These are the best of the classic cafes
left standing largely unharmed in London. Note that most keep
odd early closing times at the weekends - and often during the
week for that matter. Few open more than a couple of hours on
Saturdays. In the long-term all are under threat. Catch 'em now
whilst they're still standing.
Click here > for an at-a-glance Top Ten cafe guide.
Click here > for Central London
Click here > for the abbreviated No. 8 bus London
Also, here's the full unexpurgated
London Cafe Tour
that was put together for Architecture Week 17-26 June 2005...
Snack Bar interior (RIP), Edgware Road W2
[Vauxhall Bridge Road, near Causton Street SW1] NEW
"Plain-style cafe with Formica-topped counter & aluminium
detailing, glass display cabinet, wooden benches and some Formica-topped
tables. Authentic food and clientele." (Patrick Turland)
... "Worth a look if visiting Tony's in Chapter Street.
This cafe appears to have no name... recognisable by its yellow
canopy. Inside is a gloomy, tiny space: ancient, creaking wooden
benches and worn grey Formica topped tables are complemented
by a 50s vintage journeyman counter with a glass cabinet complete
with suitably old-fashioned looking buns and cakes. The menu
is limited. A half-arsed attempt at sprucing the place up appears
to have taken place sometime in the 80s. However, as the furniture
was retained this is hardly noticeable. Moreover, the patina
of dirt which appears to cover everything also reduces the impact
of these minor cosmetic changes. Highlights are the classic Pyrex
50s coffee cups and saucers (which you probably won't get unless
you're a regular.) The folded paper napkins, and the pyramid
display of orange and apple juice cartons. With only about eight
small booths, time your visit wisely to get a good spot - it
gets busy from abut 12.15 onwards. Not open weekends or evenings."
(Ian Turnbull) ... "I wondered if you were aware of a little
gem of a place at 11 Vauxhall Bridge Road? According to the staff
it's called Cafe (as in Kaff). The lovely grey haired lady serving
me said it was over 50 years old, and is owned by the son of
the original owner. It's a tiny place, very modest, with wooden
tables and benches - presumably not original - but they are decades
old. There is a nice yellow Formica counter. There are a couple
of modern fridges, which is a pity, but this is one of the nicest
places I know of in the area, and the staff are quite lovely.
The food's good, too." (Julius Welby)
Tevere [St Peter St
Tevere is [a chalet-style
caff] on the junction of Marsham St and Great Peter St in Westminster.
All milk chocolate brown inside - dark wood panels and grey net
curtains - the waitresses are black-clad Roman ladies always
just slightly annoyed at your very existence. Punters are House
of Commons researchers sobbing over their MP's infidelities,
grumbling hacks and passed-over civil servants in shiny suits
gossiping and grinding their teeth. A moribund masterpiece. And
the tea is nice.
Cafe [Redchurch Street
Hidden in what once must have been a thriving little community
on the edge of Hoxton (and close by the Spitalfields market)
this little find is very similar to the old Tea Rooms as was.
Blue painted wooden exterior, Helvetica sign, net curtains and
inside an amazing worn old wallpaper patterned interior looking
onto a parlour full of old Formica tables, shabby Lino flooring
and a proper caff counter. A great find which can't be long for
this world in an area that is fast being Loft-ed street by street.
Dave's Diner [Battersea
Park Road SW8] NEW
Very much in the 'plain' style, Dave's sports a good old Coke-sign
frontage and a miraculously preserved interior slightly to the
south of Battersea Park. There's a generous spread of faded red
Formica tables inside and proper Thonet chairs throughout. There's
also a period ceiling fan; one wall lined with old collectible
plates; another displaying a light-up mechanical 3D map of the
word; an original 50s Bakelite heater in the corner; old awnings;
original cash register; wooden spoon on wall... In short, a corking
local of a type in short supply. Hot tip: avoid the charred sausages
but don't miss the voyage thru the kitchens to the rancid back
C. Notarianni [Battersea
High Street SW11] NEW
Long-standing Italian cafe site that retains a fair amount of
its 1950s atmosphere and charm. The external seaside deco shopfront
Road W2] RIP
Just down from where the Regent Milk Bar used to be, this longstanding
local features lots of green
and cream Vitrolite
and an original plastic deco counter with stylish moderne lettering.
