With most classic cafes
fading fast, here is a selection of some of the best left standing
in London (and further abroad) as of January 2004. Over 130 prime
caffs in London alone! Please note that ALL are under direct
threat and many may well have vanished by the time you get to
North & East London
Andrew's, Grays Inn
Road WC1. RIP-ish
Slightly off the
Little Italy drag, Andrew's is a brilliant local "plain"
cafe: fine part-mosaic exterior; solid dun-coloured window frames;
generous awnings; worn Formica tables; Thonet chairs; nice hatstands
and an intriguing serving hatch. (In September 2004 Andrews's
interior was completely altered: though the historic frontage
remains intact the ceilings and wall panellings have changed
for the worse. Fortunately the original tables and chairs remain.)
City Snacks, Theobalds
The huge outside
sign signals a fine local. The small interior is notable for
its wall-to-wall Formica.
Conduit Coffee House,
Lambs Conduit Street WC1
Good beige booth seats in a fine little enclave off Holborn.
Large back section and good counter and tea machine.
Fryer's Delight, Theobalds
chippy with several sit-down Formica (and coloured leatherette)
booths. Chips here are still made with beef dripping. A local
Alfie's, Mount Pleasant
caff boasts a tiny counter bar running like a ledge of Formica
round the walls, a Belisha beacon of a sign in orange copperplate
and a magnificent clock shaped like a cappuccino cup.
Tea Rooms, Museum Street
vital London: The Biography reproduces a mournful 1914 painting
by William Ratcliffe entitled The Coffee House with the caption:
"despite its colourful interiorthe cafe conveys a characteristic
melancholy and anonymity." The Tea Rooms miraculously retains
all of this flavour.
Zita (Ida's), Shaftesbury
Avenue WC2. RIP
of Oct 2004. Just round from the late The Tea Rooms, the
Zita preserves a few highlights left over from the Festival of
Britain Contemporary look: a nice 1950s exterior sign, glorious
orange Formica seats and a suspended ceiling. The waitresses
had orange aprons with the cafe logo on it... "The old ladies who ran Zita's have
gone back to Italy but their cousin has bought it. I told the
friendly young apronless waiter that I hoped he was going to
keep the decor the same (especially the booths) but I'm not sure
he understood me - he just sort of smiled and nodded. It seems
to be called Ida's on the inside but the awning and sign and
remain the same." (James)
101 Snack Bar, Charing
Cross Road WC2. RIP
internally as of late 2004, though the yellow Formica remains.
This little pull-in, almost opposite the Phoenix Theatre, has
been a Soho staple for decades. The intensely coloured yellow
and black laminate interior stands out like a beacon. The faded
and broken outside sign is a classic. Now "pretty well finished as a classic cafe, as
the original shop sign, glass display, customer counter, and
stool-seating has all been removed. The yellow Formica walls
are partially obscured by a drinks fridge." (Patrick Turland)
Il Buffone, Drury Lane
Excellent double frontage to the street consisting of classic
grey patterned mosaic tiles, smart red awnings with the caff's
Italian clown logo and inside five rangy booths and walls covered
with old-timer photos.
Pollo, Old Compton Street
The lovely red
and black seats, beanpole rails and hanging signs recreate something
of the look and atmosphere of the original Soho coffee bars.
(The area is going
to be 'developed' to make away for a block of apartment-hotels,
apparently on the basis that they will deter undesirables.)
Centrale, Moor Street
Tiny but with a
good big window frontage and battered old brown vinyl seats.
Functional and lovely, this is where Malcolm McClaren used to
dragoon his 1980s band, Burundi pirateers, Bow Wow Wow. Unchanged
for fifty years. (Sign altered Aug 2004) (The area is going to be 'developed' to make away
for a block of apartment-hotels, apparently on the basis that
they will deter undesirables.) "Centrale is closing on 29th
December 2004, the cafe is re-opening in Archer St., off Shaftsbury
Avenue. The properties on that side of Moor Street (excluding
Ed's Easy Diner and the pub) are being demolished, as are some
of the properties at the rear in Old Compton St...18th century
buildings that should have been listed." (Patrick Turland)
Amalfi, Old Compton
Street W1. RIP
restaurant with a large basement. The adjoining coffee bar is
ruined but the main room has kept its great murals, lamps, Sorrentine
tile-work and a beautiful blue ceiling sculpture.
Cappuccetto, Moor Street
with part-panelled interior serving own-brand cappuccinos and
cakes. The owner, Alberto, claims to have introduced pesto to
Britain in 1962 and the powdering of cappuccinos with cocoa.
(The area is going
to be 'developed' to make away for a block of apartment-hotels,
apparently on the basis that they will deter undesirables.)
The Stockpot, Old Compton
St W1. NEW
'Has a late 60's/early
70's pinewood feel.' (Patrick Turland)
Trattoria Aldo, Greek
Street W1. RIP
with rows of cute booths strung round with cod-Italiana.
Jimmy's, Frith Street
Time warp restaurant has now been going for well over fifty years,
in a small basement on Frith Street. Says John Whiting, a US
food writer domiciled in London: 'And there, off to one side
on Frith Street, was Jimmy's. The last time I was in Jimmy's
was in 1955. I was in the US Army stationed near Rushden - the
end of the Birch Bus line - and my weekends were regularly spent
in London, attempting to stretch my army pittance to infinity.
Jimmy's was about the cheapest place to eat (a rough equivalent
to Galotte's in Paris)... When I was down to my last couple of
shillings I could always go there and fill up on something substantial.
I stopped to look at the menu. Half a century ago Jimmy's was
across the street, but it's still down an unprepossessing flight
of basement stairs. Back in those days the few Greek dishes were
scattered through a list of the standard English fare demanded
by labourers and cabbies, but that portion of their clientele
has long departed, so Greek Cypriot now reigns supreme. Would
it be edible? What the hell, today's Nostalgia Day - go for it!
Downstairs was a much more respectable establishment than the
one I used to frequent. Not only were there white tablecloths;
they are clean. But the décor must date from closer to
its origins than to the present day rough white plaster,
a primitive painted mural, ancient furniture and a wall space
in a corner covered with cards (already showing three years yellowing)
to congratulate them on their fiftieth birthday. At two-thirty
in the afternoon there were fewer than a dozen people in the
restaurant, most of them as superannuated as your reporter, and
all of them speaking Greek. A couple of diners got up from a
table and went behind the bar, where they resumed their real
identities.... From the well-worn menu (unchanged since the 60s,
said a tattered newspaper clipping on the wall) I selected a
starter of little Greek Cypriot meat balls and a main course
of stifado - meltingly delicious when it's properly prepared,
coarse and stringy when it's not. The meat balls were crisp on
the outside, with moist and herby interiors. The stifado, an
enormous pile, I could easily have cut with a spoon - moist,
springy, redolent of long marinating and slow cooking in strong
red wine. It was accompanied by dark brown crisply fried potatoes,
roughly cut in irregular chunks and loaded with deliciously wicked
calories... An attractive young woman swept through the door
and across the room to an old man who'd apparently been waiting
for her. "I'm so sorry I'm late," she apologised effusively.
