Some restaurants are great because, like the Fat Duck, El Bulli or Noma, they change the way we look and and enjoy food. There are great restaurants because they make us feel great. And there are great restaurants that are, shall we say, sui generis. They may not be smart. They’re certainly not fashionable. More often than not, they’re probably tucked away in improbable places. But there’s an irreducible sense of character about them, and, however humble or basic, they do what they do, supremely well. Dorego’s in Hamburg on the coast of the Eastern Cape in South Africa, is one of these. I have written about it before.
The Majestic Cafe in Ingham, Queensland, Australia is another such. There didn;t seem a lot to Ingham, if I’m honest. It’s an outpost of civility amidst the the vast fields of sugar cane that spread in every direction. It’s the kind of town where the folk who live on the widely spread farmsteads come for emergency rations, spare parts for their utes and to get hammered in one of the pubs from time to time. And to restore the spirits at the Majestic Cafe.
It was the first port of call after great Herbert River Gorge trek from which my old chum, Rory, his son, Angus (a boy with a healthy appetite), Matt the Younger and I, Matt the Elder, had just emerged early that morning. After the privations of the week before, it was the oasis in the desert, the Shangri-La at the end of the road, the haven for which every traveller yearns in the dark hours.
It was as neat as a pin, and clean as as whistle. There’s a fine 1950s scalloped cream formica front to the long, stainless steel-topped counter. Dark formica tables were ranged in a pleasingly random way over a cream tiled floor. Fans on the ceiling turned in a leisurely fashion. The walls were festooned with boards bearing mottos – ‘Men have feelings too. For example, we feel hungry’ ; ‘Love is like the wind, you can’t see it, but you can feel it’ and ‘We may may not have it together, but together we have it all’.
Fluorescent strip lighting cast a bright glare on an immense menu on a blue board behind the counter. It was divided between Sandwiches – ‘Cheese & asparagus; cheese & tomato; cheese & onion; cheese & p/apple; cheese & avocado; chicken & cheese; chicken, cheese & tomato; chicken cheese & onion; and so on and so on – and Burgers – Bacon Burger; Chicken Burger; Steak Burger; Crumbed Steak Burger; LOT Burger; Tropical Burger; Works Burger and so an and so on. There were also the Maraka Menu Specials, that included such delights as Seafood Basket, Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli and and Crumb Steak & Spaghetti.
This bright, spotless kingdom was ruled over by a tiny, bustling woman with a high-pitched voice and a manner of crisp efficiency.
‘What can I get ya?’
‘Well, for me, scrambled egg, bacon, sausages, a chocolate milk shake and coffee, black, please.’
‘And a black coffee. No worries,’ she squeaked.
Rory had the same. Angus, his son, had the mixed grill plus the obligatory chocolate milk shake. What Matt the Younger had I cannot now remember. Bear in mind that it was 7.30 in the morning, we’d be up since 5 am and this was the first proper meal any of us had had in a week. So, when the food arrived, we fell upon it with with an almost mystical intensity, and ate in appreciative silence.
Maybe we were in a state when all things taste fabulous, but even under such circumstances I reckon I can tell a dodgy sausage from a decent one, fine bacon from flawed bacon and judge the quality of scrambled egg. The sausage was sweet, juicy and meaty, the bacon, if a touch thicker than the fragrant shavings celebrated by John Buchan in The Thirty-Nine Steps, had just the right balance between cure and porky charm, and the scrambled eggs filled the plate with cloudy curds. The chocolate milk shake was the acme of soothing glop, given a proper hit of bitter chocolate, and the coffee was of a quality, clean, bright, balanced, you rarely come across anywhere in Britain, and never in our equivalents of the Majestic Cafe.
The bill? I don’t know. About AUS$25 a head, I guess, or about £18. Rory paid. What price sanity, pleasure and repletion? The Majestic Cafe is an eatery of the highest quality. It makes the ordinary, extraordinary. It is one of the great places to eat in the world, of itself, for itself, by itself.
Majestic Cafe, 26 Lannercost Street, Ingham, Queensland 4850. Phone: 00 61 7 4776 2347