Joe Strummer and Paul Simenon were regulars in the late 1970s
and the old place briefly appears to no great effect in the execrable
Clash vehicle Rude Boy. See also...
Sunsnacks Cafe [Lisson
Grove NW1] NEW
Top find almost opposite the dole office where, legend has it,
Joe Strummer was first approached by Mick Jones and Paul Simenon
to form The Clash (see also Metropolitan Cafe just down the road).
Fine wooden-backed booths with proper leatherette.
Maddox St W1] RIP 2004
This is one of the very best
caffs left standing between Oxford Circus and Bond St. It's located
in a lovely enclave that's also handy for that venerable Soho
original, the Chalet. Good prices and open until 4.00pm on Saturdays
- rare for central London. Arranged like a domestic parlour,
all the classic elements are present and correct: swell tables
and amazingly good chairs; lights; counters and lashings of warm
Formica on the walls along with the celebrity signed pix (though
Kevin Rowland's picture has vanished in disgrace!) Gaze longingly
at the outside Espresso Bongo-like sign and reflect on just how
good life can be down Moribundia way...
More > Rendez-Vous special
Parma [Seymour Place
/ Marble Arch end] W1.
The main window bay appears to date from the 1900s and is completely
unchanged from the days when it was probably an Edwardian shopfront.
The original 50s cafe signs in the panes remain intact - a real
rarity for this part of town. The sills are full of choking old
plants above which hang three large beguiling chalet lamps. As
if this wasn't enough the doorway is of original mid-century
design with a fine circular handle and a cheery coloured 'Open'
sign quite unmatched anywhere else in central London! Hooray.
The interior is all dark steamy oppressive fake wood. A very
good selection of Formica tables but, unfortunately, no matching
seating - on this occasion we'll let this pass as the Parma's
compensating charms are overwhelming. We particulary like the
grand tea-boiler fronted by a small breakfast bar with two swivel
stools. And best of all, the Parma is tucked into a pretty London
street-that-time-forgot. Well worth a long, drawn out visit with
a follow-on trip to the nearby...
Buscot Dairy [Molyneux
Street W1] NEW
Beautifully sited in the base of a lovely mansion block in a
truly forgotten area of the West End north of Oxford St, this
place retains four good caramel booths, old wall heaters and
some original signage in the windows. The entire frontage looks
very 1940s and the cafe seems to be attached to an incredibly
narrow - only 6ft wide - block of flats. Obviously once a local
dairy, there's no other exterior quite like it in London. A real
Fish Bar [King Street W6]
In the down at
heel end of King Street Hammersmith, opposite the UGC cinema.
(In the same parade of shops there is a secondhand magazine store,
just as there is in Rochester Row next to the Italian Restaurant).
The Pacific has a truly awesome sign, sadly no longer illuminated
at night, but it must have been a stunner. Behind the counter
is an equally impressive menu board in yellow and blue. Tables
are a lovely pale green Formica which may be more recent than
the authentically battered red leatherette seating. Wall paneling
is a newish wood effect, the lights are awful but the triumph
of this place is the magnificent pale green, orange and chrome
counter. To get the full effect of this lovely cafe, sit at the
back. Clientele are certainly authentic: single, cheerless diners
who have been coming in so long that they just sit and are served
without ordering. (Richard Gray)
Kitchen [King's Road SW3] NEW
Long established coffee bar-ish place dating back to the 1960s
with nice period booths and banquettes upstairs and a roomy downstairs
basement full of alcoves. (The Picasso cafe down the road retains
its original sign-though little else-from an era when it too
was a key Kings Road hangout with Martin Amis and Anita Pallenberg
among the regulars.)
[Pelham St SW7] NEW
Built into South Ken tube, this is a roomy restaurant/cafe with
a decent spread of lodge-style tables and chairs, fluted panel
walls, masses of hanging, iron chalet lights and - best of all
- three large pleasant murals on the back wall. The usual ersatz
Italiana, but gently understated and thankfully non-corporate
- which is something of a miracle for SW7. Open until 10.30-ish
pm most nights. Coffees and pastries served at all times.
