Nostalgic Pancakes

I lay in bed on Tuesday night thinking about pancakes (yes I do such things) and I came up with a couple of ideas about why I like them so much.  It’s not just because I’m a pig, and it’s nothing to do with Lent.  Nor is it just so that I can take out the sticky pot of Lyle’s Golden Syrup without feeling guilty.

It goes beyond the yumminess and the taste.  It is all about the pancakes of my past which signified very good times for me.

As a kid back in the 70s I lived a charmed life and as a family we would often go ‘up to town’ for lunch on a Saturday or Sunday.  For many years the destination was a crêperie at 329 King’s Road called Asterix, which had a huge painting of Asterix and Obelix the cartoon characters (written by Goscinny and illustrated by Uderzo) on the exposed brick wall.  The chef cooked savoury buckwheat galettes for main courses and sweet crêpes for dessert, the adults drank dry Normandy cider and the effusive owner George Reynolds played Vivaldi (loud) through the speakers and brought over Asterix books for the kids to read before the food came.  I was a fast reader and always tried to finish a whole book before the first course arrived.

I was a fussy eater when I was very young and used to have sweetcorn in a crêpe for my main course (odd, maybe, but this is what I liked) but I soon joined the grown ups and would order a galette with petit suisse, chives and ham inside.  It makes me drool to remember it!

For those who didn’t fancy flaming crêpe suzette for pudding there was ‘piggy cake’ (back then chocolate fudge cake was quite new on the scene, and this was a fine specimen of it).  It was also the place where I developed a keen desire for mint choc chip ice cream.  The really clever people asked for ice cream inside a crêpe and got the best of both worlds.

I don’t know if the owner George was a film star or actor or just behaved like one.  In my memory he was handsome and welcoming and definitely a large part of Asterix’s charm.  My brother remembers George as a resting actor and a friend of Richard O’Brien.  At this time Richard O’Brien was first shocking London with his Rocky Horror Show. This now cult musical opened Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre and then stayed on the King’s Road at the Chelsea Cinema, next door to Habitat, and then moved to another cinema theatre further up the King’s Road.  You can see where my history with Habitat started, as we always popped in there too and would often stop off in the café upstairs.

Right opposite Habitat, Malcolm McClaren had opened the Sex clothes shop, selling teddy boy clothes made by his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood alongside 50s vinyl and other anarchist and fetishist fashion. He would pick his singers and artists from amongst the customers; some of the shop assistants included Sid Vicious and Chrissie Hynde.

As for the Rocky Horror Show, my parents saw it in its first run back then, and I will never forget the stories about the actors barely clad in suspenders and ripped stockings sitting on my Mum’s lap and draping themselves over her before the show had started – those sorts of things didn’t happen in Britain in those days.  They don’t happen that often these days!  We all grew up to be big Rocky Horror fans, yes even dressing up and going en famille when I was barely a teenager…

Definitely stories for another blog post.  But it’s fun to think of the King’s Road of the 70s, with its punks hanging out on every corner and its shops selling rebellious and provocative fashion.  I can imagine why a jobbing actor like George Reynolds would think that 1970s King’s Road was the perfect place to open a new restaurant.

I will just share with you you two final odd facts about Asterix, which I have found online.  These are an endorsement of the place by Joan Armatrading (odd because she doesn’t sound like she enjoys food much) in Joan Armatrading’s My Favourite Table and that Glenn Frey of the Eagles once lived above it when in London in 1971 to record the album The Eagles.  Eagles fans can read more here.

After these tales of a fashionably rebellious London, my second trip down pancake memory lane will seem a lot tamer as it takes us to The Place to Eat in the department store John Lewis…

As a child I of course had the best dental treatment to go along with my charmed life and my dentist father used to take me out of school for my orthodontist appointments.  You will not believe it now but I used to have a huge gap between my two front teeth, and of course this had to be rectified by a good dose of braces and headgear.  My Dad’s best friend was (and still is) the brilliant orthodontist Dr Neville Bass, who still practices at Bass Orthodontics in Queen Anne Street London W1, and in fact his son (Dr) Anton still works with my brother as a dentist at Sparkly Smile in Blackheath SE3 on the days when he is not at Queen Anne Street himself.  If you have crooked teeth or halitosis, or just feel like a whiter smile, you now have two recommendations in one paragraph (always try Sparkly Smile first).

