I seem to recall visiting the Kardomah as a child, but I don't remember much more than eating chips, with my head in a Beano comic. Now as an adult – wiser, hairier and hungrier – I made the decision to revisit a coffee shop that I realised I knew little about.
The first thing you notice about the Kardomah, located on Portland Street in the centre of Swansea, is the subtlety of it all. It's been there for 50 years, but there's no song and dance being made about it. It's dignified. In fact, many might have wandered past and not ever realised it was a coffee shop.
With the fading mosaic tiles and slightly grubby exterior, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a coffee shop on it's last legs – trying to fight the 21st century but failing. However, as you walk through the heavy doors you realise how wrong you were. I've been three times in the last two weeks (for reasons I will explain in a moment) and it's been packed every time.
Like the coffee shop itself, the loyal customers are (I'll chose the word carefully)... experienced. I'd say the average age is around 65. I can tell you now – if you've ever wondered where your grandparents are on a Monday afternoon, it's the Kardomah. Note the two mobility scooters parked outside in the above photo!
It's Swansea's equivalent to a retro 50's American diner, but without the chrome fixtures and Elvis on loop. Veneer panelling and net curtains dominate the interior, as do original 1950's tables and decorations, but it still looks appealing.
I don't believe it's the décor that is so popular with the elderly patrons (though it probably helps). It's the food that keeps them coming back.
Every meal carried out of the kitchen looks hearty and, looking at the prices, seems to be good value. And with full mixed grills to slimmers salads, you have an extensive array to choose from.
My dining partner had a ham, cheese and pineapple panini, which is more of a toasted baguette crammed with fine ingredients. It was nice to see the ham was fresh cut, not 'plastic'.
However, the reason I have been returning recently is for the 'chef's burger'. I think I'm addicted. The owner explained to me that the meat patties are handmade by the chef rather than factory bought, though an explanation was not needed as the quality spoke for itself. Two burgers in a bun with a pile of chips for £4.95 really filled the lunchtime hole. One of those burgers you pick up and never let touch the plate again. Delicious.
The burger and chips, panini, and two coffees came to just under £12, which is decent for such a good quality lunch. A note about the coffee: if you order a second coffee before 11:30am, it is free. After 11:30am it only costs 85p a refill – a generous scheme, and quite possibly the reason the elderly (sorry, experienced) keep coming back.
As I went to pay I noticed a desert trolley displaying a variety of, I suspect, home-made treats to accompany your meal. There is also a broad choice of ground coffees to buy and take home (they will grind the beans to your machine's specification).
An interesting connection with Dylan Thomas exists, but I'm no historian – a decent explanation can be found here.
A final point I'll make is – if you haven't already noticed from this review – the restaurant is very well run. The current family, who have owned the business for 41 years, are always prominent; watching over every diner, ensuring their lunchtime experience is perfect. It's a shame when good restaurants become complacent, but the management in 2012, you feel, is probably at the same high standard it was in 1950.