[Green Lanes N13 just south of Palmers Green] NEW
Lovely lettering on the exterior and an interior still packing
plenty of classic punch: leather banquettes, Formica tables,
lime green 'target' clock above the counter, small cylindrical
lights hung from the ceiling, mugs which tapered down to a base
shaped like a screw-in lightbulb Too many Pre-Raphealite prints
rather the spoil the effect, but at least there's still a bit
of 1960s style in there. Staff are friendly and the tea is strong.
Lovely. (The nexus of shops around Dom's have a great air of
Morinbundia to them. None better than the Christening/Wedding
Outifitters called 'Lollipops'. (Ross McFarlane)
Don's [Lower Clapton
Road E5] NEW
Almost as turbid as the Clapton Ponds it stands next to, with
its creaky double-fronted exterior and unremitting drab decor,
this caff seems to be perpetually on its last legs. Orders are
written in felt-tip pen on an ancient piece of plastic on the
counter which is then wiped clean. Don's chirpy whistling (and
the accompanying polka music) is a unique selling pointalong
with the big fat caff cat.
Lorelei [Bateman St
Despite being slapbang in the Hoxton
Fin epicentre of Little Tyneside [nee Soho], this little place
really packs in all the requisites. And more besides. For starters
the Italian flag exterior and the lovely old sign are all absolutely
untouched. A long perusal of the exterior is bound to lift the
spirits. The inside resembles a miniature village hall circa
1958 - linoleum floor; minimalist square formica tables, shabby
posters walls; tiny serving area with swooshing coffee machine;
creaky wooden chairs and - best of all - pretty well no customers.
Most of the nosh appears to come straight from hidden microwaves
secreted in some off-limits alcove but space is always guaranteed
and anywhere that's this deliberately off-putting to the average
Soho schlepp merchant in an area seething with rip-off wannabe
Shoreditch shiteholes has unequivocally got our vote. See also
the mighty Presto, Pollo and Centrale cafe/restaurants just off
- or near - Cambridge Circus. Hot tip: Look carefully at the
sign on the side of the restaurant. The club is through an anonymous
door and - legend has it - is the strip club that all the other
local strippers retire to when their own gaffs have closed.
Scotti's Snack Bar [Clerkenwell
Green EC1] NEW
2001 gets off to a great start
with the find of the year to date. This is what it's all about.
An absolute timewarp in a wonderful area surrounded by churches,
fine industrial architecture and the myriad attractions of Little
Italy. This little place is packed with cabbies and features
a roll call of honour vis a vis vital caff qualities: great panel
ceiling; stupendous grey op-art formica wall panels; grade-A
chairs; classic counters and 50s shelving throughout; attentive
Italian staff; fine lights; good clocks; kitsch parlour paintings;
textured 40s wallpaper; confection displys...every last detail
is right. A wonderland. Come find yourself. Even we're not sure
why this isn't in the Best Of... section.
St John's Cafe [Jerusalem
Passage EC1] RIP 2003
Almost as good as Scotti's, this
place has an even better frontage with an early 20thC serif typeface
but seems to be in a lost alleyway not shown on the A-Z. If that
doesn't fry your onions then you have no business browsing this
site. Get back to your double mochha latte with frothy decaf
guano or better still stand in a line at any branch of Benjy's
until your will to live is atrophied by hopeless sandwich-chain
eyesore in-store design infelicities. We mean it maaaannnnn.
The St John's also features a mysterious stairway [again, as
per Scotti's] promising all sorts of hidden upstairs delights.
An overwhelmingly beautiful treat in the magnificent caffscape
of EC1 - fast becoming the centre of classic cafe conservation.
A word to the wise: Visit this place and Scotti's now, then come
back each day at the same time for the next twenty years... at
the same table! Just like the regulars. You know it makes sense.
Warning, may be full of graphic designers and web monkeys. So,
bring own combats and tin-tin tonsure to be on the safe side.
Cafe [219 Whitechapel Rd] NEW
OK caff. We like this for its acres
of proper 70s caramel booths and general air of Spitalfielded
squalor. Also because it reminds us of the place - fleetingly
seen - at the start of 'Bedazzled'. If you are not familiar with
the original Stanley Donen film [widescreen version only please!]
or the cataclysmicaly fine soundtrack composed by the blessed
Dudley Moore then please follow the instructions above re: Benjy's.
