We have superb cafes in Hastings and St Leonards, so anyone setting up a new one has a tough gig to follow. This cafe at the top of George St already has its regulars and is often packed.
Good coffee is a must, and it’s terrific, the taste rich, not a trace of bitterness and a powerful hit. In addition to the usual croissants you might choose the speciality: Brazilian sweetcorn cake. For those, like me, who find most cake too sugary, it’s the perfect indulgence. It’s like a dense, slightly crumbly mousse, cool, smooth, and the sweetcorn makes it lean towards the sweet and creamy without actually getting there, so you get the pleasure of indulgence without the icky after-feeling which tells you you really shouldn’t have.
The ambience is Junior’s vision, the product of his buzzy charm and the judgement of a pro. The decor is cool and urban, while the vibrant mural of Rio de Janeiro and Ipanema dispels any hint of a chill. The all Brazilian staff are delightful and its’ position, on a corner giving views of the sea and George St makes it extremely pleasant to sit there and chat or work.
If I tell you Junior was born in São Paulo and has Spanish, Portuguese and Italian ancestry, you’ll expect an exotic cuisine and you won’t be disappointed. Cakes are his particular passion: the sensuality of mixing and the magic of seeing them rise never palls. In addition to Banana, Lemon Drizzle, Orange Marmalade, Carrot and Chocolate, he makes Cashew Fruit cake, a fruit which looks a bit like Papaya and has a sharp zingy flavour. I can’t wait to try it. For a savoury snack there are Spanish croquettes, beautiful golden humps of something similar to a light pastry filled with meat or spinach and cream cheese.
In a couple of weeks he will have an alcohol licence and will open longer hours. He’ll be offering a lunch and evening menu with Feijoada, a favourite Brazilian dish of black beans, pork,beef and sausage and Brazilian lasagna, like Italian, but better, of course, with added layers of ham.
In addition to being a pro, you need a well rounded personality to run a cafe. Junior did his chef’s training in Brazil and at East Sussex College and has been head chef at two cafe/restaurants, but prior to finding his vocation, he studied and taught Portuguese literature, and qualified as a personal trainer. For five years he worked in London as studio assistant to Brian Clarke (the stained glass artist).
There’s a definite authenticity as well as eclecticism about this project, and I think it comes from Junior’s personal history: his mother, the lovely Yvonne, was widowed at 24 and brought up her three boys on her own, never remarrying. She works with Junior now, cooking, and being “OCD about the cleaning”. She gave him a model of tenacity and commitment.
Junior has lived in the UK for 13 years and stays because he finds us, I believe, a little softer than the Brazilians: he loves our good manners and friendliness and Brazil is too hot for him: he doesn’t just love the English, he loves our weather! As if there isn’t enough to like, let me tell you he owns a Schnauzer, a Yorkie and a Chihuahua, and in a town which likes its dogs as much as its beer, that’s sure to endear him to us.
Open 9-5 Tuesday to Sunday. 01424 439539 07801 471823