Our Café by the Water

Delightful

And so what is to become of the lido cafe?

This is a question that many lido users were posing this time last year, disappointed with the neglect of the art deco eatery during the grand Fusion re-development of the lido.

A basic hot drinks and snacks service was available, all served up in an environment that was about as appealing as one of the old British Rail canteen cabins. The cuisine was of a similar standard.

I remember feeling particularly let down last summer, after deciding to treat forty Year 4 children with some refreshments, following their al fresco morning of splashing around in SE21. The best we could offer was a lukewarm milky drink and a packet of crisps. So much so for the healthy leisure lifestyle commitment.

Lido regulars first heard of the plans for the final piece in the Fusion redevelopment of the lido at the BLU AGM in October 2008. The management were proposing to invite tenders to run the lease of the 1930’s style cafe, with a planned opening in the summer of 2009.

I personally received requests from three possible leaseholders, asking what type of menu and facilities lido regulars would appreciate down at the waters of Lake Brockwell.

“Not sure about others, but I think a mixture of healthy foods and affordable foods for families would be ideal. Decent bread, sandwiches, pasta, salad, smoothies, cake etc. Last year we had crisps, chocolate and coke – yuk!

Toast for the early morning crowd goes down well.

WIFI would be wonderful. I often work at the lido with my dodgy dongle, but a strong, sustained connection would be great. This wouldn’t be expensive or even techy to set up, and I’m sure would encourage many likewise workers to be online at the cafe during the summer weekdays.”

Fast forward to the start of the *brrr* lovely lido season in the not so balmy early days of May, and we learnt that a couple of local business guys with a fine track record in providing healthy food within the area, had been awarded a five year lease by Fusion to develop the cafe.

Time and tide wait for no lido leaseholder though. The summer season was already upon us, and the entire interior of the cafe had to re-designed and re-built. Quick thinking during the rare heat waves over the summer saw at first, a basic soft drinks and ice cream service set up; this soon extended to become a highly successful BBQ, and before long, a beach hut was in operation, offering an extensive menu of snacks, all themed in with a healthy diet, and where possible, all sourced locally.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes and the interior of the beautiful cafe building was being worked on. Arrivals at the lido each morning were filled with intrigue. You could hear the construction work taking place, but was never quite sure what delights lay behind the closed doors.

Bit by bit, the new Brockwell Lido cafe was being re-built over the course of the season. The defining feature for me was the installation of a WIFI network. My iPhone picked up the signal early one morning, and then a cup of coffee and a polite chat with the beach hut guys later, and I had the key to connect to the secure network.

I’ve had quite an enjoyable summer down in SE21 since.

Come Saturday night, and the story of the lido cafe came full circle. The fragrant mrs onionbagblogger and I attended a soft launch of the restaurant facility, a trial run ahead of the doors along the Dulwich Road being open all year round for evening diners.

We arrived just as the later summer sun was setting. The clean and stylish re-fitting of the main lido cafe looked extremely comfortable, but the waters of Lake Brockwell proved too irresistible. We chose to take pre-meal drinks outside on the patio by the pool. A bottle of fruity red matched the skies above in SE21. We didn’t leave our seats for the rest of the evening.

Having an alcohol licence at the lido has always been something of a stumbling block. The new owners are now in a position to offer a well stocked bar, with the potential to put on private parties all year round. This is extremely pleasing news for anyone thinking of holding a London leaving party, in a location that has pretty much been their London existence for the past fifteen years.

The menu was offered, and even for a soft launch, we were given a choice of four dishes. We both enjoyed a generous serving from the salad bar first, with the red cabbage served in a honey sauce being a particular recommendation.

I opted for the meatballs and couscous as my main dish; mrs obb was more than happy with the vegetarian option of buttermilk squash ravioli, served with a generous helping of feta cheese.

Across the pool, and on the other side of the lido we could see some hardy souls putting in the miles on the lido treadmills. It was at this point in the evening that I vowed to complete the three-course meal, and choose a particularly rich dish from the desert menu. Life is for living, and not to be a slave to the repetition of a treadmill on a Saturday night.

The cafe by now had a wonderful ambience. The atmosphere was complimented by a small gathering of other diners, clearly enjoying the cuisine and the location. This in essence is the selling point of the new lido cafe. It’s a competitive market out there in terms of catering. The lido more than matches other restaurants, but other eateries can’t serve up their menu al fresco by a beautiful 1930’s art deco pool.

The plan is for the cafe to remain open throughout the winter months. This is hopefully when the food alone will keep trade healthy. Sitting outside on a cold January evening doesn’t seem so appealing.

The prices however were very attractive. Although we were dining at a soft launch with a slight discount added in, the three-course meal (yeah, went for the rich chocolate croissant bread and butter pudding with full cream…) and a bottle of bolly came to an incredibly reasonable £45.

Even with a working lido clock (finally!) we had completely lost track of time. The temptation was to stay for another bottle of red, but that early morning lido dip was calling.

We cycled off back through Brixton and down to Sunny Stockwell, already searching for another free date in our diaries to return.

Come on in – the water’s food’s lovely.

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