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Howstrake
Cafe Royal - 1924

 

The old Cafe Royal on the King Edward Road and overlooking Onchan Harbour, was built for a Mrs. Harriet Hart in 1924. Its appearance has changed but little. Originally, it had an open verandah along its front but this was later enclosed with timber and glass to provide protection against the elements. Later still, a single storey extension was added to the East.

Its position was close to the Hotel Majestic, opened two years earlier, and to the Howstrake Golf Links Hotel, opened in 1921. The golfers and guests of the hotels, along with the campers at Howstrake and the visitors to Onchan Head would no doubt, have provided a steady flow of custom during the summer months. As well as meals and refreshments, the Cafe Royal catered also for functions such as wedding receptions. The name Cafe Royal was the outcome of a competition, advertised in the Manx press, to suggest a name for the new establishment. The Hart family ran the Cafe until it was commandeered during the war years and became a convalescent unit for the patients of the Military Hospital at the Majestic Hotel.

After the war, in 1946, the Cafe Royal changed hands and was bought by a Mr. Harry Burns. Further changes in ownership occurred and by 1962 the property was occupied by a Mr & Mrs W. Langley who advertised it as a Board Residence with eight bedrooms. Presumably this activity was in addition to the catering business. By this time also the name had changed to Cafe Royale.

In the mid-sixties the Cafe Royale was acquired by a Mr Erani who changed its name to the Sizzler, although for a few years he used the new name side by side with the original. An advertisement of 1968 read "The Siz-z-z-z-ler, Cafe Royale, King Edward Road" and grills were offered from 12/-. Mr. Erani specialized in serving steaks on hot iron platters which were set into wooden boards for ease of handling. In the late sixties after a heavy and unexpected snow storm, cars were stranded, bumper to bumper, from Derby Castle and along the King Edward Road and Mr Erani went along the line of vehicles, carrying flasks of hot soup and coffee which he freely dispensed to the stranded motorists.

A 1972 advertisement read "Exclusive Food for Exclusive People...The Sizzler, 59, King Edward Road" and it was evident that the name "Cafe Royal" was no longer in use. Mr Erani boasted entries in The Good Food Guide and in The Egon Ronay Guide for 1971. His 12/- grill was the same price as it had been four years earlier though with the advent of decimal currency it was listed as 60p. In 1973 Mr Erani produced the "Sizzler's Own Gourmet Frozen Foods" which were marketed by the old-established grocers James Kissack Ltd. on Prospect Hill in Douglas.

By the mid 1970s the cafe was owned by Holt and Brookes Ltd., a company owned by Julian Holt and a Mr. Brookes. A planning application in 1977 to build a car park there referred to the premises as The Sizzler but it was by then known as Julian's Restaurant and was advertised as such in December 1977.

In 1980 the restaurant was acquired by Jaime Boncompte Amoros and his wife Jill and was known simply as Boncomptes'. The restaurant soon came to be regarded by many as the finest on the Island. The name, with the insertion of an apostrophe in Jaime, was used in a car window sticker together with a red heart and read "J'aime Boncompte's".

Yet again the former Cafe Royal changed hands and opened on 5th. February 1990 as Woodford's, named after Kevin Woodford, of the television programme "The Reluctant Cook", who was a part owner of the new restaurant. In February 1991 Mr. Woodford gave up his personal management of the restaurant and, after a brief closure, it re-opened on 5th. March 1991, as The Top Table, although under the same ownership. As in the case of the Cafe Royal, some sixty seven years previously, the new name was chosen from those submitted in a competition. However, in August 1991 the building was sold to Tara Investments Ltd and, within five months of its opening, The Top Table served its final meal on 2nd August 1991.

The premises were then leased, with an option to purchase, to the Mr. Eatwell Ltd catering group and in November 1991 were re-opened as Churchill's Restaurant, the flagship of the group. In April 1992, six months after its opening, Churchill's closed but was to open again towards the end of that year. In Spring 1994 the restaurant closed and The Manx Independent of 2nd September of that year announced the sale of the premises by Tara Investments Ltd to Mr Eatwell Ltd for £212,500. In October 1994 the property was again on the market either for sale or to let.

Schemes to develop the property as office accommodation were, after planning appeal and review procedures had been exhausted, finally declined in 1996.