Paragon Cafe, Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Many years ago when I had just finished school, a friend of mine, Paul, invited me to a B&S Ball in Bathurst, a town west of the Blue Mountains.  I’ll spare you the goings-on of the B&S Ball, but on the way home Paul said, ‘I’ll take you to lunch at my grandmother’s restaurant’.

Streetfront

Streetfront

The Paragon Cafe in Katoomba had been in Paul’s family since 1916 and very little had changed since the day it opened.  The cafe is a tribute to decadent art deco architecture and even in the 1980’s, walking into the cafe was like entering a world from a bygone era.

The dining room where Paul and I had lunch

The dining room where Paul and I had lunch

Paul and I entered the cafe and his elderly and very petite grandmother was hard at work behind the counter serving customers and ringing up purchases on her antique cash register.  It was lunchtime on a Sunday and the Paragon was packed with diners because it was extremely popular with locals and also very well-known by tourists.

The Paragon Cafe

The Paragon Cafe

Paul bent down to greet his grandmother and then because the wooden booths (that are a bit like church pews), that make up the dining area in the main part of the restaurant, were occupied, Mrs Simos showed us through to the dining room at the back of the restaurant.

A busy counter

A busy counter

This was another very retro room with art deco features and furniture.  I don’t remember much of what was on the menu except that it was very much traditional Aussie fare that was reliable, comforting and adequate.  Needing a bit of a boost after the B&S Ball, Paul and I decided we’d like a roast which, by looking around the room was a very popular choice.  There was roast beef with mustard, roast lamb with mint jelly or roast pork with apple sauce.

Dining Room

Dining Room

I would have called it a ‘wet-roast’ where the plate is filled edge to edge with generous slices of meat smothered in gravy that’s almost spilling over the side, a large triangle of roasted pumpkin, a couple of blonde roasted potatoes and some greens that were now khaki due to the lengthy boil-up.  I do think I also remember a plate of sliced white bread being put on our table with little foil packets of butter.

An antique

An antique

There was nothing remarkable about this kind of a meal but everyone loved it and it stayed on the menu as the most popular choice for generations.

Candelabra

Candelabra

The Paragon Cafe is also famous for its handmade chocolates that are made on the premises above the restaurant.  As we were leaving we stopped by the glass cabinets at the front of the cafe and selected enough chocolates to see us back to Sydney.

Counter

Counter

The Simos family ran the restaurant from 1916 – 2000 and I don’t know of any other family that has held on to a restaurant for so long.

Entrance to the bathroom

Entrance to the bathroom

Last weekend we decided to go to the Blue Mountains for the day.  We drove through the main street of Katoomba and I saw the sign for the Paragon Cafe.  I remembered back to that wet-roast after the B&S Ball and told Drew I’d like to revisit the cafe for lunch.

Art deco doors

Art deco doors

The window display is no longer as I remembered it as it now contains a mass of nostalgic signs that block any view into the Paragon.  Stepping into the cafe it is as dark as it used to be and fortunately, nothing architecturally has changed.  The antique cash registers are now out in a back room and some more modern counters have been installed but apart from that, the Paragon remains a fantastic tribute to the art deco era.

Streetfront

Streetfront

The dining room where Paul and I ate our wet roast was empty but the waitress told us we were welcome to take a look around the room.  We asked if we could go upstairs to see where the chocolates are made but that wasn’t permissible for insurance reasons.  I asked if they run chocolate classes but was told not at this stage.

An antique cash register

An antique cash register

We sat in one of the booths and were handed the menu.  The waitress who was in charge was very busy managing all the young waitresses who seemed to need quite a bit of instruction and when she spoke to the customers it was at best, abrupt.

Dining Room

Dining Room

We were given the menu and sadly, there wasn’t a roast to be seen.  The menu is very limited with nothing of interest on it.  For lunch there are sandwiches, a Greek salad, three types of burgers, fish and chips and a soup.

We waited quite a while to order and then it took a fair while for the food to arrive.

Alfie ordered an ice chocolate.  It looked good when it arrived but Alfie said, ‘All I can taste is milk; there’s no chocolate’, but it did look like there was some chocolate in the glass.

Iced Chocolate:  $6.00

Iced Chocolate: $6.00

All he wanted for lunch were the wedges and these were just like wedges you’d get anywhere else, served with sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.

Wedges:  $8.50

Wedges: $8.50

Drew ordered a pale ale beer that is brewed locally.  This is a beer he hasn’t had before and he really liked it.

Badlands Pale Ale:  $6.50

Badlands Pale Ale: $6.50

Drew ordered the Katoomba Burger with crispy chicken, cucumber, avocado, tomato, red onion, beetroot relish and chips.  The chicken wasn’t crispy, it was a grilled thigh fillet and along with the cold chips, Drew found this to be a very ordinary burger.

Katoomba Burger:  $17.90

Katoomba Burger: $17.90

I ordered the Paragon Burger that was a beef patty with crispy bacon, cheddar cheese, bush tomato chutney and slow-cooked onion with chips.  The bun wasn’t warm and it hadn’t been toasted and there was no mayonnaise or sauce on the bun.  The patty was the smallest beef patty I’ve ever seen; it was terribly under-seasoned and it hadn’t been cooked properly and was raw in places.  The bacon wasn’t crispy, there was too little slow-cooked onion and chutney for it to flavour the burger and the chips were cold.