However, this time be sure to enter with a large Hari Kari blade
and disembowel yourself over the sandwich displays. Well, what
are you waiting for - a brackish Starbucks espresso with a triple
mochha tosser-surprise spritzer probably. Am I right, or am I
Cafe [Whitcomb St WC2 - behind National Gallery] NEW
Decent little plain cafe with three
brown booths at the back. Nice sign hanging outside - mostly
frequented by office workers. Good counter, crap ceiling and
rather quotidian interior if the truth be told but this is in
an impressive little enclave with a magnificent old barber shop
' Croses' just up the street. Good to see it hidden off the main
tourist drag of Trafalgar Sq too. That's how we like 'em - pensive
The Mug of Tea [Cambridge Heath Rd E8]
One of only a very few caffs
in these desolate industrial heartlands, surrounded by endless
artist squat studios... With its chirpy green sign and stacked-high
grimy windows this looks quite hopeful, but once inside you find
that all the light fittings are naff 1970s salvage and that the
counter is defaced by injudicious B&Q coverings. Seats however
are a plus point and the tables - though covered - seem to be
of proper vintage. What saves the day is the wood panelling half
way up the walls throughout. Possibly worth a visit in either
of two circumstances: 1) you get lost en route to London Fields
2) you get lost on the way to the nearby Metropolis lapdance
emporium. It's your call...
Rd/Margery St] NEW
black-cab driver's gaffe perched on the rising road up from Kings
Cross to Mount Pleasant and opposite the disgusting Holiday Inn.
This all-in-brown cafe retains superb panels throughout and a
great recessed door leading to the ablutions. Walls are scattered
with stills from The Godfather [alongside portraits of Sinatra
and Lollabrigida] and the tables are top-notch brown formica
veneer with classic chairs at each one. There are two good high
backed booth style sections. It's Italian family run and always
rammed with cabbies in extremely high-spirits. A chocolate coloured
gem somewhat reminiscent of Amsterdam's better 'brown bars.'
Don't be put off by the 70s bubble-lettering logo. This is a
swell cafe full of plain and simple character. Pretty cheap food
too: eggs, beans & chips £2.30! And no Hoxton Fins!
Have they taken leave of their senses? More
> Muratori Pic Special
Mandy's [Mare St E8]
Wretched exterior sign but the
inside seems suitably down-at-heel. Included [as per The Mug
of Tea] more for its East End rarity value than anything else.
Again, useful to know about if you're trawling galleries and
exhibitions in the area. Another Category 3 candidate that could
be worth keeping an eye on.
Cafe Bliss [Dalston
Rd E8] NEW
Most certainly a prime sight, though the old sign [a large orange
60s panel saying CAFE] was better. This place has been taken
over but the nice interior survives and makes for a great local
cafe experience. This IS worth a voyage - difficult to get to
if you aren't local but the dark emerald formica table tops and
polished little leatherette booths confer high Category 2 kudos
with an impending promotion to Cat 1 a distinct possibility.
Bliss also scores highly for having Edward Hopper prints on the
walls. Someone overseeing this place has the right idea and deserves
applause if only for keeping the old place running in its original
[Leytonstone High St E11] NEW
Disgusting modern aluminium frame-window
frontage but the grey op-art formica table check patterning is
good along with the dark plum panels and off-white lumpy walls
hung with crap celebrity autographs [Cilla, Beadle, Tarrant etc.]
Incredibly cheap too: £1.00 for a mug of tea and bacon
sandwich as of July 2000! Surely some kind of record for the
London area? Leytonstone is worth a lookover if only for the
monumental 40s library with its breathtaking stone foyer and
the spooky church and overgrown graveyard opposite full of soiled,
yowling alchos. There also seem to be an unusual amount of interesting
looking old 'centres' for rehabilitees of all stripes. A good
enclave. Take a peek too at...