It was the first English I'd heard. His granddaughter, probably.
This is the sort of place where, if you see a pretty girl with
a man old enough to be her father - he is... It was a comfortable
place to sit and read, the Greek music at a low level a welcome
respite from the aggressive din of central London'". (Earl
of Bradford's Restaurant Guide)
Valtaro, Kingly Street
W1. RIP Feb 05
but the brown leatherette bench seats (and a convenient Soho
location) mean it's worth a punt. The wall menu and paintings
on the back wall add much needed atmosphere. Service is spectacularly
Sidoli's Buttery (now
Lino's) Store StreetAlfred Place WC1E. RIP
Good seating and
a pleasing ambience well away from the crushing boredom of the
Tottenham Court Road furniture shops. The Sidoli family used
to run chains of cafes throughout Britain.
Bar Central, Bernard
Street WC1. NEW
Almost next to
Russell Square tube, this caff is joined on to a pleasant old
trattoria. The nice suspended moderne ceiling is reminiscent
of Morelli's in Broadstairs. Half a dozen rangy leatherette booths
make up the seating along the walls.
Maison Bertaux, Greek
130 year old patisserie cum cafe with a rickety
upstairs room that looks like an old dairy annex: wood seats
and tables and a delightful selection of cakes and pastries.
Unpretentious and authentic little patisserie sited between a
strip club and an old pub. A simple interior and rudimentary
Lincrusta-lined decor lends it a traditional French charm and
paysan appeal. The window is impeccably adorned with glorious
freshly made gateaux, flans, patisseries and delicate confiseries.
It has the appearance of a totally authentic French patisserie
and there is certainly nothing false about the freshly made cream
cakes or the rather eccentric and incredibly camp staff. "I
like Maison Bertaux because it's not a chain, and it's nice and
scruffy. You need a degree of grubbiness in a good cafe. I go
to places like this when I haven't had breakfast, I've forgotten
lunch, it's nearly dinnertime and I am about to fall over because
my blood sugar is down to my knees. Whenever there has been some
kind of temperance movement, there's been tearooms. Kate Cranston
had the Willow Tea Rooms, which were designed by Charles Rennie
Mackintosh, but that scene died out... This is a proper old-fashioned
cafe... I used to hang out with loads of people who didn't have
jobs, so we nursed the routine." (A L Kennedy, Observer,
March 13 2005)
Street, W1 NEW
Just of the Marylebone
drag - the exterior's recently been altered but the inside is
pure plain-style perfection: dead and loving it! Apparently a
favourite of Ray Davies.
Bar Italia, Frith Street W1.
Founded in the late 1940s, the neon entrance sign and hanging
clock front an interior with stools running down a long counter
space laminated in two-tone Formica.
Lorelei, Bateman Street
Slapbang in the
centre of Soho, the Italian flag exterior and the lovely old
sign are all absolutely untouched. The interior resembles a miniature
village hall circa 1958: linoleum floor, square Formica tables,
shabby posters, tiny serving area, creaky wooden chairs. "Con la Cimbali... un Cimbalino!"
So reads the message on the front of the coffee machine in this
great 1950s café/restaurant. Like everything else in the
place the coffee machine has been here for over 40 years. The
espresso it produces is consistently the best I've tasted in
London. On top of which it is probably also the cheapest you'll
find - certainly in Central London. Lorelei has a great atmosphere:
it is small, dark and dingy; with the one window onto the street
being full of pot plants to obscure nosy glances from passers-by.
One wall is actually a great large painting of a mermaid, whilst
the outside of the place is painted in green, white and red like
an Italian flag. Even visiting the toilet here is an experience
unto itself - they are housed in the back yard! And you'll notice
that even the plumbing seems to be original" (Paul Secular,
Bruno Snack Bar, Wardour
A little slice
of ye authentic Soho of olde which, along with the Lorelei, has
eluded the developers. Chalet-style pew booths in cheery green
leatherette sit under massive wall menus offering dozens of Italian
Marylebone Cafe, Thayer
on the verges of Oxford Street. Good exterior mosaic tile patterning
and a big bold nameplate. Decent booth interior. "This cafe holds many memories
for me as my parents John and Alma Negri were proprietors for
many years from the late 50s to the late 60s. My paternal grandparents
ran it before that. I remember seeing my auntie Brenda on the
evening TV news in 1963, crossing Wigmore Street, with a tray
of tea and biscuits: they were for Christine Keeler and John
Profumo when they had just been arrested. The old phone (it needed
four old pennies with buttons A and B to press) was in a corner
at the top of the cellar stairs, and was where the local junkies
would slip into to have a fix. We also had the Restaurant next
door (is it a travel agents now?) We only opened at lunchtimes
and it was run by my dad's twin sisters, Anna and Maria. I think
they were as big a draw as the steak and kidney puddings."
Negri/Tea & A Think)
Paul Rothe, Marylebone
Lane W1. NEW
and old-fashioned provisions shop dating from early twentieth
century with unique fold-up white leatherette seating area. Renowned
for its liptauer sandwiches.
John's Sandwich Bar,
Mortimer Street W1. RIP
seems like just another crap Soho-fringes sandwich bar but look
in closer - the menu looks good, the sign is inviting and there's
a cluster of frayed booth seats at the back. Hoorah! Inside we
find an unusual dark patterned counter, odd hessian wall coverings,
top service in crypto Italiano/cod-Spanish, interesting false
ceiling units and - for the caff anoraks - the very same elegant
patterned cup n' saucer sets as the mighty Alpino, except in
light green rather than dark plum. A welcome space in this welcome
little area away from the main tourist drag. "John's has
been here as long as I can remember. It has seen off many a pretender
on the corner of Mortimer Street. Obviously the two helpers (John
is the amiable plump looking fella) weren't up to their womanzing
ways when you were in there. If only I had their chat up lines.
'Whatta you wan' blondie', is one of their many gems. They also
say comic things like (and I've heard this in many Italian cafes)
'£5 cash for the full English'. It's bloody marvellous
they have stayed the course as nearby Charlotte Street is full
of wanky Starbucks and Soup Kitchens frequented by twat media
types gabbing into their Nokios. You do really use the will to
live when you see what they are doing to a marvellous place like
Fitzrovia. The late Julian Macclaren-Ross would be spiralling
down to the Antipodies if he knew." Flood damaged Mar 2010.
