. The thing that makes Tastoe great is the intimacy, not just of the ambiance, but also the cosiness of such a small room with the tiny kitchen area behind the bar.

Despite the central location and its fantastic atmosphere, Tastoe is often mostly empty, which is a shame becasue this often makes them close early. Still, as long as they are open it does not matter who else is there because this is Rotterdam's cosiest cafe - case study in the meaning of gezellig, in the most obvious sense, at least.

Tastoe is a good example of how it can be hard to find Rotterdam's best cafes and bars - you could easily be wandering around the desolate wastelands of Hoogstraat looking for somewhere to have a drink and never find your way here.

Peculiarity: the old-fashioned interior is 'fake' in the sense that it was moved all in one go from some old house.

Z & M Delicatessen Z&M Delicatessen, Van Oldenbarneveltstraat 126b, Rotterdam, NL

Z&M is a small lunch cafe upstairs from the delicatessen, with a basic wooden interior and the same kind of bio-ingredients menu as Proef, but with more of an emphasis on Italian ingredients, and less on cake. My hummus and roast vegetable sandwich was pretty good: excellent bread, although I have had better hummus.

The window tables upstairs are a pleasant place to sit, especially on a sunny afternoon with the windows open, because this is the shady side of the street and because there is a lot to watch outside. It is no terrace, though, and such a shame that the wide pavement across the road is wasted on empty shops selling designer clothes for kids.

Prachtig, Willemsplein 73/79, Rotterdam, NL

Prachtig is a modern grand-cafe with the definitive Rotterdam terrace, looking out over the Maas at the foot of the Erasmus bridge. The chic-modern interior is nothing special, but is also dominated by the impressive view.

Although the view makes this an excellent place to meet for a drink or two, the food is expensive and disappointing. It seems that Prachtig has pretentions towards being a Fancy Restaurant, and the menu and prices reflect this, as does the dishes' stylish presentation. Unfortunately, our food failed to deliver anything near delicious. The tempura was soggy, and the lasagne and meat dishes were both bland. The starters were good, at least, and the portions were big enough.

Sagardi Sagardi, Coolsingel 83a, Rotterdam, NL

Good for: lunch, drinks, tapas

Smart new cafe that appeared in April 2003 on the side of Coolsingel that's pretty devoid of good bars until you get as far West as Westersingel. Unusually, for Rotterdam the decor combines a restrained modern style with creative artwork and good furniture.

Food at lunchtime is a selection of panini that look worth a try; in the evening its more of bar, open for drinks and fancy-looking finger food until 'at least midnight'.

Sorgh en HoopSorgh en Hoop, Schiedamse Vest 91, Rotterdam, NL

When six of us went to Sorgh en Hoop, it was something of an adventure considering their legendarily bad service and our experience last time: our main course order was simply forgotten, and the kitchen didn't find out about us until we reminded the waiter after having already waited for an hour. In fact, the IENS reviews aren't exactly positive either. Still, I figured that with our expectations firmly set it might actually be okay.

Our first ploy was to book a table at 1930, way before we would be hungry, and to start with cocktails and nibbles. The various cocktails we had during the evening were excellent, and actually worth the fairly consistent quarter of an hour they take to arrive; my Long Island Iced Tea (€7) included generous measures and wasn't too sweet, which is often a problem with cocktails in restaurants. These, and some bread and tasty home-made herb butter, kept us happy for ages.

So far the service had actually been good - attentive, friendly and helpful. The first minor catch was one of the drinks orders being forgotten, which in itself wasn't a big deal, although it is rather unsettling as a customer to be told that 'it's normal that we forget things sometimes'. However, I was really annoyed when 50 minutes after ordering our main courses, the waitress came to tell me that they'd run out of the spare ribs I'd ordered and that I needed to choose something else. Presumably, this was the first time the kitchen had actually looked at our order, and started to cook it. Fortunately, I guess it's not the actual cooking that takes so long because our main courses, and my replacement choice, arrived just ten minutes later.

When the food actually arrived I was having mixed feelings about the place: we'd been happy with our drinks and the excellent atmosphere, but it was exactly an hour since we had ordered the food. However, the food was good; my mar y tierra (€19) was a huge tasty collection of meat and fish with rice, potato, salad, fried banana, polenta and various other bits and pieces. I enjoyed it a lot, but the quality wasn't any better than the similar Bazaar or Nazar, which are much cheaper, and the price wasn't any better than Het Gelagh, which has much better food. The same goes for the cocktails - for €7 you might as well go to Bar P at the end of the Witte de Withstraat, which is much cooler, or have larger numbers of the excellent caipirinhas that Opa serves.

