Recently I have been thinking of old cafes which are no longer, and I started to look on the internet for information which could confirm some of my hazier memories of London cafes from around 1980 onward.
So this thread is intended to be a resource to share information and memories about those old cafes, and also those still operating.
The theme is working people's eating places, greasy spoons, caffs, cafes. Not coffee shops, sandwich shops, restaurants or the like.
Here are some web pages of relevance. I will update with places I remember, and places still going, as and when I get around to it.
Please add and share your memories, favourite cafes and related stories.
List of past cafes:
Parli Hill Cafe - Highgate West Hill, Highgate
Jav's Cafe - Hornsey Road
Andrew's Cafe - Forest Road, near Blackhorse Road tube station
The Cat and Cucumber - Tower Bridge Road
"The Cornflakes Cafe" - need to ask my dad if he remembers a bit more about this one, it was somewhere near Higham's Park Station
The Hole in the Wall Cafe - High Road, between Whetstone and High Barnet tube stations
Alfredo's Cafe - Essex Road, Islington
Ferrari's Cafe - Lea Bridge Road, just north of Baker's Arms
Arthur's Cafe - Kingsland Road
Frank's Cafe - 132 Southwark Street
Golden Grill - Mitcham Road
List of present cafes:
E. Pellicci - 332 Bethnal Green Road https://epellicci.co.uk/
Lamb's Cafe - 891 Lea Bridge Road
Terry's Cafe - 158 Great Suffolk Street
The Chunnel Bar - 133 Lower Marsh
Marie's Cafe - 90 Lower Marsh
Piccolo Bar - Queen Victoria Street, opposite Puddle Dock
Cherry Tree Cafe - 39 Muswell Hill Road
Rock Steady Eddie's - 2a Coldharbour Lane
The Little Wonder Cafe - corner of Hornsey Road and Benwell Road, opposite Emirates Stadium
The Hope Cafe - 111 Holloway Road
Starlight Cafe - 108 Roman Road
River Cafe - Station Approach, Putney
The Electric Cafe - 258 Norwood Road
Regency Cafe - 17-19 Regency Street SW1
Moonlight Cafe - 231 Brecknock Road N19
I had this in Paul Rothe & Son yesterday with milky tea with 1 sugar
Paul Rothe & Son
Paul Rothe & Son
A new one to me; thank you. Will visit next time I'm in Marylebone.
Remember the Market cafe at Smith field. Loved by cabbies and clubbers in the 90s. Open from after midnight till early morning.
I recall being invited to the kitchen to point the desired meal.
£ nowadays for this?
Pelliccis needs a mention.
Licenced now but back in the day you'd have your breakfast with 'special' Ribena
I am quite often (well when I can be bothered to go into the office) to be found in the regency cafe in pimlico as its a few minutes walk from my office on petty France. A classic London institution.
My memories of London cafes start from the early 80s. As a kid, I would go to work with my dad on Saturdays and during school holidays. He used to give me £1 a day.
My dad was an itinerant tree lopper of the type @edmundro is familiar with. Back then, daily visits to the cafe were an integral part of the working day, and bringing a "packed lunch" to work was more or less unheard of.
The routine of the day involved an early start (6am) to drive in the truck to wherever in London the first job was, and start work usually just before 8am. Then work until around 10.30 when it was time for "breakfast". A lot of conversation would be had during the morning as to which would be the best cafe to visit, in the area of work. Sometimes, "breakfast" might be delayed if the next job was closer to a better cafe. It's fair to say, breakfast was the highlight of the working day.
Ordering a breakfast was considered a skill in its own right. You had to call it out; pointing to something on a menu or ordering a "set" were not in the spirit of things. A huge breakfast was a status symbol. A worthy call could be along the lines of:
"double egg, bacon, sausage, fried tomatoes, bubble, two slices and a tea"
Teas were bought in rounds. If breakfast had not arrived on the table before the first round of teas were finished, the cafe was too slow. If more than two rounds of teas where drunk, the crew were slacking off and wasting valuable work time. Tea should be made from loose tea dust in a big stainless kettle with boiling water added into the cup. Teabags were frowned upon. Being able to drink scalding hot tea quickly was also an essential skill.
In those days, a second visit to the cafe was not uncommon, although somewhat more optional than the breakfast visit. The second meal break could be between 2 and 3 pm, and was often referred to as "apple pie and ice cream time". It was sometimes used as a form of incentive (or bribe!) by the guvnor to extend the working day past the usual knock off time of 3.30 pm.
Among the best cafes were those run by Italian immigrant families. A lot of food was hand prepared. One of the greatest examples was the "Parley Hill Cafe", located at the bottom of Highgate West Hill near the junction of Swain's Lane (now Bistro Laz). This was a true "London Caff" with signed photos on the walls from various sports people and TV celebrities of the era, and a stock of loyal locals always sitting in, passing the time and nattering away to anyone who would listen.
I remember the "nan" of the family sitting on a stool in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and hand cutting chips into a huge pail.
At some point, the pattern of the working day changed and breakfast took place earlier. I think this was due to:
a) people / councils becoming intolerant of noisy activities taking place before 08:00;
b) becoming more difficult to park outside the cafe of your choice during office hours.