On appointment days my Dad would turn up to school to pick me up and we would drive up to town, having a quick check up and change of elastic bands at the orthodontist before moving on to the main event:  lunch at The Place to Eat inside the John Lewis on Oxford Street.  The Place to Eat was (and I think still is) an in-store restaurant with different sections within it, eg Carvery, Juice Bar etc.  Guess what type of food I always chose.  The pancakes were fantastic, made before your very eyes on the proper round pancake griddles.  I used to perch up on a high stool and watch wide-eyed as the cook would spread out the batter in a perfect circle and flip it over with a fine spatula.  Again, the joy I took in these outings probably came more from the fact that I should have been in school, but actually was on a secret adventure into London with my Dad, rather than the fact that the pancake tasted good.

So maybe not the excitement of 70s punkish Kings Road and transvestites in fish nets, but for me as a youngster these were great, blissful days which I look back on with much fondness.

For me it’s the pancakes which trigger these memories.  My brother has this picture in his dental surgery in Blackheath, so I do wonder if maybe his 3-D artwork of Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix is Phil’s version of Nostalgic Pancakes which remind him of those halcyon days.  Maybe you should ask him when you pop in for that whitening treatment.

photo

The bittersweet ending to these stories is that Asterix (which to avoid being sued later called itself Astrix and then Le Shop) has now totally disappeared and is currently a Mexican eatery called Azteca.  As far as I can tell, although The Place to Eat does still exist inside some branches of John Lewis, the pancake house is also long gone.  For some reason I have never been tempted to go to crêperies since, although when in France I always gravitate towards them.

I would love to have taken my own kids to Asterix le véritable crêperie (yes, its full name had the wrong gender).  They would have loved the pancakes there, and definitely the ice cream.  I guess I will have to keep up my own pancake making.  This year my home made pancakes even managed to pass the GHT (Grumpy Hubby Test) and were declared ‘not bad’ – though they would not have passed the Asterix chef’s test.  As I say every Pancake Day, I really must make them more often than once a year.  By the way, despite loving that sinfully sweet Golden Syrup, my favourite combo topping now is lemon and sugar as then it’s never too sickly.

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86 thoughts on “Nostalgic Pancakes

  1. I absolutely love this. Petit Suisse chives and ham..it was sooo good. I even took Beany and Streaky there once!! So sad it’s gone. X

  2. Would love to travel back in time and have a pancake in your place. When I was growing up in the North-East, I used to dream about walking down the King’s Road. Years later, when I finally did, it was nothing like I’d imagined. That was a lovely post Hatty, thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    1. It would have been great to have a pancake with you back in the 70s on the King’s Road! Maybe we’ll have to settle for a cappucino in Bromley in the Tenties (what decade are we in now?!). Thanks for your comment Alison, it was lovely, I really am up for that coffee 🙂

  3. I share your memories of Asterix in the 70s. My parents would take me there (we lived across the river) whenever we went to the cinema on the Fulham Road. After school my first job was working at Asterix – this was ’85; I started in the kitchen and then ended up waiting tables there. Maybe I cooked your crepes! I live in the USA now, but several years ago I got a postcard from George after he saw my parents in London. I think he retired to Provence where he paints.

    George was a fabulous character, and he was an idol of mine. He embraced youth and was utterly democratic. Everybody waited in line at Asterix; no special tables for celebs, and we had a lot of celebs – back in the day when celebs were normal and didn’t have entourages. Customers shared tables with complete strangers on busy days, so you might make new friends when going out to dinner there.

    Great times. Reading your post brought back a lot of happy memories for me 🙂

    1. Hi Rupert

      So fantastic to hear from you, an actual real person who not only knew George but even might have cooked one of my crepes! I am so pleased this reached you.
      I could eat a little crepe now, come to think of it… Do you ever make them now?

      It is great to hear another view of the charismatic George and I love to think of him still in Provence painting some landscapes and hopefully having a few happy memories of Asterix and London too.

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment. 🙂

  4. Hello Rupert
    I remember the little lady who cooked the pancakes too – she was there year after year after year. So good to hear your story too.

    1. Hi Hilary!

      That was Carmen. She was fabulous and like a mother to everybody that worked there. Everybody seemed to get to know her – she was very smiley and many customers would come up to the kitchen window to say hello or thanks at the end of their meal.

      She ruled the kitchen with a firm hand; you didn’t want to get on her bad side! Not because she was mean but because she’d give you that disappointed look (mothering skills) if you didn’t pull your weight.

      She also was expert at sizing up the waiters. At Asterix the tips were pooled and shared with the kitchen staff, and I remember she’d often give me a look at the beginning of a night, tutt-tutting that the tips wouldn’t be so good because so-and-so was the waiter. And she’d always be right!