On balance, then, Sorgh and Hoop makes a nice change because its big atmosphere and big restaurant are rather different, but then there are several places with better food and cocktails for less money within a few hundred metres. The last straw, unsurprisingly, is that there's simply no excuse for service this bad.

Verdict: avoid, unless you're bored with Opa, Bazaar, Nazar and Het Gelagh.

Kookpunt SpijzeKookpunt Spijze, Binnenrotte 7, Rotterdam, NL

Now that the dreary Spijze van de Jonkvrouw has been taken over by Kookpunt, a decent cafe location has become a decent cafe. The big open space and high ceilings lend themselves much better to this modern style than to some failed attempt at posh cosiness.

The music and menu are fairly sophisticated for Rotterdam, which makes this an unusual cafe, in the same way that Bagel Bakery is more modern and stylish than Bagel Break. This is a place to order double espresso instead of tea, and the food is worth a look too. My pea soup, with basil and mullet (€3.90) was both unusual and delicious.

It is raining today (this is spring in Rotterdam after all) but there are signs of an interesting terrace outside, so come summer this could be as good a place to hang around outside as it is to while away the afternoon inside.

Social Ground Coffee LoungeSocial Ground Coffee Lounge, Botersloot 18a, Rotterdam, NL

Social Ground Coffee Lounge is Rotterdam's first real taste of the modern transatlantic multiple-choice coffee concept. The combination of smart decor, comfortable furniture and great coffee and cake make you want to outsource your lounge and just move in. So although the comparison with Starbucks is inevitable, and the similarity striking, Social Ground Coffee Lounge is a much better cafe than any Starbucks we have been to.

The decor is modern and refined, but has enough colour to make the place far less austere than Urban Espresso Bar, say. Best of all, though, are half a dozen leather armchairs that are comfortable enough to make this place seriously compete with your lounge at home. But then, face it - your home is probably not this cool. Meanwhile, most of the other nearby cafes are starting to look very old and tired.

The coffee is great, as expected. However, it is the element of choice that we really appreciate: sometimes you want an espresso, sometimes you need a huge milky coffee - especially in the winter, and sometimes you want something in between. Having to choose between gewone koffie and koffie verkeerd is just, well, wrong. Needless to say, there are a lot of other things to eat and drink: our grilled sandwiches were suitably tasty and the brownie was impressively big and chocolatey. It is going to take lots more lunches to sample everything on this menu.

Not only is there a decent terrace, but a welcome addition is the rain protection, which is bizarrely missing from terraces elsewhere in rainy Rotterdam.

Peculiarities: Social Ground Coffee Company's modernity is not just skin deep - one day ev

Bagel BreakBagel Break, Korte Hoogstraat, Rotterdam, NL

The former Gary's Muffins has now been reinvented as 'Bagel Break', which is more or less the same, but different. The menu has survived largely unchanged, save the addition of ice-cream. Based on the bagel and coffee I had, the food is the same as it was before. The biggest change is the interior, which has been redeveloped into a newer-looking version of the same thing. There is more seating than there used to be - a larger number of smaller tables in a neat row and vinyl benches around the edge, which are comfy.

It was quiet on my first visit, so I need to go back on a Saturday lunchtime to see if the new layout is less chaotic and more cosy, or whether it is just packed to the point of unpleasantness. However, the best news is that this place is now non-smoking, so the air will not be as terrible as it always was at busy times.

Mostly, this is all good. However, the Bagel Break sign is a disaster, and looks like a bad photocopy of a quick sketch on the back of a napkin.

Pizza Express Pizza Express, St. Andrew's Street, Cambridge, UK

Like most examples of Pizza Express around the country, the decor is all black and white and chrome. The tables are packed together and the service is not great so it can be difficult to relax. The pizzas are good, but uninspired and only come in one smallish size.

Verdict: go to Pizza Express, 7a Jesus Lane instead; or, if you have no taste, Pizza Hut.

Eten Eten, Nieuwe Binnenweg 153, Rotterdam, NL

Being dear, modern and trendy this is definitely a yuppie restaurant. Apart from anything else, almost everyone was wearing a suit.

The decor is Very Smart, with a dash of brasserie parisienne about it, but with a theme and more colour.

