Monday, May 17, 2021

My Friend Arthur

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Matthew Steeples remembers the late, great Arthur Woodham, the owner of Arthur’s Cafe in Dalston and La Brasserie’s best customer at the bar on a Saturday afternoon

 

Arthur Woodham told me: “I don’t drink in my manor” each and every Saturday. We sat together at the bar at the sadly now defunct La Brasserie in South Kensington and whilst he drank Smirnoff Vodka (he’d certainly never tolerate anything else; especially “that poison” Grey Goose), I had my rather oversized gin and somewhat limited tonic. We chatted about all sorts of nonsense, encountered many a mad drunk and occasionally Arthur’s delightful daughter, Elaine, came and took him home in her taxi.

 

The pair of us (and many other equally drink-friendly ‘bar fly’ friends) sat enjoying the very best (and cheapest) drinks in SW3 and observing the restaurant’s best and worst customers also (Arthur was particularly amused by ‘The Crossword Couple’ – a pair he described as “bloody bores” due to the fact they shared a cocktail and complained about the music). We laughed and we chatted and Arthur regaled me with tales of the East End’s greatest and grimmest. He informed me the Krays were “ponces” and he told me all about his renowned establishment, Arthur’s Cafe in Kingsland Road, Dalston.

 

Sadly, I visited Arthur’s business on only one occasion. Arthur refused to take payment from myself and my two friends but he gave us the greatest experience. He didn’t serve toast after 11.30am and he didn’t serve chips before 12 noon. Here was a man with a mantra but here also was a gent with a heart. Arthur was a truly lovely man and he was the best company many could have imagined.

 

Many articles have been written post his passing about the food and drink he served but I’d like to say this: Arthur – I hope you’re having as many Smirnoffs as you want in the sky. You were a true gentleman and I am honoured you were my friend.

 

Arthur Woodham died aged 91 on 7th January 2018. He leaves behind his wife Eileen, two children, two grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

 

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Commiserations. When people die, one always feels sorry for the family but one never really thinks to the same extent that friends are utterly devastated, too.

  2. Very sorry to hear of Arthur’s passing. Though a cliché, he truly was one of a kind, as was his café. Working further up Kingsland Road, near the Waste in the early 1990s my fellow work mates and I became lunchtime regulars. Back then, good, affordable places to eat were few and far between. We would walk with anticipation to Arthur’s Cafe, be greeted by Arthur in his neat white coat, James or Jenny, sit down at the terrazzo tables and choose from the menu. Whatever we decided on — in the summer perhaps a precisely assembled ham and salad (never forgetting the beetroot) sandwich in crusty white, expertly made by James; in winter maybe a stewed steak ‘with a lot of gravy’ in a shallow bowl — it unfailingly hit the spot. Equally unfailingly, when you made your order Arthur would repeat it back to you but in a completely different sequence to how you’d said it — just for the sheer hell of confusing you. You’d hear a customer order a glass of milk and Arthur would raise his voice for ‘one white wine’! He had his ways and his ways were what made Arthur’s Arthur’s.

    The first time I ever saw a mobile phone was in Arthur’s. Back then these were the size of big heavy bricks and were placed ostentatiously on the table by loud-voiced tradesmen: plumbers, brickies, or sparks who would try, but usually fail, to get a rise out of Arthur by ribbing him about this or that.

    The hipsterfication of Dalston and much of the rest of London goes hand in hand with the onward march of food ‘culture’: so-called ‘street food’, anything with the prefix ‘proper’ in it and ‘pop-up’ this, that and the others. This process has taken something basic — our need to eat — and transformed it into a self-conscious lifestyle choice. But Arthur’s Cafe was keeping it real well before ‘keeping it real’ even became a thing. Under Arthur’s grandson James, I — and I’m sure many, many others — sincerely hope that this venerable institution may long continue. Already missed but not forgotten: thanks for everything Arthur.

  3. Uncle Arthur was a great person,I know we met a few times but them times were truly amazing. Rip uncle,your with your brother now (my grandad) I’ll always be thinking about you. Love you loads uncle Arthur

    • Alex my grandad was not your uncle and you met him twice

      I love reading this article Matthew about my grandad it makes me really smile thank you so much for your kind words.

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