Monday, 7 September 2009

Central Perk? In Manchester? It's true!

Top shot shows the interior of Manchester's Central Perk. Shot above is my breakfast. Those sausages might look alright, but they were rubbish, and that tea cup could have held a little more tea.

Here is teashopandcaff doing the closest it can, under the circumstances, to a live broadcast. Okay, it could be a little bit more live if we were on-line and writing direct on to the blog, but there’s no WiFi so sitting in the caff, this one being Central Perk in Manchester, writing on a laptop, is the closest we’re going to get on this occasion.

I was attracted by the name, of course; my daughter is an avid fan of Friends so when I passed the sign on the window, I had to take a peek inside. Where, I wondered, was the juice bar operation that used to occupy this site? Apparently, it left some time ago and then somebody else came along and now it’s a young couple running the place. Out front handling the till is Sarah and the chef – her other half – is behind the scenes making the food.

Central Perk is one of those schizoid places that doesn’t quite add up: is it a trendy coffee bar, as its name suggests, or is it a ‘caff’ as the illuminated menu behind the counter indicates? Who knows and, quite frankly, who cares? All I cared about was something to eat and at 11.30am in the morning I was told that breakfast was still an option.

I had noticed the credit card sign on the door but sadly the card reader wasn’t working so I would have to walk to the nearest cashpoint, down the road at the Co-op, draw out £20 and pay with cash. Not a problem.

I ordered the Full Monty, a full English breakfast consisting of two slices of toast, two sub-standard (in my opinion) sausages, two fried eggs, two rashers of bacon, a grilled tomato, baked beans and mushrooms (£6). It came with a cup of tea too.

The sausages let the meal down and I was not alone in thinking this; Sarah said that the chef had tried them and found them wanting. She offered me two higher spec products but I had already eaten one of the original sausages and half of the other one. Four sausages would have been greedy. I did order another tea and was given it on the house because of those awful sausages. Fair play, I thought.

I got chatting with Sarah, as you do when you’re up north; people talk, and it turns out she has two young kids, one at nursery, the other just starting school this week. Her other half is the chef by trade and they both used to run a bar in the Algarve. Nice work. Anyway, it’s a harder slog than you think, running a caff like this one, but they both intend to persevere. They have an excellent location, on the road leading up to Manchester’s Piccadilly station. I like this place, but I wish I hadn’t ordered that full English breakfast – it was too much when a bagel would have been sufficient.

Central Perk Manchester is nice caff but it needs to sort out better suppliers in my opinion. If I was running this place, I’d source my sausages from a decent butcher, possibly even offer customers a choice of different varieties, speciality sausages even, but I wouldn’t go for the typical ‘caff’ sausage that you see quite often in British caffs.

Coming out of Central Perk and heading up towards the station, I noticed that next door there was a very similar sort of caff. This got me thinking. If Central Perk is going to make any serious money it can’t afford to have a similar style of operation next door, it needs to differentiate itself. I would get rid of the illuminated menu behind the counter and replace it with a blackboard and produce a smaller menu based on locally sourced ingredients. By all means offer hearty breakfasts, but go for decent ingredients, limit the menu and go for quality. That would give the place a USP (Unique Selling Point) and hopefully make some money for Sarah and her family.


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