Maria's, Grafton Way
A sumptuous orange
and yellow vitrolite exterior with deco metal trimming. Despite
the small interior, there are two good gingham covered tables
with excellent minimalist 1960s leatherette n' metal chairs.
A chalet-style beamed ceiling and trusty Helvetica awning completes
Sandwich Bar, Brooks
Mews W1. RIP
A hidden gem, utterly
overlooked in a lost mews surrounded by galleries and serviced
apartments (and one of the only surviving London cafes originally
listed in Jonathan Routh's The Good Cuppa Guide of 1966). A model
of British utility.
The Chalet, Grosvenor
This compact little
place (with two hidden rear sections) is kitted out in 1960s
Swiss-style very much like the Lucky Spot (in North Audley Street)
and Scoffs (on Kensington High Street). This look was once all
the rage, as Alpine-exotica briefly irrupted throughout Europe.
Street W1. RIP Mar
sign outside and a domestic living room interior featuring a
bay-fronted window, covered tables, excellent wooden chairs,
hanging lamps, counters and lashings of warm Formica on the walls.
The Lucky Spot, North
Audley Street W1.
An oddly grand
stone exterior fronts this crypto-Swiss interior featuring carved
high-backed pews and lots of dark panelling. The owner reckons
the design is Elizabethan pastiche.
Restaurant, Woodstock Street W1. RIP
(just opposite Debenhams) this has a somewhat offputting neon
sign but the interior has the feel of some sort of large Sorrentine
ice-cream parlour with a big tiled sea-faring mural at the very
back of a sizeable floorspace. More of a restaurant than cafe,
it's really the spaciousness and seried ranks of nut brown tables
and chairs (and pretty wall lamps) which make the Bonbonniere
such a comfort zone. There's a touch of the curtain-twitchers
about this one which we like, but a draconian 'minimum charge'
policy and punitive 'no cheques or credit card payments under
£10' rule puts it beyond the true caff pale. A pity - this
place has real potential and a sense of history. A pleasing sister
eaterie used to exist many years ago in Carnaby Street, but has
since been brutally Starbucked... "As of March - May 2005
there's a sign in the window saying closed for refurbishment.
One of the waiters told me last year that the owner had freeholds
of about 19 Italian cafes and restaurants in Central London.
It always had an aura of the slightly faded elegance of yesteryear.
The toothbrush vending machine (removed in July 2004) was a thoughtful
touch!" (Patrick Turland)
Stanley's, Little Portland
Street W1. RIP Sep
design was overseen by Quentin Reynolds. Frank Lloyd Wright relief
walls in grey, dazzling scarlet banquettesand a big municipal
clock over the stairwell.
The New Piccadilly,
Denman Street W1. RIP
A cathedral amongst
caffs run by the irrepressible Lorenzo and his crack team of
uniformed waiters. This is the last of the big hitters left in
Soho and one of the largest original cafes left in Britain: pink
Formica coffee machine, big plastic horseshoe shaped menu, wall-to-wall
lemon Formica surfaces and lots and lots of brilliant booth seating.
Even the New Piccadilly menu is a collectors-item design classic.
Truly, a place of reverence.
Euro Snack Bar, Swallow
Street W1. RIP Jun
Tucked off the
tourist trail, subsisting on a seemingly need-to-know basis among
a brace of lapdancing clubs, this smart little Snack Bar sports
a superb orange and green frontage with 1960s typography. Inside-small,
comfortable booths; low ceilings and odd little mini-counters
holding the drab green salt n' pepper sets.
Brunswick Centre WC1. RIP
May 5 05
Set in a vast brutalist
housing estate amongst a cluster of windswept concourses, boarded
up shops, walk-in centresand art cinemas, the Bloomsbury's fake
brick wallpaper is repellent but the green booth seating is cheerfully
redolent of some long lost motorway caff circa 1968. "This closed at 4pm on Saturday.
I was their last customer. I'd just been there the previous week
after reading your feature and was looking forward to my second
shish & shake of many (being about the only decent place
for food round Holborn when I have to work Sundays) but it was
not to be. The lovely Turkish owner/waitress was crying her eyes
out; it was so sad, and a stream of regulars and neighbours were
coming in to wish them well." (James Watthey)
Chandos Sandwich Bar,
Chandos Place WC2. RIP-ish
A fine red sign
and Wimpy-style interior with solid booths and a great range
of single chrome and green leatherette stools ranged along the
back eating bar.
Porky's Pantry, Chandos
little 'plain style' joint. Covered in show posters: 'a 60's/early
70's sign, leatherette booth seating, Formica tables, wooden-slatted
ceiling, and ( if memory serves) an original hot-water dispenser.
The fine display of plastic and china pigs may be a none too
subtle dig at the nearby Charing Cross police station.' (Patrick
Frank's, Neal Street, WC2. NEW
Semi-classic only: "been here since about 1966, when the
area was still dominated by the fruit and veg market. The cafe
was the subject of an Evening Standard article a few years ago,
when the owner was served with an extortionate rent-review notice.
Thankfully, he managed to ride the storm. The classical, Graeco-Romano
pictures and Amalfi wall-murals are certainly pleasing to the
eye!" (Patrick Turland)
Orsini (formerly Regent Cafe ), Whitcomb
Street WC2. NEW
Hidden off the
main tourist drag of Trafalgar Square, this half-decent little
plain cafe has some pensive and withdrawn brown booths at the
back. Nice hanging sign outside too... 'refurbished by new owners August 2004. New booths
have been installed, with a wood-laminate top tables, and brown
leatherette seats... a sympathetic refit. It's now called Orsini.'
The Express, Shepherd
The only authentic
part-classic cafe left in Mayfair. Great frontage with a small,
Formica table interior. A nice touch: the "model for hire"
red-light perched in the window of the flat above; a throwback
to the friendly old Mayfair of yore! Heritage Britain at its
by its new owners (Sep 2004) it's now called The Old Express
but the refit could have been a hell of a lot worse. There's
a wood-floor, dark wood wall-panelling, varnished wood tables
with Thonet-style wooden chairs. At the moment it's only open
from about 7.30am to 11.30am. The previous builder clientele
have been deterred by the new refit.' (Patrick Turland)
Golden Hind, Marylebone
Open for nearly
forty five years and owned by the Schiavetta family, this Art
Deco chippie with classic cafe chairs and tables-and staggered
opening hours-has become monstrously popular.
