We’re in 2013 now. Those would be patronising and pointless opening words for most, but not in Cardiff: a city where all years blend into one delicious play-doh and linear timescale means nothing. Its poor residents must stagger about completely unaware of their place in history, as vintage fairs sprouting on each corner, a ‘Fashion Quarter’ opening (distinctly smaller than the other three-quarters of the city), and everywhere doing its best to imitate Bristol. Even the restaurant scene is complicit, with entirely era-confused eateries like ‘The Cosy Club’ and ‘Bills’ offering their own take on the chic ‘put as many different items in one room as possible and then invite people to dine around them’ manifesto. Amongst this sea of twee, however, lies a genuine artefact of outmoded stubbornness, an eatery which spits in the face of kitsch retrosexuality and instead dreams a dream of times gone by. Specifically, 1986.
I speak of ‘The Louis Restaurant’, nestled halfway along St. Mary’s street like a decrepit sleeping dragon. Louis’ niche charm is apparent upon entrance, where nothing will greet you other than the clang of cutlery as one of three other diners notices a student has walked in. At this point you’re best to avoid eye-contact, take one of the four hundred vacant tables and breathe in the aesthetic of the ‘room’. Walls are adorned with fixtures unseen since the early 90s, block lighting burns from above like the world’s largest tanning bed, and tiles - which don’t look unlike asbestos – cover the ceiling. It wouldn’t be a problem if they were asbestos, though, since we all know it’s a substance which only becomes toxic upon deterioration; and as I’ve said, this restaurant is immune to time’s withered claw. The décor, though, is not what makes Louis special. No, that honour falls to its sheer dimensions. At barely six metres wide, the restaurant appears (and I use that word quite intentionally) to extend forever. It resembles less a restaurant and more a well-lit tunnel with tables in. I haven’t nearly the chutzpah to try myself, but challenge anyone to see its back wall, let alone touch it. No man ever has, and certainly no woman should be made to try. At least without Mace.
But remember what the girl’s insist: it’s not all about length. And it isn’t, for everything on the extensive menu is affordable. This is a point underlined by Louis’s ingenious psychological pricing strategy of printing all costs in terms of pennies. Sunday roasts for a fiver might seem steep to some, but when that’s written as ‘499p’ you hardly notice. All retailers can learn from this trick. It makes everything instantly affordable. Elsewhere, cute quirks run rife - with a nine item breakfast containing seven, and an interpretation of ‘americano’ involving just putting four shots of espresso in a glass. Of course, these may be objectively unforgivable mistakes, but marinade them in hipster irony and ‘Louis’ becomes the best vintage spot in town.
Genuine, antique treats are hard to come by in a two-horse town so obsessed with its own burgeoning reputation as ‘cool’ that those horses have probably have been swapped for Victorian carousel versions by now. That’s why ‘Louis’ is important. He (personification is fun) recognises that ‘retro’ doesn’t have to just mean the placement of sewing machines at jaunty angles in a foyer, but can also be achieved by ignoring that time is even passing. He’s played fashion at its own game, with a bizarre outcome. And that’s why you must all go: to see, to dream, to believe.
[The quality of the food needn’t be discussed, for it would blight an otherwise positive advert].
You can find out more about The Louis Restaurant here.