The food is certainly interesting: each dish's description on the menu is a long list of often-obscure ingredients; simple food it ain't. The food is Very Good. And there isn't much of it.

As with a place like Parkzicht you really have to be into this kind of thing, so if most of the other places on this page are the kind of place you go to then Eten probably isn't for you.

Peculiarity: the fishes.

De Gijs De Gijs, Wykerbrugstraat 29, Maastricht, NL

Apparently, De Gijs has reinvented itself as the Python or something, so a new review is needed. Still, this place is reportedly just as rubbish since the renovation.

The Little Tea Room The Little Tea Room, 1 All Saints Passage, Cambridge, UK

The Little Tea Room is a real achievement: it is a traditional tea room that oozes apparent authenticity, which is what you need if you would not know the real thing from a transport caff, like me. The thing is, tea rooms are like Full English Breakfasts - English people do not do them, except for one or two who are therefore certifiably weird. Well, here I am, and this is actually quite a nice place - floral pretty decor and outrageously flowery china are supported by farmhouse-style furniture and backed by low-key classical piano music. Naturally enough, I am the only native in here: within earshot are Japanese, Swedish, American and Spanish accents. The tea is good too, and there is lots of choice.

Last visit: August 2004

Michel's Brasserie Michel's Brasserie, 21-24 Northampton Street, Cambridge, UK

The interior and atmosphere here suggest an English country restaurant, but it is the excellent French food which is this restaurant's raison d'être. The only culinary concessions to English tastes are the extra vegetables, served on the side, which were perfectly cooked rather than mushy à la française.

Verdict: go with plenty of money, as it is not cheap, and eat the duck confit.

Spijze van de Jonkvrouw Spijze van de Jonkvrouw, Binnenrotte 77, Rotterdam, NL

Just like the nearby Cafe Pol, this place seems focused on a particular crowed. In this case, it is people with a really bizarre taste in interior decor - people who think dark pink, purple, mauve and dark wood look good together. It is like a bizarre parody of old-age bad taste, like my mother threatening to use blue-rinse in her hair and wear bright green when she is 60.

Still, it is not all bad - the coffee and service are quite good, and the menu features a huge list of speciality teas. The hot snacks are interesting and tasty and I liked my soup even if it was not especially good value. If you are into this kind of thing you should probably come for the afternoon and have the tea, sandwiches and cake pig-out (€13.50).

Worth a look, then, if you like this kind of thing but it is just not my cup of tea.

tampopo Tampopo,'s-Gravendijkwal 128, tel. 2251522

Good for: dinner - noodles

Tampopo is a stylish noodle restaurant, whose sharp modern decor and soft lighting make it a good place for an evening meal for two. The overall experience is good, but not remarkable, and a little pricey.

The food is a different style to Dim Daily, so if you go there all the time like me then Tampopo makes a nice change.

Crystal Palace Crystal Palace, Noordmolenwerf 171, Rotterdam, NL

Good for: food - business dinners

Crystal Palace is a smart Chinese and Thai restaurant, with a Japanese restaurant called Sumo upstairs. The style is quite exclusive, with no superfluous decor - very refined, just like the food. I'm not sure about the service: the first time it was very slick, with waiters who discreetly arrive at the table seemingly just as you realise that you want something, and the second time it was simply awful. This place works well with a large group, arguments about splitting the bill notwithstanding.

The waterside location isn't actually that great in the evening because there's much more light inside than out, which makes it feel like sitting in a goldfish bowl. That, and the size, make the atmosphere neither intimate nor sociable, but then the excellent food more than makes up for that. Still, I'm still hoping that there's a better Thai restaurant in town.

Peculiarity: the completely gratuitous electric towel machine in the toilet.

Show PainShow Pain, Coolsingel, Rotterdam, NL

Good for: boring lunches

Show Pain is one of the three new pavillions on Coolsingel, in front of ABN-AMRO. Unfortunately, instead of being a cool yuppie bar, say, this is just a naff lunch cafe.

It has tacky decor and awful music: go to Tastoe or Panini instead.

Peculiarity: an especially stupid name.

Gary's Muffins, Rotterdam, NL

Good for: take-away bagels

Gary's Muffins' bagels and brownies used to be great, but are now merely okay since they took the best fillings off the menu. Hey Gary! Bring back the hummous! Now that the bagels aren't so wonderful, I can't help noticing that the coffee could be better and the seating is cramped and smoky at lunchtimes. In fact, I probably wouldn't go there so often if one of the girls I know didn't fancy 'Gary' (not his real name).

