“ 87 Elvet Bridge,Durham, United Kingdom Tel: 0191 386 0000 „
In my on-going quest to expand my knowledge (and waistline!) of places to eat in Durham, here's a review of one of my favourite lunching spots: Café Continental.
In terms of location, Café Continental is pretty well placed. Located in a picturesque little shop towards the bottom end of Elvet Bridge, it overlooks the river and is just a couple of minutes walk from Durham City Centre. It is quite easy to miss, however, as the actual doorway and shop front are pretty narrow. Finding it is helped by the fact that a board outside confirms its presence.
Venture inside and you may initially wonder what the fuss is about. The lower floor has a small room with only half a dozen or so tables. I've never eaten in this part, as it always seems a little cramped to me, and the big window opening out onto the bridge means you're on show to everyone. Don't worry, though, there's more to Café Continental than meets the eye. My advice is to head up the narrow staircase where there are more tables set out to accommodate both larger and smaller groups. There are even a couple of rooms winding off from this, giving a slightly quirky, rambling feel to the whole place.
Café Continental is a table service place, so you sit yourselves down and usually within a couple of minutes, a waitress will appear to bring you some menus before returning for your order.
Staff are one of Café Continental's biggest assets. In my experience, and without exception, they are friendly, welcoming and attentive without being intrusive. If you need them, they always seem happy and willing to help; apart from one quick check to make sure your food is OK, they will leave you alone. That's exactly what I want from a waiter or waitress, and Café Continental have it spot on.
In terms of food, they offer a pretty wide range of things from simple coffee and cake through to full bar-meal type snacks. There are the usual suspects like sandwiches, burgers and wraps, whilst the Specials board usually has at least a dozen items on it - all of which sound very tempting. I've had a range of different dishes from there and have never yet been disappointed with what I have received.
Interestingly, I've read a couple of reviews from people who say that the menu doesn't offer much choice. I'd argue it almost offers too much. I'm usually spoilt for choice and have problems deciding what to have, which is quite rare. True, with the exception of the soup, the menu doesn't change a great deal (even the Specials board is pretty static) but even if you went every day and had something different, it would still take you a fair while to eat your way through the whole menu.
Service is usually quick, too. From the order being taken to the food actually arriving, I have rarely waited longer than 10-15 minutes and usually, it is much quicker. Obviously, this is dependent on how busy they are and again, I have read comments complaining about the slow service. All I can say is that, with one exception this is not the case. Put it this way, I usually go in my one hour lunch break and always make it back to work in plenty of time.
All the dishes I have tried so far have been excellent. It arrives at your table nice and hot and actually tastes of what it is meant to. I often have one of the burgers, which is meant to come with a topping of gruyere cheese and mayonnaise. Open up the burger and there is actually evidence of those ingredients - you don't have to play "hunt the cheese" like you do in some places! The chips in particular are delicious and always leave me wanting more, whilst the potato wedges that accompany the wraps (and can be bought separately) will make you think you've died and gone to heaven.
In terms of portion size, I would guess Café Continental is about standard. Certainly, there is more than enough for me. The cake slices, on the other hand are not "standard". Order one of these and you will get a huge, doorstop piece, probably around twice the size you would get in many other places. They are almost a meal in themselves and if you don't have a big appetite, you might want to consider sharing with someone else! The cakes at Café Continental are rightly renowned throughout Durham for both for their size and their taste. There is always a wide range to choose from and, frankly, even if the rest of their food was rubbish (it's not), it would be worth going just for the cakes alone.
Food-wise, the one downside is perhaps the coffee. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, it's just not terribly strong and I would prefer something with a little more taste and bite. It also tends to go cold quite quickly, as the cups are quite thin, and so don't seem to retain the heat terribly well. Then again, I normally guzzle my coffee pretty quickly anyway to maximise that caffeine hit, so what am I complaining about?!
Price-wise, things are reasonable enough. It's maybe slightly more expensive that some places (an average meal plus drink costs between £6-8) but only by a pound or so. Things like cakes and sandwiches are pretty much in line with other places, but both the size and quality of the cakes mean they are actually far better value for money than you find elsewhere.
There's another downside, too and it's a big one: students! Café Continental is very popular with this particular breed of Durham resident and it can get incredibly noisy. If you hit it at the wrong time, even finding a table can be a problem. If you're after a quiet lunch, Café Continental is not always the best option. Having said that, the owners do their best to accommodate their regular, non-student population (of which there are a large number) and there is always a mixture of age groups eating in there. Even so, dining there during the university vacation is a far different experience to going in term-time!
That aside, Café Continental offers a pleasant location, friendly staff and good quality food at a reasonable price. Well worth a visit if you find yourself in the area. Just make sure you sample those cakes!
87 Elvet Bridge
Tel: 0191 386 0000
© Copyright SWSt 2009