Fish Bar & Kebab
House, Whitfield Street W1. RIP
The main front-section
is a standard fish bar, but tucked round the side is a bolt-on
mini-restaurant that looks pretty well untouched since 1953.
Features include: square, solid, metal and drab-green leatherette
chairs; ranks of tables; polished vinyl-wood walls; scallop shell
ceilings; period clocks; random wall plates.
Parma, Seymour Place
(Marble Arch end) W1. RIP
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
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 find.
Sergios, Eagle Place
Useful little cafe off Piccadilly. Good sign and a few booths.
Worth a look. But eclipsed by the glories of The Euro Snack Bar
S & M Cafe (formerly
Alfredo's) Essex Road N1.
Owned by the DeRitis
family for some eighty years, the deco styling dates from 1947
and the lovely chrome exterior doorways, tiling and vitrolite
interior are listed. (The upper apartments are protected as an
eighteenth century terrace.) Lashings of blue Formica and polished
surfaces throughout. Lovingly restored in 2002.
Alpino, Chapel Market
N1. (Under threat Mar 2008) RIP
Only the stylish
serif typeface of the sign above the door indicates anything
special from the outside. Inside, however, this is a wonderland
of fine top-of-the-range period tables and luxury booth seating.
The Alpino's plum-patterned cup and saucer sets are ceramic perfection.
Cross Cafe, Cross Street
'A semi-classic hold-out in gentrified Islington... traditional
glass counter display; original hot-water spout; Formica-topped
wooden tables on metal pedestals, wooden chairs with leatherette
seating and backing. The large, wall-mounted wooden spoons and
forks are a nice touch. However, the wall and floor-tiling looks
more recent, possibly late 70s-early 80s... it's now a Kurdish
cafe-bistro called Nan, that also serves burgers and all day
full-English breakfasts' (Patrick Turland)
Sorrento Snack Bar,
Woburn Walk WC1.
Hidden in a lovely
enclave of late Georgian bay-fronted shops near Euston, this
place features good booth-style wooden seats and murky-green
wall tiling. A neat row of leatherette and steel upright stools
runs along a breakfast bar style counter. (Surrounded by great
little specialist second-hand bookshops.)
Valtaro Snack Bar, Marchmont
Street (near Cartwright St) WC1. NEW
'Italian-owned small cafe with Formica counter with shelf section,
stools with leatherette covering. (Possibly vitrolite ceiling
panels in white, maroon and yellow.) Drinks menu in caff plastic
lettering. Possibly open from 6am to 9pm, 7 days a week. Handy
for the nearby Judd Two bookshop.' (Patrick Turland)
The New Goodfare, Parkway
Italian restaurant/cafe. Genuine Helvetica caff sign but not
really a looker from the outside. Good tables and chairs within
however, and a huge back wall mural. (Worth noting the fine scallop
door handle on the main entrance.) Open seven days a week. "A fine interior. The impressive
giant Tintoretto/Canaletto mural on the back wall is somewhat
vitiated by other racing car and Malboro posters. Good basic
cheese and tomatoe on French stick - though the pre-sliced cheese
evidently dated from sometime before 1970. The guv'nor also has
a great syrup: inky-blue with a hint of candy-floss comb-over."
Alison's Snack Bar,
78 Eversholt St, NW1 RIP
Catholic church on Eversholt St. has a notice on the door saying:
'Access available through Alison's Snack Bar'. I don't know whether
you get the key there, or nip out the back and climb over the
dustbins to find the church's back door but the caff is set back,
and has two tables in the yard. Through the rickety door and
up the stairs is a room with four Formica tables and ancient
loose chairs. The small kitchen area - complete with tiled roof
- is presided over by a very friendly, middle-aged Irish bloke.
The menu features sandwiches, fry-ups, roast meats, plus lots
of vegetarian dishes. Roast pork and three veg came to £4.45
with home-made apple pie and custard at £1.85 and a mug
of paintstripper tea only 45p. Very good food, and attentive
service. Highly recommended. (Their leaflet features an advert
on the back for Shamrock Catering Services.)" (Robert Wyburn)
Continental Cafe, Highgate
Road NW5. RIP
This dark, dank,
dusty old caff is unchanged in decades-a feast of raw chipped
Formica and buckled laminate sitting disconsolately in the base
of a mysterious bright red building almost opposite The Forum
Mario's, Kelly Street,
Semi-classic. Refitted with a consequent diminution in ambience,
but included here for historical reasons (St
to Mario's appears on the So Tough album.) "Mario's father, Antonio Saggese,
and grandfather Mariano Saggese opened Mario's Cafe in 1957 as
Tony's Restaurant. They came with the
wave of immigrants after the Second World War from a small fishing
village of Cunano Verano just outside Foggia in southern Italy.
The site was previously a butcher's lock up and was soon converted
into a local bustling coffee house, frequented by students from
the North London Polytechnic... They were the only workers cafes
to have a proper cappuccino machine in the surrounding area."
Check out the CD compilation Saint
Etienne Presents Songs for Mario's Café.
Costella Cafe (formerly
Mario & Mike's), Boscobel Street, NW8 NEW
'Just off the Edgware
Road (close to the sites of the extinct Regency Milk Bar and
recently refurbished Metropolitan) the Costella's uPVC door,
marble-effect floor-tiles and tables indicate more recent styling.
However, the classic-cafe purist will be uplifted by the battered
external Coca-Cola sign, old and new Thonet chairs, and utilitarian,
Formica wood-effect wall panelling. An original hot-water spout,
old-style cash register, historic wall-clock and coat-hooks all
add to the cheer. The kitchen area's seen better days, but unabashed
Italian-pride is demonstrated by the usual trinity of national
flag, map and football-poster. It may have been the Easter Saturday
lack of custom, but the affable owner seemed happy to chat about
the Edgware Road of yesteryear, when Italian-owned cafes were
the norm...' (Patrick Turland)
San Siro, Highgate West
Hill N6. RIP
Good, old and rundown
with great tables and chairs and suspended ceiling detail. In
terminal decline for decades but still up and at it in the ambience
stakes... 'the owners
have put in new fake-marble top tables and new metal frame chairs.
There has been some partial exposure of the brickwork...everything
else remains the same.' (Patrick Turland)
Coffee Cup, Hampstead
High Street NW3.
which somehow retains the feel of an original seventeenth century
coffee house: red-and-white stripped wooden canopy over the front;
gothic logo over the entrance; dark, cosy panelling; tasselled
ironwork chalet lamps on the walls; crumbling vine-patterned
cornices; a mediaeval-looking carved door; mosaic steps; low
pews, banquettes and red velvet stools everywhere. A fine companion
piece to The Troubadour in Earls Court.