      She was very short – they made a box specially for her to stand on when cooking on the grill plates which were quite high – but huge in stature. She was lovely. She had a warm heart, a big smile, and a great hug.

      I think she stayed after George sold Asterix – it remained the Veritable Creperie for a while after he sold it, but I don’t imagine she would have stayed once it changed to what it is now.

      Oh there were so many characters that worked and that ate there. I loved that place, it was pure magic. I’m getting quite wistful and nostalgic!

      1. I remember Carmen and “her box”. Wonderful memories. Hatty Daze is my daughter and she was 2 years old when we first went there. Really good to hear from you. Did you go to Obelix too near the Portobello Road?

      2. Ah yes Carmen! I wanted to write about her in my post but didn’t know her name and didn’t want to call her ‘the short lady’ (being one myself!). So great to hear more about what she was really like!
        Whenever you fancy writing your book about the place and all its characters, do let me know!

      3. Hi Rupert you posh boy. Remember me Cath Jensevics. One of the welsh crew. We really, really do need to organise a reunion. Miss those times. Xx

  5. I used to work for Darla Jane Gilroy a fashion designer, who had a shop just down from astrix’s in the eighties. Damn I used to love that place, the crepes were just amazing. The savoury chicken and mushroom with garlic cream was my favourite. Such a shame it’s not there any more! I left London 17yrs ago and I now live in Cornwall with my teenage daughter, and was googling to find out if it was still there. Which is how I came across your blog. It’s a shame it’s gone, I would have loved to have taken my 16yr old daughter to eat there. 😦

    1. Hi Linda, how great to hear from you! It is such a shame it’s not there any more! I want to start a ‘find George’ petition to see if we can lure him back to the UK. We all just need to eat one last crepe with our own children…
      Oh well, I am sure you will find other nice places if you do come back with your daughter. Thanks for leaving a comment 🙂

  6. He, this George you speak of, is alive and well, living in Clapham old town and the South of France! It was a fantastic time.

    1. That’s not really you, George, is it? My family and I have been wishing to track you down for many years! Just one last gallette with a dry Normandy cider perhaps? So pleased to hear that he is alive and well. And if it really is you then I’m scouring Clapham Old Town for a glimpse of you. They really were fantastic times.

    2. Oh George you devil. Think of those days often. Remember the cocktail twins.? So glad you’re well old bean. Love Cath. Xx

      1. I am in touch with George. He always sends me a birthday greeting. I worked in Asterix in the 80’s when it was Le Shop. 

      2. Let me know if a reunion is on the cards darling. I’m friends with a few on Facebook so can contact them and let them know. X

  7. hello. I used to work at Asterix when it was Le Shop, in 1991 I think. I am in touch with George who spends a lot of time in France now but still lives in London. Some of us are trying to organise a reunion which will be a feat, covering many eras! the reason I came across your blog.

    1. Hi Alex, great to hear from you! So nice to hear that George is still around, and lovely to hear of your proposed reunion – hope you are successful. When you next see George, ask if he remembers Jo Eisenberg (my dad). If you find Carmen for the reunion and she starts stirring up the pancake mix, please let me know and I (and a few family members and friends who remember the old days!) will be there in a flash! At least send me a photograph as a nice ending to this post!

  8. I remember Asterix very well, fabulous exotic place to eat in the late 70’s when was at university when we usually ate beans on toast or cottage pie from the Chelsea Pot and then there was the “up all night” burger place on the Fulham road which was open all night!

  9. Hi everyone,
    I have enjoyed reading your postings although it made me a little moist in the eye…I miss those days.
    I did visit Kings Road a few times and even worked one shift there to help out.
    I used to work at Asterix in Brighton which was also owned by George, he was a lovely man (and still is I’m sure!). Some of the managers from there later opened Cripes! also in Brighton where I worked in the early eighties,
    George would visit his friends there often,I think he’d pull up in an XJS?
    I never really enquired about his life but he was full of it…life that is, I was more of a listener back then. I wished for nothing more in those days than to always cook crepes.
    I remember all the wonderful paintings of Asterix characters being overpainted back in ’76 or ’77 as has been mentioned here because the royalty sum went up massively and was therefore dropped, Astrix was never really the same after.
    I still have some yellow business cards somewhere from those days!John Hughes (Australian) was one of the owners of Cripes!, I could listen to his stories all day and often did.
    I remember the Bierre de Garde de St. Leonarde, a lovely wine bottle sized beer, cream cheese and ginger crepe or black cherries & kirsch!
    I miss everyone I worked with from back then, I’m still in touch with one fortunately.
    Would love to catch up with anyone else from back then…

