Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bill's is coming to Cardiff

Bill's is coming to Cardiff and despite myself, I am excited!

But first I must tell you a sad tale....

Once upon a time, in October 2000, I was at Secondary School in Ringmer, East Sussex.

It rained all day, flooded the USA (Upper Something Area.... I forget what the acronym stood for) and we got to go home early.

While we were at school news began to filter through that the tidal river Ouse that flowed through nearby Lewes was rising fast and was starting to flood the town. We gaped at the national news that night as camera crews filmed the devastation and water flooded into a swathe of houses and shops right down high street in the town centre.

The Cliffe bridge on an ordinary, grey day in Lewes
The Cliffe bridge in October 2000...

Luckily I lived in the opposite direction to Lewes and wasn't personally affected. Unfortunately, lots of kids at school were homeless for a while, most of the businesses in the high street were ruined after metres of water filled up their shops (some of them still have marks on the walls to commemorate how far up the tide marks were) and it took a lot of insurance payouts and time before the town was back to normal.

However, some good was to come of this catastrophe. Like a phoenix from the ashes (a very inappropriate simile), a legendary 'produce store' rose, gleaming, from the wreckage..

What was, before the floods, a tiny grocery store, re-opened as a grocer/cafe called Bill's, and it was AMAZING. Nobody had ever seen anywhere like it and the atmosphere Bill managed to create was so special at the time.

It was really tiny, the walls and ceiling were filled with groceries, the tables were always full, they served breakfast, lunch and snacks and I went there every Wednesday afternoon for cakes and Earl Grey tea to catch up with friends who had gone to a different Sixth form. Every time a friend came to visit me I dragged them to Bill's to experience it.

The food always looked unbelievably incredible. Lavish cakes and meringues piled high with cream and meticulously arranged fruit & flowers, boiled eggs, brownies, tasty breakfasts, steak sandwiches, fresh salads filled with everything under the sun... the gastronomic memories bring a tear to my eye.

Bill himself has since published a cook book, 'sold out' to a big restauranteur and is probably a millionaire. Clones of the original Lewes cafe and shop are branching out all over the country, prompting everyone remotely connected to Sussex to get misty eyed, sigh and whinge petulantly:

"What a SELL OUT. Remember the ORIGINAL Bill's? It's not as good as it was back in the day when I used to go to Bill's. Have you been to the one in Covent Garden? It's just SO AWFUL. SUCH a disappointment. It used to be so good at the original Bill's which I used to go to all the time which I remember because I was there AT THE BEGINNING before he SOLD OUT."

Finally, Bill's is coming to Cardiff! It won't be quite the same cosy atmosphere as apparently it's going to take up 3000sqft and 12 Units of the Wyndham Arcade but I will be sure to attend so I can eat cake, drink Earl Grey and pretend I am a pretentious Lewesian like the good old days.


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