Louis Patisserie, Heath
Street NW3. NEW
"Just round the corner from The Coffee Cup... Hungarian
patisserie, established around 1962 providing a substitute mittel-European
ambience for those still mourning the loss of Swiss Cottage's
Cosmo (closed in the late 90s). Nice caramel leatherette banquettes,
Thonet-esque wooden chairs, wood-panelling and attractive wall-mounted
lights. Waitresses will bring a tray of cakes to your table.
Watch 'The Third Man' after a visit for maximum effect."
Rosemont Cafe, Rosemont
Rd NW3. NEW
"Alive and well and has apparently been here for 66 years!
Typical menu, Formica tables, value for money... a little find.The
lady who served us said she's been there for 30 years. £3.60
for full English." (Andre Millodot) ... "Fits the classic
definition to a tee. It's run by an immigrant couple. Young
waitresses move on and are replaced every couple of months. The
food is the type that your old hard working grandma used to boil
up. The prices are fair and the service is scarily quick;
I go in there of a lunchtime partly to read, but barely have
I sat down and opened my book when a plate of lasagne and chips
lands piping hot in front of me. Full range of customers
from bus drivers to office workers, pensioners to mothers."
John's, Chalk Farm Road
Great plum and
cream interior with fluted panelling on the lower walls and fine
chairs. Brusque service a speciality.
Highbury Cafe, Holloway
Road N7. MIA?
A good selection
of solid wooden tables and chairs, featuring worn tartan patterning,
plus a back section with six booths and powder blue Formica panels.
On the wall is one
of their old menus from the 1950s. (Also worth a visit nearby, The Trevi Italian restaurant
by The Garage music venue-a mini-lounge with booth seating throughout.)
Road (near Loraine Road) N7. NEW
'Looks like a former Wimpy with green leatherette seats, apparently
original wall-mounted lights and Formica wall-panelling at the
rear. Similar to the Star Cafe in Whitechapel Road and Bloomsbury
Restaurant in the Brunswick Centre.' (Patrick Turland)
Hope Workers Cafe, Highbury
Corner N5. RIP
For the brilliant
array of polished wood chairs and tables alone this is worth
a punt. Pity about the wretched metal doors and window surrounds
Panda Restaurant, Holloway
With a lovely old
sign above the door and a fusty interior left just as nature
intended, this is net-curtained, faded English gentility at its
one of my most depressing eating experiences ever. It was so
bad, it was actually almost enjoyable, in a "that which
does not kill me, strengthens me" way.' (Patrick Turland)
De Marco, Junction Road
'An italian enclave
just over the road from Archway station, on an interesting wedge-shaped
plot uniformly fitted out in lovely formica, with a fast turnover
of wisecracking and/or demented clientele, and run by a prizewinning
ice-cream dynasty... The current proprietor is a third-generation
member of the same extended family who have been running the
establishment since it opened over 60 years ago. Business is
"up and down" these days their biggest selling-point
used to be their ice-cream, which is still home-made today (and
delicious, I might add). The ice-cream isn't so much in demand
these days (although there is still a serving window onto the
street, adorned with the poignant notice Would you like any "Desserts").
But they still proudly display on the walls a certificate from
the Ice Cream Alliance for the Diploma of Merit won in 1957,
along with photographs of the trophy and of the winning entry
alongside the circular mirrors that adorn the interior. I am
told, proudly (and reassuringly) that despite the newcomer caffs
springing up all around, they have no plans to 'renovate': "We
try to keep it just as it was just add a few things, a
new sign maybe...". The whole caff is beautifully decked
out in twotone floral-pattern formica, a light colour below,
a rich orange on the upper walls. A gigantic illuminated yellow
menu covers a whole wall. Pay them a visit, soak up the ambiance,
support this living classic, and don't forget to ask for ice
Rheidol Rooms, St Peters
Good plain cafe
filled with fine yellow Formica furnishings throughout.
Paul's, Southgate Road
Perfect little plain-style caff with a vaguely 40s style counter
and an enduring air of emptiness.
The Italian Restaurant,
Rochester Row SW1. RIP
A truly great local
in a brilliant little enclave dating from 1936. The impressive
beige curvilinear counter is the centrepiece. Classic monochrome
Formica covers all the walls and there's an authentic parlour-like
section through a back arch. Smashing hand-painted sign outside
too. A delight.
New Grosvenor Cafe,
Horseferry Road SW1.
A few doors up
from the now ruined Fiesta cafe, this has a brilliant exterior
sign in Gill typeface with some surviving red leatherette seating.
Tony's Cafe, Chapter
Neat local in Victoria
off Vauxhall Bridge Road. Good booths and interior lighting.
Simple but effective.
Wilton, Wilton Road
cafe in the heart of Victoria: top sign, powder blue marbleised
flooring, neat rosewood and black leatherette booths. Very cramped.
Regency Cafe, Page Street
tile deco exterior with lovely Gill typeface logo built into
the base of a 1930s block of mansion flats. Walls and ceilings
are good but all the original tables and seating have been removed.
Often used for film shoots.
Astral Cafe, 8 Regency
Place (off Horseferry Road), London SW1. NEW
"has had some
work done on it over the years but there is still the original
wall panels/shelves and in the back some of the Formica is left
behind... good breakfasts and lunches, many have commented on
its '50s feel." (Walter)
Tevere, Great Peter
Street SW1P. RIP
An upmarket chalet-style
cafe at the junction of Marsham Street and Great Peter Street
in the Westminster Village. Tevere is milk chocolate brown inside
all dark dark wood panels and grey net curtains. The
waitresses are black-clad Roman ladies, smothered in creamy make-up
and always just slightly on the side of being annoyed at your
very existence. The clientele are lovelorn House of Commons researchers
(sharing a carafe of house white and sobbing over their MP's
infidelities), grumbling hacks and passed-over civil servants
in shiny Burton's suits gossiping and grinding their teeth. You
can easily imagine Ted Heath gliding by in his ministerial Rover
or Enoch Powell sitting at a table in a three piece suit with
double-breasted waistcoat pounding out 'Tiber foaming with blood'
speeches (Tevere is Italian for 'Tiber'). All in all, a moribund
Cafe, Vauxhall Bridge
Road (near Causton Street) SW1. RIP
"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."
Dom's, Green Lanes N13
( 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)
London Cafe, Turnpike
Lane N15. NEW
'a great place to hang out for an hour or so. Located next to
the tube station, the building is a gem of 1930s architecture.
The clientele mainly consists of men, students, and couples.
A selection of broadsheet & tabloid newspapers are available
to read. With all selections the quality of the grease is guaranteed.'
