In the interest of total transparency, I must hold my hands up and admit I’m a total football layman… well, more of a football moron really. I know absolutely nothing at all about our nation’s favourite sport other then it involves a ball, a pitch, well-paid players and hordes of extremely passionate fans so, admittedly, it was with some trepidation that I headed East to Café Football. I needn’t have worried though- this friendly little spot is welcoming even to the un-sportiest of diners.
Conceived and owned by Manchester United alumni Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, Café Football is a tribute to their beloved game in Stratford’s Westfield- an unusual choice of location for a couple of red devils some may say but rumour has it, a much bigger Hotel Football is on the cards for Manchester herself.
Eschewing the obvious route of having an ‘in-yer-face’ theme restaurant, its decorative references to the sport are subtle enough to not be off-putting. Screens line the walls (a match will never again be a footie fan excuse to miss family meals out), there’s a tasteful amount of memorabilia and we particularly enjoyed the references to the design of the original football in the material of the booths. This place is all about clean lines and functionality- as you’d imagine, it’s certainly not a place you’d worry about bringing the kids.
The drinks menu carries the usual array of wines, beers and coffees but really excels itself on the cocktails and soft drinks. After an extremely strong fishbowl of Tanqueray gin, elderflower liqueur, Prosecco. Lime and mint (The Posh), one could get seriously weepy-eyed over the selection of nostalgic childhood beverages on offer. Sadly, we didn’t get round to tasting the milkshakes but next time? Mine’ll be a Bubblegum for real.
Getting down to the important bit- the food- it is important to remember that ‘café’ is the operative word here… if Haute cuisine is more to your taste then this is not the gaff for you. Cafe Football keeps its food simple, tasty and well-executed, succeeding all counts, with some cheeky little footie references that, for the most part, probably went straight over my head. No matter though, for while I was tucking into my stellar starter of ‘Salt Chilli Squid’, football terminology was the furthest thing from my mind. This dish totally stands up next to far more upmarket seafood establishments for taste and texture. The squid is perfect- its killer crispy coating loaded with a proper dash of salt and whallop of chilli- I like a plate that doesn’t mess around on the seasoning front.
My dining companion kicked off with the ‘Hat-Trick’ (even silly old me caught that reference)… a superb trio of sliders. The beef and veggie variations were fantastic but hats off to the chicken burger, a tender, moreish hunk of breast with a seriously addictive goats cheese topping.
Pizzas, burgers and other family favourites are the name of the game for mains with some fabulously named terrace food from ‘Karren Brady’s Pie and Mash’ to ‘Nev’s Noodle Pot’ on offer. Opting for the latter, I enjoyed a DIY roast chicken noodle dish with a cute little stock teapot for getting properly hands-on. My companion managed to tuck away a humungous bowl of Roast Chicken Tagliatelli with a lick-your-plate-clean rich Madeira sauce.
I have to say though, the dessert course is where Café Football really comes into its own- young (and young at heart) diners should save room.
Sweet treats abound with our personal favourite coming in the form of a massive homemade ‘Jaffa Cake’… the amount of sponge topped with firm orange jelly settling the ‘biscuit or cake’ debate once and for all. Green card also to the Vimto-ripple ice-cream, so more-ish that I’d make a return visit just on the strength of those creamy, sultry vibes.
Being a total juvenile, I couldn’t head off without a little bag of ‘pick n mix’ from the sweet shop so waited patiently in the queue of eager mini people to procure me some foam prawns and gummy bears.
Look, this place is not going to win a Michelin star but if you think that’s an issue, then you maybe missing the point of Café Football- this is a place for families, young & old, to come together and break bread in a place where the kids don’t have to sit silently on ceremony with their napkins on their laps.
The staff are welcoming, the seating is comfortable, the food is warm & filling, you don’t feel like the hostess is watching and waiting to turn your table- in my humble opinion, sometimes that alone is worth more than all the deconstructed lobster roulades in the world.