THE PARAGON, in Katoomba, is Australia’s oldest continuously operating cafe. For 102yrs now it has been serving coffee, teas, scones and making my favourite chocolates in the country. I had my first lime spider there in 1980 and have been obsessed with it ever since. In 1980 I moved to Leura, we used to own The Alex – the best pub ever! But I was 8yrs old at the time and couldn’t slam $2 schooeys so the biggest treats I could get in The Blue Mountains was The Paragon chocolates! Whenever I visit The Blue Mountains these days a trip to The Paragon is a must and I have told everyone I know who visits the area they must also. I returned in January for another nostalgic lime spider with a side of chocolate indulgence and my heart was set abuzz again……………
………only to be punched in the centre of the heart this last week when it was announced it is most likely The Paragon will be closing its doors on May 27th.
THE PARAGON VENUE AND HISTORY: (for the full history visit HERE)
Not quite sure how I can fit 102yrs of history into a few paragraphs but here goes….
A fifteen-year-old Greek boy called Zacharias Simos migrated from his island of Kythera in 1912. He found work in Greek fish-restaurants and cafés, first in Sydney, then in Windsor and in Tenterfield. By 1916 the nineteen-year-old Simos was in Katoomba, where by September 1916 he had leased one of the former rector’s shops in Katoomba Street, no.65, and turned it into the Paragon Café and Oyster Palace. He instantly made a speciality of ‘late suppers’ to attract patrons of the various shows and dances in Katoomba, while for those who stayed quietly at home he offered to deliver fresh lobsters and oysters anywhere in the Mountains.
In 1921 the Paragon was advertised as a ‘Sundae and Candy Shop.’ Although he was still only the lessee, Simos extended the size of the main room, the one familiar to us all today and opened a private room behind for private suppers and other functions.
Simos worked hard at publicity. In 1922 there was a long article in the local paper, probably written by himself, which presented the Paragon as “… the acme of good taste and modern ideas presented by an enterprising proprietary that believes in nothing but the best”.
Zac eventually married Maria, known as Mary in Australia, and she became something of a legend in Katoomba, an indispensable contributor to the Paragon’s continuing success. As a widow after 1976, when she was 64, Mary Simos managed The Paragon until 1987. She served me chocolates when I was only 8yrs old!!
The Paragon is not just the front cafe room you see. Two important function rooms right at the back of the Paragon were created, the ‘Banquet Hall’ in 1934 and the ‘Blue Room’ in 1936. The two private rooms for functions are remarkable today, not only for their décor, one pre-Columbian, the other ‘ocean liner,’ but also for their very mood lighting. Most of the furnishings from the 30s are still in use. Oddly I have never seen these back rooms but will be begging for a viewing on my next trip.
THOSE WONDERFUL CHOCOLATES:
The chocolates from The Paragon have been my favourite for over 35yrs now. It could possibly be they are shrouded in memory of nostalgic youthful times but on this recent trip they didn’t disappoint. The chocolates have been as famous as the venue and have been handmade since day dot. Zac Simos’ brother George was a master confectioner and Paragon chocolates quickly gained a fine reputation, which they have kept to this day. You can buy them individually, have gift boxes filled, or get some delivered to your table to eat. There are chocolates here for anyone who likes chocolate and so many flavours to make you drool in anticipation. I do believe I ordered three for my accompaniment to my lime spider. Earl Grey Ganache, a Turkish Delight/ Rose chocolate, and then it would have been a Raspberry Ganache Chocolate for me.
I don’t remember seeing it on this visit but if they have their peanut butter brittle make sure you order some to take away. It used to be called Dandy Candy and they have made it since they opened.
THE MENU AND WHAT WE ORDERED:
Their menu is simple. It has a brunch menu until 12 and a lunch menu until close. It is a full cafe so all the regular cafe drinks are on offer and they also have an afternoon tea section to the menu. The breakfast menu offers bacon and eggs, toasts including French and Turkish varieties and a highlight I would love to try is the Pancakes served with Scrambled Eggs, Bacon and Maple Syrup!! Their waffles look good and their Smoked Salmon and Lemon Potato Rostis demand an indulgence!
Lunch has Pasta of the Day, Beef Burger, Chicken Burger, Soup of the Day, Bruschetta, Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash and more. It is very much old school diner food. And I do not want it to close its doors!!
We were only there for a simple afternoon tea. Following a four course feast at Pins on Lurline I have no idea how I fit anything in at The Paragon. But ever since I was a kid a Lime Spider has been a treat. It would be my Death Row meal with a Side of Moreton Bay Bugs haha. It is basically a Large Lime Cordial and Lemonade Soft Drink (or soda) and then drop in two big scoops of vanilla ice-cream. Sweet and green and everything young kids want – and apparently mid-life crisis kids too. My guest, Lady Claire, had a peppermint tea. I ran into a friend from Sydney who was dropping in for a nostalgic visit as well and Glen joined us with his chocolate milkshake.
We ordered three chocolates each. Claire had a blueberry, a rosewater and something she can’t remember and mine are listed above. Cannot remember what Glen had but they were all marvellous. So delicately hand crafted – you can tell they have been made for over 100yrs because they truly are otherworldly.
HELP SAVE THE PARAGON:
There is a SAVE THE PARAGON PETITION up on CHANGE.ORG – HERE
They were after 2000 signatures, it is now over 4000 and they are pushing for 5000. I do not know what the signatures will do but based on the below the issue appears to be the lease with an annual rent over $200,000 – how is this even possible!!! It sounds like robbery!!! It should be a heritage listed venue with government and council support to cover leases!!
The historic cafe will close its doors on May 27.
“It’s horrible,” said Ms Parker, “but I have no alternative. I have been asked to leave the building.”
Ms Parker said repairs were urgently needed to save the heritage-listed premises, which features spectacular Art Deco embellishments and furnishings.
She said she had asked the landlord to fix the constant leaks which often flood downstairs rooms, have threatened the stock in her window display and have lifted wall panels, damaged floors and led to constant electrical failures.
She also sought a reduction in the $200,000 annual rent she has been paying.
Ms Parker, who bought the business in 2011, said the Paragon name would continue – somewhere else.
“When the dust has settled, we will look at evolving our chocolate products and put the cafe on ice.”
The Paragon has been operating as a cafe on the site since 1916, when it was established by Greek immigrant Theo Simos.
It breaks my heart that The Paragon will mostly likely close its 102 continuous years of trading on May 27th. If you haven’t visited my favourite cafe in Australia, downed a lime spider so sweet you will hear colours, and demolished some of their famous hand made chocolates, then a Blue Mountains road trip needs an immediate addition to your 2018 schedule! Claire and I just booked in our final visit so I can buy all the chocolates and fondly farewell this Australian gem.
SCORE BREAKDOWN: 3/3 food, 2/2 service, 1/1 drinks, 1/1 venue & ambiance, 1/1 cost, 1/1 toilets and 1/1 bonus
The Paragon Cafe Katoomba Deets:
PH: 02 4782 2928
65 Katoomba St, Katoomba 2780
BOOKINGS: Unsure – check with venue
SUNDAY – THURSDAY: 10am to 5pm
FRIDAY & SATURDAY: 10am to 730pm
OPEN IN THE EVENINGS FOR SPECIAL EVENTS
LOCAL DELIVERY: No
VEGETARIAN OPTIONS: Unsure
GLUTEN FREE OPTIONS: Unsure
KID FRIENDLY: Most definitely
*** This meal was paid for ***
For more reviews of Regional NSW restaurants – click HERE