Double Six, Eversholt
Street NW1. NEW
'Has a cosy snug bit at the back. Conspiratorial atmosphere,
popular with cabbies.' (urban75.com)
Sunsnacks Cafe, Lisson
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.
Tonibell Snack Bar/Ice
Cream Bar, 35 Shenley Road, Borehamwood WD6. NEW
Mr Seb Brennan
writes: "It's about 100 yds from Elstree and Borehamwood
station and is a cracker. All that's left of their 1950s cornet-based
empire is this double fronted cafe on Shenley Road: nice facia,
leatherette banquettes. Maybe when it gets knocked down to make
way for a Chicken Cottage the nice people at BBC Elstree can
cart the remains round the corner and re-erect it in Walford."
Tonibell was started in 1937 by Italian-born
Toni Pignatelli and his Scottish wife. Known as Tonis, it consisted
of a small ice-cream manufacturing plant in a shop in High Street,
Burnt Oak, Middlesex. The products were sold to the public from
the shop window. Twelve years later the couple's son Ronald,
who had changed his name to Peters, joined the business. The
name Tonis was changed to Tonibell in 1960 because competitors
began using Tonis name and colours. All vehicles were painted
blue, and Tonibell's cow symbol made its debut with a new jingle
that was specially written for the chimes. In 1969, when Lyons
bought the company, Tonibell had eighteen depots and four franchise
depots covering the whole country. The business was, essentially
a franchise operation and 500 vans were involved in taking ice-cream
to housing estates and other high density areas. In addition
they had 15 ice-cream parlours, mainly in the London area, and
again operated under franchise arrangements.
Frank's, Uxbridge Metropolitan
Line tube station RIP
'Frank's has been owned for almost 40 years by Frank and Ganni
Costa. Refurbished in the 60s, it looks its best in the early
morning, as sunlight filters in through the high windows, illuminating
the rising cigarette smoke. The cafe retains its ranks of Formica
tables and red leatherette chairs but resist the temptation to
follow the smoke up to the refurbished ceiling - the cafe's principal
architectural abomination. Frank's offers both authentic workman's
cafe food as well as some more distinctively Italian items and,
overall, represents a refreshing
antidote to the town's otherwise soulless, aspirational makeover.'
Bar Linda, Golders Green
station NW11. NEW
"a bright, busy mod/espresso type of place, watch the Routemasters
chugging off up west from canary yellow Formica counter..."
Dug Out, St. Albans
Lane NW11. NEW
One of the most
hidden away obscure cafes in London. Still with some original
fittings, and plenty of grimy atmosphere... "The Dugout
Cafe in Golders Green is the only cafe of the three main North
London rocker's cafes that has remained in constant use from
the heyday of the late fifties / early sixties. (The other two
were the Busy Bee on the Watford bypass and The Ace on the North
Circular road). The Ace was re-opened as a cafe about four years
ago after being used as a tyre fitters since it's original closure
in 1969. Unfortunately the refitting as a cafe has not been in
keeping with it's original decor. I am too young to have been
riding motorcycles back in the sixties, but I did go to the Dugout
a few times when I was working in the area. So I arranged a run
out from the Ace with a few friends - two of whom used to go
there back in the day. It was a nice day and our noisy old British
bikes caused a bit of stir when we arrived. The cafe, as it name
suggests is situated in a basement and has no "shopfront"
as such. I spoke to the present owner who bought it from the
bloke that had owned it for 35 years. He new of its history as
a biker's cafe and is interested in promoting that side of it.
The two "originals" Dave Johnson and Colin Cooke reminisced
about the old days. Colin said that you were lucky to get a seat
in the place as it was so busy . He went on to say that they
used to end up moving from cafe to cafe to try and beat the crowd.
He said another cafe they used was Salami's by Brondesbury Station
on the Kilburn High Road [I used this cafe often when it was
known as The Venus - it was open most of the night]. Dave said
that when Coca Cola bottles went up to one shilling he bought
a round for everyone - twenty bottles for one pound !! The owner
made him pay up front as he didn't believe that he had the money.Dave
and Colin remembered that there was a juke box in the right hand
corner of the place and that their mate Pete put his head through
the ceiling while doing some over energetic dancing. The owner
told us that he has a few celebrity customers naming Bert Kwok
in particular (he of the Kung Fu in The Pink Panther). The unfortunate
thing about the Dugout is that it doesn't really have any of
it's original fixtures and fittings left. It never was a Formica
or Vitrolite palace, but from what I could gather from talking
to Colin, Dave and two other longstanding customers it used to
have trellis work on the walls with wine battles etc. hanging
on it [though this may have been in the 70's] and benches with
trestle tables that could be moved over when the place got lively.
It used to stay open until midnight." (Phil Whyte)
E Pellicci, Bethnal
Green Road E2.
Owner Nevio was
born above the shop and Pellicci's has now been serving up top
nosh for over 100 years. The jaw-dropping marquetry interior-like
something out of the Empire State Building-was crafted by Achille
Capocci in 1946. The imposing exterior Univers-face steel logo
on custard-coloured vitrolite panels makes for maximum authenticity.
Local heavies The Krays were firm fixtures during the 1960s.
This is simply one of the greatest-and friendliest-eateries in
the world. See Pellicci's and die!
Roggio Pellicci's Restaurant,
Great Eastern Street EC2. RIP
Semi-classic: 'Formica tables with some Formica wall panelling,
and possibly a 60's plastic shop sign, though the shop front
is of a more recent aluminium type.' (Patrick Turland)
First Choice, Bethnal
Green Road E2. RIP
Almost next to
Pellicci's. The outside sign is maybe the best feature (alongside
the proper caff tables and chairs) that and the fact the place
seems to be staffed by Kosovan lap dancers.
Copper Grill, Eldon
Street EC2. RIP Jun
This timewarp caff
is set in an unlikely road behind Liverpool Street. The large
amount of wood booth seating is inspirational. Other key features
include: rosewood tables; Lapidus beanpole rails; good window
lights; great yellow outside sign (Golden Egg-style) and, better
yet, a large downstairs basement with caff-murals adorning the
Piccolo, Eldon Street
Next door to the
Copper Grill, this narrow cafe has an unusual basement with classic
chalet-style decor throughout and great purple-patterned Formica
table-tops. Both upstairs and downstairs sections retain the
original Swiss light fittings.
Dino's, Commercial Street
Good old Italian
survivor from the days when this area was rife with Dino family
cafes. Good, rangy seating and a neat dumb waiter. Demand a serving
of Dino's excellent 'specialist chips'-which for some reason
you have to know to specifically ask for.