    1. Hi Andrew, so nice to hear from you! It seems that everyone remembers those days with great happiness – tinged with some sadness that they are in the past. Wouldn’t it just be fantastic if we could all enjoy a get-together over pancakes and cider one day? I’ll bring the Asterix books 🙂 With my best wishes Hatty

  10. Yes I remember Jo , Hatty, down Black Heath way . Thank you all for your wonderful comments .It means a lot to me. All the Brits down here in France know the Asrterix . They want another too! Strange to be recognised in a hidden cafe in a remote village after all these years.I have to admit that I buy my Gallettes and crepes from the supermarket. Not as good as Carmen’s but a close second.My head is already swollen so keep your complements coming!!
    May everything and extra go with you all G x

    1. Hi George!
      So nice to hear from you and get a bit more news. Isn’t it amazing, how many people have such good memories of you and Asterix, even in remote French villages!
      Love the image of you bring your gallettes and crepes from the supermarche!
      All the best and love from Blackheath
      Hatty and Jo and all of us X

    2. George darling boy. Don’t know if you can remember me. One the cocktail twins. Cath Jensevics. I’m in touch with Rob, Gill, Andrew and Claire stride. I do hope you are well. Look back on those day with such fond memories. We really should organise a cricket reunion. Much love Cath. Xxxx

      1. Hi Cath! I remember you! … oh man those were great days. How are you? I’ll try and find you on FB. If there ever is a reunion, I’d love to know – but give me loads of warning; I live in the USA now.

  11. Hello from Australia! I worked at the Creperie from about 1988 on and off for a couple of years in between travelling.I remember you George and your Gitanes, and many of the actors and artists that worked there. And, Carmen of course and her wooden box.

  12. Just back from a trip to Versailles where we had the best savoury crepes we’d encountered since the days of Astrix – at Le Blé Noir – I idly googled to find when Le Shop closed. I didn’t expect to find this amount of detail. What a wonderful trip down memory lane. And so nice to see that George has been tracked down. Isn’t the internet wonderful?!

    1. Hi Mike, thanks for adding your comment too. Truly warms the cockles and makes one yearn for past days!
      Pleased to hear there are other good savoury crepes around. I really ought to go on the hunt.
      Yes, we are all pleased to know that George is safe and well and buying (inferior) crepes from supermarkets!
      The internet really can be wonderful!

  13. I was a student in London (from Indiana Usa) and dicovered Asterix and it was my haven. I think of it often…so hip and delicious. I bought a pair of “Kickers” at a nearby shoe store and also saw Rocky Horror such good memories. Thanks for the blog!

  14. Nice to read these comments. I worked on the survey of the shops and design of the three restaurants back in the 70s, From memory the original conversions were fundec a partnership between Chris Crocker and Bulmers cider. The company were Cromer Restaurants. Happy days and great crepes.

    1. Who did you work for Paul? Market are search or design? After reading all of this I determined to find the next best thing to Astrix’ crepes and discovered it on my doorstep: Chez Lindsay in Richmond has been doing excellent crepes for about 30 yrs but I’d never ventured in there. Not Astrix but pretty damn close!

      1. I’m glad the post drove you to pancakes! Sometimes you do have to give a place a try (second best is better than none). When I’m next looking for food in Richmond I will look up Chez Lindsay.

  15. Fabulous post, loved the trip back in time and I’m always saying will make pancakes more than once a year too. Why don’t we? They’re so yummy, although I also love the special excitement around Pancake Day. Enjoy tucking in later 😉 x

  16. This brings back many memories. I was a very young architectural technician carrying out the surveys on three building in The Kings Road, Notting Hill and Brighton for a chain of restaurants to sell crêpes. From memory they were a collaboration between a guy called Chris Crocker and Bulmers Cider. The company was called Cromer Restaurants. The crêpes were fabulous.

  17. I lived in Asterix during the late 70’s – I lived but a bus ride away down in Parsons Green and I’m afraid to say I was one of those boring students who used to eat a galette and then stay far too long, nursing a cup of coffee, or if flush with finance – a cider, while finishing homework or an essay. I remember the music far too well, endless Vivaldi, also Carmen, and George, though doubt anyone would remember me. I might have tried to chat up the girls who worked there, too – almost certainly without success. A wonderful place and sorry to see it is gone. However, I now live in France and we have farine de sarrasin here and make galettes whenever we want instead! If anyone is ever passing through the Charente Maritime, you’re welcome to partake!