Paragon Burger:  $17.90

Paragon Burger: $17.90

Didn't eat much

Patty a little raw

With such a historic and charming and beautiful building, it was such a shame to find the Paragon being let down by inexperienced staff, a limited and boring menu, and food that comes out of the kitchen poorly executed.  I would love to see this iconic restaurant live on for another hundred years because it is a venue of tremendous historical significance.  These days however, it takes more than art deco charm to survive so I do hope they turn their attention to producing food people will talk about as highly as the premises.

The Paragon Cafe

The Paragon Cafe

Verdict:  Bring back the wet-roast.

Paragon Cafe:  65 Katoomba St, Katoomba NSW 2780

Comments

  1. You can never go home again … or in this case, you SHOULDN’T go to places you have fond memories of. Did you pick up some chocolates for the drive home?

    PS: I had to look up B&S balls as I’d never heard the expression. 🙂

  2. If the menu is going to be so limited they could at least the chips hot and make a decent burger. I remember the Paragon from visits to Katoomba – lovely building.

  3. I always find it so sad when this happens. I hope that they figure out how to return it to what it once was. I’m sure that was disappointing, especially after having a personal connection to the place.

  4. What a charming story and charming place…until we got to the modern part. Because the physical charm is still there, maybe the newest owners will eventually reinstate the Paragon to its former glory. I do love the Art Deco…
    I had to look up B&S Ball as well! 😉

  5. I haven’t been to the Paragon for about 12 years, but I remember being dissapointed with the chocolates. They looked fantastic, but not so great in the mouth. Such a shame, because it really could be something special.

  6. Isn’t it the MOST wonderful old cafe! Loved this, Charlie xxx

  7. It’s sad when you remember something like that, go back and its nothing like it was. Time moves on….. Love the Blue Mountains, on our next holiday we are planning a few days up at the Blue Mountains, last time on our way back we found this amazing hippy shop, I so need to go back. Its online but it’s just not the same 🙂

  8. Oh no!! I think I’m as disappointed as you. I had high hopes the wet roast would still be on the menu, but maybe a bit updated. Now that would bring in the crowds – if the kitchen could get it right. I love your reviews – you just say it as you see it which is exactly as it should be.

  9. We had the waffles here when we visited for afternoon tea and they were good. It sounds like things have gone downhill with the service and food though. What a shame, it’s a beautiful building.

  10. When I was a kid we used to go to the Paragon all the time. We loved it but they were times so far away. Recently a friend of mine moved to Katoomba and is really in love with the look of the Paragon. Look is all I would do here because it hasn’t been worth eating here probably since they took the wet roast off. At least Drew had a nice beer!

  11. Sweet Posy Dreams says:

    What a charming place. Too bad the food didn’t live up to your memories of it. Paul’s grandmother obviously knew what she was about.

  12. So much potential here…

  13. What a let down. Hopefully the current owner/s get their act together soon.

  14. Good advice Charlie. I hope they take it. We didn’t get to check it out on our recent trip there. Hope it improves by the time we get back, as I truly love that place and remember the decor and chocolates fondly.
    Carolyn

  15. What a beautiful old cafe. Too bad the food didn’t match the charm.

  16. Am so sorry for your experience in the wonderful cafe Charlie! You have the worst run of food than anyone I know! Sad the food did not live up to its history!

  17. What a terrible shame about the food. The interior is so intriguing and charming it deserves much better!

  18. What a lovely memory you have from this beautiful old place. I hope a passionate soul will come along and restore it to its former glory. 🙂

  19. What a shame, sometimes I wonder why people who are not passionate about food and cooking open restaurants. Here, I would definitely have complained about the undercooked burger, unacceptable! And dangerous, people have died eating poorly cooked minced meat.

  20. What a disappointment the food isn’t up to scratch like it used to be. At least it still has its wonderful charm. I bet your friends gran would be turning in her grave at the thought of the food.
    Have a beautiful day.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  21. Total bummer that the cafe wasn’t as good as you remembered it to be! I feel like that happens often when owners change hands.

  22. I used to look after Mrs Simos many moons ago after she had retired 🙂
    Funny small world.

  23. The Paragon is such an institution. A shame that it looks like the kitchen no longer has the love in it it used to.

  24. How disappointing after having such fond memories. What a great story. I think of all the places that I once found special and I’ve thought I’d like to return. I’m not sure that would be such a good idea after all!

  25. Time marches on and I often think it’s sad when you try to revisit something like that from the past and it’s totally different … I guess at least the building has been preserved! x

  26. Disappointing that the food wasn’t good. I think a high tea there would be lovely, given the decor and location!

  27. Karen Vernon says:

    I live in Katoomba & go to the Paragon frequently, about very 2 weeks, for various reasons: from coffee & a chat with a friend to dinner & a show. It’s a shame you had a poor experience – I had lunch with some visitors from OS about 3 weeks ago & the food was good, & the portions generous. There was a decent variety of meals & the chips were hot, hamburgers were good & I had a Rueben sandwich whish was huge. When I had dinner there roughly the same time, the food was superb, and the menu is hugely different to the lunch menu. They have a new chef who had won awards at a local restaraunt & I couldn’t fault any of it. A few years ago I would have said otherwise but currently things are on the up & up.

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