Street E1. RIP
Hard to find behind
the bag stalls of Petticoat Lane, inside, the dark sensurround
rosewood Formica gleams under the lamps. Serried ranks of green
booths and neat little plum-coloured cup and saucer sets
Rosa's, Hanbury Street
Bud Flanagan once
lived above the shop but this is now a pleasant left-alone relic
selling awesomely cheap food and featuring a vaudeville shrine
in one corner and signed Gilbert and George ephemera in the other.
(It's also now their local after the closure of the Market Cafe
near their home on Fournier Street.)
City Corner, Midddlesex
Good looking cafe
with compact sea-green leatherette booths, a lovely back-wall
mosaic and nice menus in the window. Terrible prices and consistently
grim service though. Be warned.
'Despite being one of the Ponti's chain, this seems to be their
unreconstructed branch (possibly the first one opened?). Open
24 hours. Has some internal modernisation but an old style feel
with green Formica topped tables and red leatherette booth seating.
Almost a classic...' (Patrick Turland)
Farina's, Leather Lane
A Classic Cafes' favourite for nigh on fifteen years. Farina's
has a fine large dark interior with green marbleised tables,
green metal-legged tables, dozens of brown leatherette chairs,
duo-tile flooring, slatted ceiling, Formica panels throughout,
a mystery basement stairwell with 'municipal' ironwork railings,
Airtexed walls, a 50s clock, sunken-spot lighting, a dumb water
and excellent plain white cup and saucer sets. A classic of its
kind in the heart of Little Italy.
Luigi's, Roseberry Avenue
Once used for a
Pulp LP shoot, this little gem has a classic Univers sign, a
couple of fine booths and some stool seats. A hideaway basement
(down a tiny stairwell hidden behind the counter) is decked out
in two-tone fake-wood Formica. Always rammed with postmen from
the local Mount Pleasant sorting office: "very small, wedge-shaped and has space for
only two tables (red Formica) and hard wooden benches), plus
a red Formica perch-area with one surviving 1960s stool. The
walls are pale brown wood-effect Formica with a dark real-wood
strip separating the colours... mosaic floor... lots of switches
and an ornate balustrade round the steps to the basement... complete
with paintstripper tea!" (Robert Wyburn)
Golden Fish, Farringdon
cosy familial Italian cafe, opposite Mount Pleasant post office
is also half of a fish and chip shop. The dainty interior, with
its ranks of 1940s rosewood booths with metal arms (very like
those in The Copper Grill), is one of the loveliest in London.
The lone antique hatstand by the door always brings a lump to
Set up by Parma
Italians in the 1960s, this all-brown cafe retains superb panels
throughout, top-notch Formica wood veneer tables and some high-backed
booths for good measure. Family-run, and always overrun with
gangs of howling cabbies, manageress Giuliana Muratori reckons
there's one vital ingredient for a successful caff, "Noise!"
Quality Chop House,
Farringdon Road EC1.
Not a caff, but
a perfect example of a chop house established in the late 1800s
as a "progressive working class caterer". Retains many
original fittings including pews and etched windows inscribed
with the legend "London's noted cup of tea".
Scotti's Snack Bar,
Clerkenwell Green EC1.
An absolute gem
surrounded by churches, fine industrial architecture and the
myriad attractions of Little Italy. Great panel ceiling; fabulous
grey op-art Formica wall panels; grade-A chairs; classic counters
and 1950s shelving throughout; a mysterious stairway; attentive
staff; fine lights; good clocks; kitsch parlour paintings; textured
1940s wallpaper; confection displaysall of human life is here.
Popular Cafe, Lever Street EC1. NEW
Doubles as a basic
Thai restaurant. Univers typeface over the old double-doorway;
classic oval Pepsi sign outside; dark orange Formica tables;
ratty red leatherette seating and fake wood wall panelling. Nice
display of giant fork and spoon wall hangings too.
Barbican Grill, Whitecross
Street EC1. RIP
Good dowdy sign
and green booth-style seating in an excellent little enclave
near Bunhill Fields cemetery.
Pingo Doce (formerly
Rossetti), Old Street/Honduras
Street EC1. RIP
Excellent, lurid orange and blue exterior with period font sign.
Awnings. Booth interior and a touching window display of old
Italian kitchen storage jars. (Sign & windows altered Aug
Central Cafe, West Poultry
Avenue EC1. RIP
Set inside one
of the great meatmarket avenues, hidden under the awnings, this
place is a symphony of beautiful yellowing tables and a wall-to-wall
powder blue Formica. Chipped, grubby and perfect.
Beppes, West Smithfield
Nice booth seats,
brilliant signage and a beaten copper counter. The tables are
slightly altered but the locals relish this family-run place
with its sense of Clerkenwell history and legendarily frosty
service. Old man Beppe's journal is framed on the wall (with
a picture of him as a young lad) but the power in the house is
Mama with her signature house dish, steak and kidney pie.
Saints (formerly Butts),
John Street EC1. RIP
but a fine deep-brown furnished interior with chocolate coloured
Formica tables, proper Thonet chairs and a mosaic floor built
of large bright shards of tile
Street EC1. NEW
Close by Barbican tube this has an excellent modern sign in vivid
red with a superb line graphic. The plain interior is enlivened
by decent furniture and orange/brown 70s tiling in the doorway.
Castle, Paul Street
Built into the
base of a derelict three-storey building, this cafe features
stool seating looking out onto the street, old-school shelving
and a warm and friendly Italian family behind the counter.
Castle Snack Bar, Tabernacle
Street EC2 RIP
place. In the area of gentrifying cusp
land around the City Road, Old Street whatever you call that.
I don't know that area very well. Lovely cuppa, only 45p. Simple
stools, and a little lower shelf for storing revolvers and buried
treasure... " (Russell Davies) "The cafe's closed,
and the interior has been ripped-out. The manageress of the nearby,
similarly styled Castle in Paul St said that she thought their
lease had expired." Patrick Turland)
Ferrari's, St Andrews
Hill EC4. NEW
- three small tables only, but packed with atmosphere and all
the right ingredients. Good prices, friendly service, great decor.
Well worth a visit.' (Paul Woods)
Ferrari's, Lea Bridge
floor, endless brown booths and plenty of chrome stool bar seating
at the counter.
