Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Derby, Kardomah was the perfect place to watch world go by

STIRRING STUFF: Above, the mid-1960s photograph of the Kardomah that sparked Gladys Allcock's memories and, left, as it looked towards the end of its days.
By [spowlson]

IT was lovely to see a photograph of the old Kardomah restaurant in Bygones.
I went there regularly from the 1940s until its closure in the early 1980s.
It was beautiful inside. The walls were oak-panelled, with each panel having an art deco motif in its top centre.
One remains today on the staircase in the restaurant that replaced it.

There were square wooden tables that seated two or four and crisp, white tablecloths or, sometimes, blue gingham.
The meals were simple but delicious British fare – mixed grill, toasted teacakes, little sandwiches and cakes.

It was rather like the Lyons Corner Houses that used to be in London. Right to the end, I think the waitresses were in smart black and white uniforms.

We used to call them "nippies" – presumably because they nipped around the tables so quickly.

I remember service was certainly always quick.

Up until the 1950s, you could buy loose tea in the downstairs restaurant, while upstairs was a coffee bar, where you could buy fresh coffee, which was weighed and put into little linen sacks. The aroma of freshly-ground coffee beans was heavenly, especially as instant coffee was not widely available at that time.

The decor upstairs was slightly different – sort of Moorish in design. It was rather exotic, I thought.

The Kardomah was usually open late and, after the cinema had finished, we'd go in there for a late-night coffee.

There were also often quite a few journalists from the Derby Telegraph in there, as it was an ideal place to conduct interviews.

Situated as it was at the junction of the Cornmarket and St James's Street, with a police officer standing in the middle of the road directing traffic, it was the perfect place to watch the world go by.

I always tried to get a table near to the window.

At a time when there were few eating places in Derby, it was THE place to go. Whether it be breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea or late supper, the place was always full of people.

My friend had a job there washing up in the kitchens – no dishwashers in those days.

I was sad when its closure was announced and had my lunch there on its final day.

It was packed out. Somehow, egg and chips has never tasted quite the same again.

I suppose its successor was the Swiss Cottage, in the Audley Centre – still a good, old-fashioned British cafe.

If I am in London, I like to eat at Simpson's, on The Strand. Its decor is almost identical to the Kardomah and the atmosphere is similar.

Happy memories come flooding back when I am there.

Did you frequent the Kardomah or were you a regular at the other popular Derby haunt, the Boccacio Cafe, in the Market Place? We would love to read your memories, contact details below.

With Thanks

By [spowlson]



  1. I remember the Kardomah in Nottingham, there must have been about 10-15 of us who used to meet there (upstairs) everyday and make a coffee last a few hours while we talked and spun time out, an excellent place to meet up on a rainy day.

  2. I used to go to the Nottingham Kardomah with my Mum in the late 60s & 70s; she disliked tea & was a bit of a coffee conoisseur. Think you could buy coffee beans & ground coffee there. Think it is now a Pizza Express. The ceiling , a series of curved arches, is I think the same as it was in Kardomah days

  3. I remember well the Kardomah, my preference though was for the Boccacio in the Market place. I vividly remember the hissing of the steam being injected into the coffee. The aroma, the trendy people and the cavelike place down stairs ( I suppose such places would be outlawed these days on health and safety grounds).

  4. I submitted two photo`s earlier this year but received no response. One was a picture of staff and another of customers and staff.

  5. I remember going to the Derby Kardomah with my Nan and Mum. I must have been about 5 years old. It was always a Saturday morning treat. I remember the wonderful aroma of the coffee. I blame them for my love of fresh coffee now which i am so fussy about. I am 62 now and still remember those wonderful Saturday mornings.

  6. I think there was a pizza restaurant some time after in Derby, but I can't remember what chain it was. Can anyone remember the name ?