The best plan is to get plain bagels to take home, which is often actually quicker than waiting to be be served and for the bagels to be made up. The bagels themselves have such a substantial combination of crispy shell and sturdy bagel interior that a couple of those would be a great start to the week. No fillings required. First course: sesame seed bagel, tasty seeds. Second course: cinnamon and raisin bagel, not too sweet.

Gary's Muffins is worth going back to, but if you find the menu too unadventurous and the service too chaotic, then try Bagel Bakery instead.

Peculiarity: the ability of some of staff to completely fail to acknowledge that you've entered the cafe and are waiting at the counter.

Madal Bal Cafe Madal Bal Cafe, Mill Road, Cambridge, UK

Good for: tea, coffee, cake, snacks

This bright new cafe has excellent interior design, with soothing plants and fresh flowers; this stands out compared to the cafes that are bright and cheery, but look as if the paint has been literally splashed around. The meditative world music really got on my nerves though. For added character there's a tiny garden where you can sit in the sun, and 'gift shop' with a few shelves of cute presents.

Closed: spring 2004

Kymma, Mill Road, Cambridge, UK

Good for: coffee, snacks

When Kymma opened in spring 2002, Mill Road became the centre of the cafes-with-sofas universe, with not one but two so-equipped cafes. The set-up in this one is more food cafe than anything else, with several blackboards of menu and round tables for two to four, which fits in with the 'motherly looking after' meant by the Chinese name. This all makes devoting almost half of the seating space to a sofa and seven armchairs a bold move.

Kymma has a more hip (as in less geeky) approach to being different than CB1, and as the potential to go from good to great, but the interior lacks a consistent theme.

Olé Olé, Bridge Street, Cambridge, UK

Good for: tea, coffee, tapas

Olé is a nice change for Cambridge - another small summery cafe, but this time with Spanish tapas and sandwiches. Olé have redecorated since I last visited, swapping English tea room style for that of a mediterranean seaside cafe, which it is. Except there's no beach. As well as being so unpretentious, Olé is unusual for Cambridge in having a Bring Your Own (as in alcohol) policy for evening meals.

Verdict: a kind of Spanish version of Indigo Coffee House that makes a nice change.

Closed: summer 2004

Bar Moosh Bar Moosh, Hills Road/Station Road, Cambridge, UK

Guest review - Victoria Sykes writes:

'I was totally and utterly disgusted with the whole experience that is Bar Moosh. Having eaten there in the past and enjoyed the food and atmosphere I thought it would be the ideal place to have our staff Christmas party. How wrong can a person be? I received a phone call at 12.30pm from an angry and rude man who ranted about the company not turning up for the Christmas meal, we had in fact booked it for the evening.

'When the company arrived at Bar Moosh that evening we found we were sharing the bar with another party, we only booked the meal on the conditions we would have the place hired out for ourselves. The food was Revolting! Apart from the fact they had messed the order up, the food came out cold, soggy and blatantly re heated (obviously from earlier that day when they had expected us). Some of the desserts didn't turn up at all! The staff were miserable and unhelpful and I'm sure the place could be shut down by health and Safety judging by the pit they called the toilet. I could go on all day about the state that Bar Moosh has slipped into. Don't waste your time with it.'

Marion and a sofa in Disco Biscuit, Queens Road, Brighton, EnglandDisco Biscuit, Queens Road, Brighton, UK

Disco Biscuit tipifies Brighton itself; it looks relatively normal from the outside, but when you get inside you see that it's a bit different, and when you venture further in you find that it's downright weird. In Disco Biscuit the furniture is kitsch, except for the no-messing comfy sofas, the milkshakes are imaginative and the upstairs has a, um... big rocket. You've got to see it really.

Disco Biscuit used to be a post club cafe, but it changed hands and is now open during the day; this might explain the chill-out atmosphere. It's even sufficiently relaxed not to be at all intimidating if you're not sufficiently alternative yourself to blend into the surroundings.

As well as tea, coffee and the excellent milkshakes there is the predictable assortment of rustic cakes and biscuits. I seem to remember that they do more substantial food, but if they do I've never tried it.

One of the more incongruous things about Disco Biscuit is its mainstream location on the busy road between the station and Churchill Square - this is the sort of cafe that you expect to find in North Laine. Still, this is good as it makes it a more handy place to collapse if you've been trekking around the shops.

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