    Oh, and as for the Rocky Horror Show……. golly, those were the days 🙂

    1. It’s great to find so many people with memories of these heady galette-filled days! Ah yes, the Vivaldi! It must have had an effect on you, since you have moved to France for your own pancakes. Funnily enough I have been considering a trip to your part of France so I will look you up if it happens! Lovely to hear from you.

      1. Hello Hatty – you’re most welcome to look us up if you come this way. My wife has a wonderful blog about our life here, to which I contribute when needed, so have a visit if you have time, and contact us through there if needs be. http://www.ourfrenchoasis.com is the address. I didn’t come here to plug the blog, I hasten to add, but you might see enough to want to visit.

        Yes, the Vivaldi was a bonus, as was the Sibelius that George would play occasionally. It was all good though, a far cry from the throbbing juke box across the road in the hamburger joint opposite and down the road a tad, a decent enough place to eat with great brownies I seem to remember, but its name escapes me. Heady days the mid ’70’s – endless summers with bright blue skies, too.

  18. I worked at Asterix in 83/4 went to the annual cricket match at George’s Old School (ended up teaching there many years later) George was a lovely guy… think he wasn’t too sure of me (very astute) but good memories… think I gave him a drawing of centerpoint that I drew at RCA…

      1. [image1.jpeg]
        Our annual Christmas card. He called us the cocktail twins.
        Sent from my iPad

  19. I used to work next door to Asterix in the late 80’s working for Darla Jane Gilroy, the fashion designer who was also funnily enough one of the original blitz kids on Bowies video for Ashes to Ashes lol. Anyway I digress, I always used to go into Astrix for lunch, they used to make the most amazing chicken & mushrooms in cream crepes. My mouth drools just thinking of them, it’s funny when I moved back to Cornwall 20yrs ago it’s the one thing I missed the most about London. Still do think of them, hence how I found myself here 🙂 I googled to see if it was still there and came across your blog post. Great post by the way! Kindest wishes Kim

    1. Thanks Linda, it’s great to hear your memories of Asterix too. This post has struck a chord with all sorts of people who have all fled London now! All the best Hatty

  20. Came across this page, probably, a good couple of years ago, and always meant to return, to enthuse! Short of time this time too, though, so just quick! My first time at Astérix was in 1974, I was 15 & with a school friend I had brought up to London from nr. Tunbridge Wells. It was always my favourite restaurant (I hope that I went 100 times; possibly exaggerated), and I stuck with it as best as possible (luckily moved to London aged 19, but an aunt also lived 2 mins walk away) until its demise; my eldest son (b. 1999) benefitted from & loved several visits. As a matter of course, I made 1 visit to Obélix on Portobello Road and 1 to Obélix, Brighton. My favourite Galette was Ham, Mushroom & Mozzarella (mushrooms occasionally dashed out for from the shop opposite; Ho Lee Fook was over the road, too), washed down with a dry Cidre Bouchée. Have been cooking my own pancakes since 8; once in Scouts, everybody else failed to cook their pancakes, and I ended up doing the lot. Always loved the simplicity of Sugar & Lemon, but often had Honey & Nuts in Astérix. Saw Astérix through Astrix & Le Shop. Must admit, never really a fan of My Old D…. Went once in Holborn in 1979 & again, but on King’s Road, about 5 or 6 years ago with son. Always a bit of extra fun when being at Astérix accidentally coincided with a Chelsea Cruise evening. Glad I rattled that off, but so sad that I can no longer pop in on a very well justified whim!!! Come back George, all is forgiven!

  21. I have really enjoyed reading this blog and all the other posts, such happy memories – we were also regulars as I was a fellow shop keeper (still am) at Rococo Chocolates just the other side the junction on King’s Road. Often think of you George and would love to catch up if you are around either in London or Provence where we also hang out sometimes. My dear art school friend Maggie was remembering the crepes, so I invited her to come and eat them with us – home made, buckwheat and with some sourdough started mixed in – this recipe works really well – I think even George might approve. If anyone is into sourdough – old starter is the best in pancakes and lots of other things too. It gives a great flavour and texture and the pancakes were really crisp without being brittle. Thanks to everyone for making this Sunday morning a bit lighter than it was after all the atrocities of last night.

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment Chantal. Unfortunately I have no contact details for George. I was so happy that he made contact in this post but I don’t think he is very visible online! I imagine he enjoys a tranquil life in France without too much internet surfing. If I ever find his contact details I will get in touch with you. I will pop in to see you at Rococo Chocolates when I’m next in the area since chocolate is my next favourite thing after crepes! All the best Hatty

  22. I used to work at Astrix when it was La Creperie. I am still in contact with George and can provide his contact details. Send me your email address and I will pass them along. George always likes to hear from old friends!

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