Percy Ingle [Leytonstone
High St E11]
With its original 1950s sineage
left sparklingly intact (as nature intended), the feisty Percy
Ingle chain in the East End is a pleasant choice for cakes and
pastries. You often see the shops dotted around the area, filled
with sprightly grannies hot for tea-time treats - and who are
we to mock? There's way too much orange plastic on display (wholly
contravening Classic Cafes' 'essential' dictums) but we like
the Ingle approach, and can just about forgive their recalcitrance
on the modular seating front. Other branches can be seen to good
effect in Bethnal Green Road. But the E11 branch has by far the
best outlook and seems to retain a stupendous original orange
teapot logo that brings a tear to the eye. One for the trainspotters.
[Leytonstone High St E11]
Just before you get
to George's in Leytonstone you might run into this chirpy little
place - now closed - with tantalising net curtains and moribund
mien. Look through the windwos and you see the old tables and
chairs scattered and the small caff sign above the door harking
back to happier times...
[Wilton Rd SW1] NEW
Splendid little 'plain style' find - again, right in the heart
of Victoria. This area is really becoming the number one spot
to find proper cafes sprinkled in their natural habitat. Here
we have a top sign, cracking powder blue marbelised flooring
and neat rosewood and black leatherette booths. Good menu. Well
worth a look.
Express [Mayfair Shepherd's
After the shockingly sad demise of the late, lamented Ginos nearby,
this has got to be the only authentic cafe left in this neck
of the woods. Great frontage in the classic style and small but
perfectly formed formica n' table interior. Thank God this gem
survives. Has a definite feel of Graham Green just about to set
up an assignation inside. A nice touch is the 'model for hire'
red-light perched in the window of the flat above and the welcoming
open doorway. Apparently a throwback to the friendly old Mayfair
of yore! Heritage Britain at its best. Lovely.
Olympic [Dawes Rd SW6] NEW
Notable for the wall to wall gingham
interior which can be spotted from the bus through the superbly
greying net curtains.
Stan's [Brick Lane E1]
RIP Jun 2002
Just up from the SARM east studios.
Blinding orange frontage but poor metal window surrounds. This
is worth a visit for the overwhelming teak-effect formica and
dark, humid atmosphere. The sort of ambience this part of Spitalfields
does so well. A poor relation to the legendary Rossi and the
spookily uninhabited Market caff but worth a punt. Actually,
on second thoughts, the Vernassa is a much better variation on
the same theme near Petticoat Lane. Then again, anything's better
than the dismal Vibe Bar graphic-designer-theme-park mindset
that's disfigured the entire area. Harvester for Hoxton-ites.
Sak [GIllingham St SW1] NEW
Thai restaurant by evening and
possibly during the day. A suitably lost little place on a nowhere-corner
in deepest Victoria. A fine array of solid wooden tables and
chairs but little else in the way of decor to recommend it. Sums
up the dead, polluted feel of this part of SW1 near the station.
Jenny's [Wilton Rd SW1] RIP
Horrific outside sign that is truly
off-putting but...the interior is a huge surprise with a large
lurid lit mural in 70s style and a big selection of decent booths
to choose from. Usually with this sort of place the interior
is reworked catastrophically along with the exterior refit but
here it's been left well alone. Quite worthwhile.
Fiesta [Horseferry Rd
Good ext. 60s plainstyle int. Good
lights above counter area and roomy booths. Excellent logo and
ceiling details. Fine 60s plain-styling tucked into a large municipal
block of a kind which will probably become increasingly fashionable.
The front sign above the window is worth pondering all on its
[Coldharbour Lane SW2]
Great little local next to the best second hand bookshop in South
London. Fine service and good tables. Magnificent chips. Brilliant
thick sliced toast. Fast becoming a local legend.
West One [Wells St off
Oxford St] RIP 2002
Useful little plain cafe near Brunchies
- good plum coloured seating and decent tables in the back area.
Terminus Snack Bar [Brixton
Tube arcade]RIP 2000
Amazing turquoise and orange 70s style Italian cafe great
selection of Italian cakes. Startling array of tiling in horrific
70s colours. Included here for its secluded quality rather than
the period fitings.
Rheidol Rooms [St Peters
Good plain cafe. Yellow formica and good chairs and tables throughout.
Cafe [Page St SW1]
Imposing black tile Deco
exterior with lovely Gill typface logo. Walls and ceiling are
good but all the original tables and seating have been removed
from the interior leaving the old place looking very out of sorts.
Built into the base of a 1930s block of mansion flats, the Regency
is often used for period film shoots...
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