Inside Electric Candlelight, a quirky new cafe at Vintedge, Abbeydale Road’s latest retro emporium, candelabras glow with that dim, fake flicker of battery-operated candles.
Concluding that’s how the caf got its name would be an easy assumption to make. A wrong one, though. It’s actually taken from a line in a song.
“Remember it?” says the man in the cowboy hat behind the counter. He starts to croon: “Well we drank champagne and danced all night, under electric candlelight...”
His voice isn’t bad; I recognise the Kinks classic, Lola, in an instant. Paul Infanti, him in the hat, named his daughter after that song. And the reason he’s a good singer is because he used to be one. In friend Richard Hawley’s first ever band, Treebound Story.
Hawley’s now feted the world-over; Infanti’s busy slicing feta for sarnies. Any regrets that he didn’t stick with his old music mucka?
“Not at all; I’m still in a band, The Cuckoo Clocks - we’re psychedelic country - and am still friends with Richard. And we couldn’t have both stayed in the band; We’ve both got big egos; we clashed,” he grins, above a backdrop of Elvis Costello and Talking Heads.
Food is Paul’s other passion; so much so that having gained an M.A. in industrial design, he decided to become a chef.
For nine years, he was pastry chef at Nonna’s and Bohan’s, then he headed for The Milestone in Kelham Island, leaving after 18 months to set up his cafe just before Christmas.
All Farrow & Ball misty green and decorated with a delightful hotchpotch of vintage furniture and ornaments, his granny’s parlour of a place is next to the Broadfield pub, in the old Yorkshire Bank building which also houses vintage stores like record shop King Biscuit Time, beer shop The Hop Hideout - and his wife Jane’s Fifties-style hair salon, Purdy’s.
He’s deliberately started off low-key; there is no menu. A chalk board boasts a vast array of teas, coffees (he’s had his own blend ground by Pollard’s), juices and posh sodas, all reasonably-priced. But on our visit, the food consists of one soup and one sandwich of the day, plus the cakes he gets up at 4am to bake.
“I want what I serve to be as perfect as possible,” explains Paul. He’s succeeded. Our curried butternut squash and sweet potato soup is smooth as velvet. Heady with flavour, carefully seasoned and with a precise squiggle of cream atop, it’s of the quality you’d expect in a fancy restaurant.
One the side is soft, expertly-rolled wrap stuffed with many delicious things. Griddled, smoky aubergine, zingy tomato and red pepper salsa, peppery watercress, hand made hummus, chewy little yellow nubs of bean shoots... It’s an explosion of flavour and texture.
Time was pressing as we were on a lunchbreak, but service was swift and friendly and the place is cheap. You pay £5.50 for soup and rap (soups or solo sandwiches are £3.50 each). With a latte and flat white coffee (£2.20 each) and one of Paul’s £2-ish cakes apiece (choose from John Lemon layered drizzle, Harvey Wallnutter honey and walnut slice and Golden Brownies (coated in gold, with “textures like sun”) the bill comes to £18.20.
I was just about to write that Paul needs to extend that non-menu when he rang to tell me he now offers a daily choice of three wraps.
He’s not as dim as those candles.
WHERE AND WHEN:
Electric Candlelight Cafe
448 Abbeydale Road
077 922 11 257
Open: Wed to Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11am-4pm
My star ratings out of five: