IDaily Telegraph: Heritage accolade perks up Krays' Italian coffee bar

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 Nevio Pellicci, at the helm (Feb 2005)

An East End cafe that once served coffee to the Krays has been awarded listed building status in an unusual step by English Heritage.

Pellicci's is described as a rare example of the stylish Italian cafe that flourished in London in the inter-war years.

Fewer than 500 are thought to remain from an estimated 2,000 and the move has been interpreted as an attempt by English Heritage to protect their dwindling number.

"To tell the truth, I wasn't sure what it meant at first," said Nevio Pellicci, the cafe owner, who was born upstairs in 1926 and remembers the Krays as "gentlemen".

"A young lady came round and was looking at the place. I asked her if it was going to be to my advantage or not. Of course, I am very proud."

English Heritage, in awarding the cafe in Bethnal Green grade II status, described it as stylish, intact and architecturally strong with a rich deco-style panelled interior. But it also issued a warning.

"The 1950s cafe is becoming increasingly rare and the recent proliferation of chain coffee shops is threatening their economic viability."

Mr Pellicci, whose family came from Tuscany and bought the cafe at the turn of the last century, is not worried about the future. His son, Nevio junior, works alongside him and he is not about to run out of customers.

"A lot of my original customers are dead, of course. But a lot of my customers now were schoolkids when they first came here. I would serve them chips and beans. Now their children come here. It's terrific. It feels like home to them."

Mr Pellicci remembers the Krays, who used to live around the corner, but only for their activities inside the cafe.

"They were children when I started serving them. They were very respectful, charming. If my mother was behind the counter and someone swore they would ask them to show some respect."

Adrian Maddox, the author of a website devoted to the preservation of cafes such as Pellicci's, is campaigning to have others listed.

"This is an amazing moral victory and hugely cheering," he said. "At last someone is taking notice of this type of architecture. Pellicci's is one of my top cafes of all time.

"These cafes started dying off in the 1980s and then came Starbucks and the other chains and they started vanishing.

"But these cafes have a whole secret history; they tell a story, of the wave of Italian immigrants who came here and brought their culture with them. They incubated a whole sub-culture of music, fashion, film, sex, crime."

Mr Maddox, 35, hopes the backlash against what he terms the "Starbuckisation" of the high street has begun with the listing of Pellicci's.

A spokesman for Starbucks said there was room for everyone. She added: "With the growing popularity of quality coffee, recent years have seen growth in the number of coffee shops across the UK, both stores such as Starbucks and independent cafes."

Sally Pook, Daily Telegraph, Mar 7 2005


Daily Telegraph Leader: Mar 7 2005

The Kray twins could hardly have claimed to have been gourmets.

When they bought a pub, the Carpenters Arms, in 1967, they were less concerned about the menu than its layout: with its narrow bar and one doorway to the road, no one could get in unobserved, so it made for the perfect headquarters.

The only time Reggie Kray got involved in the catering side of the business was when he took a carving knife from the kitchen to stab Jack "The Hat" McVitie in the face, body and chest, before impaling him through the throat to the floor.

That said, the Krays were spot on in their choice of favourite café: Pellicci's, the little gem in Bethnal Green that has just been given listed building status by English Heritage.

It is certainly architecturally attractive, with its Art Deco interior and a façade with a tasteful illuminated sign straight out of Edward Hopper.

But the principal reason for the survival of Pellicci's, while other cafés are eclipsed by Starbucks and Prêt à Manger, is the quality of its food and service.

For all the fogeyish laments about the death of the greasy spoon, most of the old cafés just did not serve food that was as good as the chain branches'.

Pellicci's, on the other hand, goes way beyond cooked breakfasts and Nescafé.

As well as café staples such as chips and beans, lasagne and pasta dishes are prepared every day on site, with fresh pastries and ground coffee to follow.

Nevio Pellicci and his son, Nevio junior, are leading graduates of the brisk yet polite, wisecracking school of excellent Italian service.

And the carving knives are never used on humans.

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