So the pattern was to leave the yard at about 7, drive towards your destination and stop off at a cafe en route. This did lead to notable incidents of "wt actual f are you doing in the cafe at this time?!", as it was evident that if you were in the cafe, work had yet to commnce. One such incident took place the The Cat and Cucumber, as recounted below. Another one happened in The Parma Cafe on Camden Road; I will save that story for another day.
A worthy mention for Enis'Cafe under the arches on Waterloo Road (now a Subway).
Not because it was good, it was the exact opposite of good. I ate in there once, one of the oiliest, most terrible fryups I've ever had (a terrible cup of tea was 50p extra). Enis was equal parts Basil Fawlty and Tubbs and Edward from A League of Gentlemen. There's stories of him locking customers inside after they dared dispute something on the bill. Anyone taking photos was usually met with a request to stop or on other occasions, Enis completely flipping out and screaming at you.
There was a mysterious 'elixir' advertised everywhere inside for £100 a bottle, the ingredients of which have sadly been lost along with everything else about this place. Did I mention the entire kitchen area was lined with tin foil?
I think I remember it closing suddenly around 2011.
Cat and Cucumber on Tower Bridge Road used to be a weekly Friday treat. Definitely met the tea criteria above. Haven't been in ages sadly :(
Portions always big and service brisk outside of the 30 min period around 9:30...
Edit: I see it's on the list!
Alfredo’s Essex road, where they stormed out of in Quadrophenia and jumped on their scooters. a chrome and formica interior and frontage.
i can’t remember the food but i bought an ‘Alfredo’s” mug from there, was sad to see it close and reopen as some sausage thing.
Mostly ate at the Rheidol rooms down the road, superb breakfasts there.
I did eat in Alfredo's a few times and tbh remember the food as being not that great. The facade and interior were great, though. I bought two mugs, still have one somewhere.
I vaguely remember the Rheidol Rooms from my time working at Islington Council. There were a couple of good places on Holloway Road, Harry's on Upper Street (really a sandwich place but a great one), and The Little Wonder Cafe opposite Ashburton Grove depot, now The Emirates Stadium.
Favourite memory of The Cat and Cucumber:
Crew were late into the cafe and took their time. One of the foremen drove past and saw the truck still parked outside the cafe at gone 08:30 am. Stormed into the cafe and berated the crew for their slothfulness / tardiness / laziness etc. Foreman stormed out again.
One of the elderly ladies who worked in the cafe sidled up the table with some fresh teas and said "cor, he's an orrible c*nt, your boss, int ee?!"
Thus human dignity, equanimity and goodwill towards all people (apart from the foreman) were quickly restored.
There was a cafe in Brockley near the old dog food factory that we used to go to in the early 90s. They did full roast dinners as well as the usual breakfasts. Dog food factory is long gone, don’t know about the cafe.
£7 with tea
Rock Steady Eddie's in Camberwell. Was one of the first places I went to when I moved to London in 2007. So cheap, food so so but a perfect for watching humanity and taking your time with an inexpensive tea
Rock Steady Eddie's in Camberwell
Rock Steady Eddie's in Camberwell
Seems Like Rock Steady Eddie's is still going - will add.
Carlo's Cafe opposite the London Hospital off Whitechapel Road. Late 70's to early 80's for me.
Always busy with locals and staff from the hospital. Famous for "escalopi spaghetti", a thin piece of meat which was meant to be breadcrumbed veal with a ladle full of watery sauce containing some mince. Usually eaten with a toasted bacon sandwich.
We liked the cafe opposite condor before it moved. Now its pinners for breakfast so cheep. .
some great images here:
EDIT, sorry thats just a link already posted in OP.
found it while trying to find the jerusalem cafe which was a basement cafe somewhere around denmark st, used to go there as a student on trips to art galleries and when i first moved to the capital.
it had a yellow sign above the door and stairs down to a basement, it was run by hippies and had yellow walls but the coffee and cake was good value.
there is one currently in existence but it doesnt have the vaulted ceiling i remember.
Had a mooch around around Highbury to see what is still there.
Neither of the places I remember on Blackstock Road, between Riversdale Road and Highbury Grange are still there.
Moving onto Holloway Road, Trevi Ristorante still extant. Not a cafe so off topic for here, but a good, old school Italian place much favoured by the comrades of Islington Council during the '90s.
No sign of Paradise Cafe, which used to be on the other side of Holloway Road, somewhere near St Mary Magdalene Gardens. However The Hope Cafe still seems to be going, as does The Little Wonder.
None of these were open, presumably because it's Sunday, so I could not inspect the inner workings to check they are still operating as proper cafes.
Arthur’s Cafe on kingsland rd now closed. Mate went in there with huge hangover and wanted chips with his breakfast but was told no chips served before 12.
Maria's cafe Hounslow.
Proper hidden away in back street off a back street that was a dead end road.
Standing in solitude amongst 1930s semi detached properties, near the army barracks.
Surprising closed only relatively recently, the barracks too are also getting developed.
Reincarnated as Goan restaurant.
Ah that was a great place. Was trying to remember the name of it!
@midlife yeah also sometimes called Escalope Milanese. Various places served this.
I remember meeting my mum for lunch one time when she worked in Clerkenwell and ordering this in a little Italian basement establishment. My mum was amazed that spaghetti Bolognese plus a breaded piece of meat was a thing!
I see it's still on the specials board at Trevi :-)
Franks in Borough was always great. Don’t know if it’s still there, last went in the early 00s.
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