L Rodi, Blackhorse Lane
Splendid old caff
that's been with the same family since 1925-and dates back even
earlier. The frontage is somewhat altered (thought the excellent
'L. Rodi Light Refreshment' sign is untouched) but the interior
is phenomenal. The front room is a fantasy of marble-mint Formica
set under sparkling vitrolite; chrome edged tables are packed
tight opposite an original counter which has a huge 1930s extractor
pipe hovering over the tea boiler and a giant old English Electric
fridge at the back; the upper walls are lined with authentic
1950s tobacco posters. The back room is a veritable caff museum:
lined with emerald and off-white tiles; Victorian marble tables;
a working grandfather clock that still chimes the hours; black-lacquer
bentwood coathangers; framed menus from the past and beaten-silver
signs embossed with the words 'Teas' and 'Suppers'. There used
to be three other branches in Islington and Westminster and-as
the display of black and white snaps of Rodi's through the ages
shows-the place has barely changed in a century. Overwhelming.
L Randolfi's, Roman
Road E3. RIP
caff with strange early 70s signage, marble Victorian tables,
magnificently worn Thonet chairs, Vitrolite-panel ceilings, all-original
cabinet shelving behind the counter and a brilliant shack-like
rear-section with painted wood walls, 'breakfast-bar' and a dozen
1950s counter stools. Some original neon strip-lighting remains
over the counter and ice creams are still served from the front
hatch on the street. (The frontage used to be a classic Pellicci-style
Vitrolite job until a car accident necessitated a complete rebuild).
Obertelli's Eating House,
Leadenhall Market, EC3. NEW
"There's less room for
eating downstairs, just stools or the tables outside. But upstairs is a land that time forgot. Lots
of white tiles and blokes focused on eating. A good, dedicated
atmosphere. The Leadenhall Market is an interesting area. A bit
of quaintness loitering in the high-tech city. It's so clean
and Disney-like that it sometimes look less authentic than it
is. They've shot some Harry Potter here, and I can imagine a
bunch of other movies. Just around the corner is the Regis Snack
Bar which also looks worth a visit..." (Russell Davies)
Regis Snack Bar, Leadenhall
The fine little
1950s frontage of this cafe sits in the shadow of the Lloyd's
building adjacent to the side of Leadenhall Market. Inside, it's
counter stools all round, fake beams on the ceiling and relentless
bonhomie from the three serving guys.
Star Cafe, Whitechapel
Road E1. RIP
Acres of proper
1970s leatherette booth seating and a general air of large-scale
Wimpy styling remain in this old cafe-situated opposite the hospital
where the remains of Elephant Man are kept.
Pubali, Commercial Road
Part normal fry
cafe, part basic Indian restaurant, this is one of the few London
caffs to be protected by English Heritage-the frontage can't
be altered since it's technically part of the listed building
next door. The characterful gothic undertakers a few doors down
used to keep their overspill coffins in the basement here.
Roman Fish Bar, Roman
Good looking chippy
with powder blue Formica counter and odd orange high-back pew
booths. Nice fish motif on the signage.
Don's, Lower Clapton
Road E5. RIP
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. Says
caff classicist J. Hourrigan: "The cafe's run by the eponymous Don and his ancient
Italian siblings in their 80s (all of whom came from Lucca in
the 1930s). They've been there all their lives. It sits just
around the corner from where Harold Pinter was born. Don's was
once a stables. Wooden interior, high ceilings, never full! It's
open til 2.00 pm most days. Other fans rave about the "wonderful
physical space and decor, fine food and music... oh, the music!"
Don's chirpy whistling
(and the accompanying polka music) is a unique selling point
along with the big fat caff cat: "Places like Don's offer
something you can't get in your quotidian Costa Coffee: character.
Okay, the food isn't up to the ludicrously high standard of Stateside
equivalents like Tom's Restaurant in Brooklyn, but it's run by
two tiny little fellas, both about 75 years old, who make great
tea to a non-stop soundtrack of 1940s French accordion music.
There's something terribly classy about it, even taking into
account the nicotine-stained walls, ratty furniture and faintly
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, worn Lino flooring
and a proper caff counter. A great find which can't be long for
this word in an area that is fast being Loft-ed street by street.
Poppins, Poppins Court
Tucked away in an alleyway just off Fleet Street near Ludgate
Circus, this is a long-standing Fleet Street institution, no
doubt once frequented by grizzled hacks and assorted print workers.
The old seats and tables have sadly been replaced, but there
are some compensating nostalgic features such as attractive (probably
original) wood panelling, mirrors and coathooks. And it does
have a quintessential drabness and melancholy only a stone's
throw from the brash saturation of Starbucks' on Fleet Street
itself. Not quite a classic but with all the tragic closures
taking place you have to be grateful for small mercies. (RIchard
Mandy's, Mare Street
sign but the inside seems suitably down-at-heel. Useful to know
about if you're trawling galleries and exhibitions in the area.
Andrew's, Hackney Road
'An austere plain-style cafe, with what looks like an original
wooden blue-painted fascia/signboard with white lettering. Wooden
chairs with leatherette seat covering, wooden Formica-topped
tables, pinewood-effect wall panelling. There's a Formica-topped
counter, and old-style hot-water dispenser. The brown and dun
floor tiles, and cream and brown-mottled lino look original.
The blue-painted wooden shelves are an interesting feature. Unfortunately,
judging by the sparse lunchtime trade, this cafe looks like it's
on a downward slide to extinction.' (Patrick Turland)
Cafe Bliss, Dalston
Road 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. The dark emerald Formica table tops and polished
leatherette booths score highly.
High St E11. NEW
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 centre is worth a
lookover if only for the monumental 1940s library (with its breathtaking
stone foyer) and the spooky church graveyard opposite (full of
soiled, yowling alkies... if you like that sort of thing).
Percy Ingle, Leytonstone High Street E11
With its original
1950s sineage the Ingle chain in the East End is a pleasant choice
for cakes and pastries. There's too much orange plastic, wholly
contravening Classic Cafes' criteria. (seating since altered)
but we like the Ingle approach and can just about forgive their
recalcitrance on the modular seating front. The E11 branch has
by far the best outlook and seems to retain an original orange
teapot logo. One for the trainspotters.
Pie Crust Cafe, 273
High Street E15 NEW
A mysterious and
grizzly little caff perched on the main road opposite the Carpenters
Rd turning, the Pie Crust looks as though it has just narrowly
survived a Luftwaffe attack. Only the hearty sign and ratty net
curtains suggest an interior of any merit; but merit it certainly
has: Formica refectory tables; 40s scout-hut seating in oxblood
leatherette; vintage ceiling fans; two plastic embossed Pie Crust
wall menus overflowing with cheap eats (Rough Guide recommended
- egg chips & beans £2.00); large Thai exotica murals...
and a rear table doubling as a T-shirt stall! Oh yes, this is
the life. Vast portions. Inexplicably happy staff. Maximum Moribundia.
More > South
& West London Gazetteer #2
To Top of Page