Since Victorian times, the fry up has revitalised and replenished. To this day, there remains no greater hangover cure than the calorific assembly of fried eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, beans and toast. Though the full English has its roots in the countryside, it is as common in cities thanks to the “greasy spoon” — a once disparaging, now loving, term. The best place in London to enjoy a cooked breakfast is one of its historical, independent cafes, where the tea is PG Tips and the baked beans unspoiled. Many still feature original Formica table tops and wood-panelled walls. All still have salt and pepper shakers apparently made in the 1950s. Now an endangered species, it’s important those which remain are not lost.Read More
10 Great Greasy Spoons in London
Where to find the best full English in the capital
Sat atop a bridge connecting a residential pocket of north Acton with an industrial estate, The Bridge is owned by Frank and Jerry Marcangelo, who come from a line of Italian cafe owners. The Bridge was made famous thanks to its proximity to the television studios used to film BBC show The Apprentice. It is where the show’s losers go to sit despondently with mugs of builders’ tea and ruminate on their “firing”, though they reportedly never dine. They ought to, though, as the place serves a good English breakfast and an even better ham, egg and chips (the latter of which are crispy and golden). 2014 Apprentice runner-up Luisa Zissman referred to the cafe as “that hole” in her Sun column — there has been no better endorsement.
Up the road from a slightly more famous River Cafe, the Parsons Green version is less expensive but still serves tasty food. Happily, the set breakfast comes with hash browns (the question of whether these are vital to a ‘full English’ is up for debate), while the bacon sandwiches — juicy and dripping — are a particular highlight. The liver and bacon seems to prove popular with older guests, while shepherd’s pie is the lunchtime favourite. Much like most true greasy spoons, the decor has changed little, and still features the apparently original blue and white tiling. Note: given proximity to Chelsea FC’s home ground at Stamford Bridge, it’s advisable to avoid the cafe on match days.
Mario’s is a tiny caff in Kentish Town run by Mario Saggese. Originally ‘Tony’s Restaurant,’ it was opened by ‘Mario Sr’ (Mario’s grandfather), and Tony (his dad), back in 1958. In 1989, it was re-established by Tony and Mario Jr, having seen a 15-period as a Chinese restaurant after the original closed in 1974. While the decor is, as a result, more modern than some, the romantic charm of a greasy spoon remains. The food is solid: eggs on toast (sourdough for an extra 20p) come out any which way, and omelettes are thick and bouncy. Italian dishes also feature; most agreeable is the aubergine parmigiana, which is served with chips.
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Arguably Westminster’s most famous restaurant is an Art Deco greasy spoon known for its £5.50 set breakfast, and its inclusion in films such as Layer Cake and Brighton Rock. Regency Cafe, opened by Antonio Perotti and Gino Schiavetta in 1946, is iconic; queues formed long before they became synonymous with London’s dining scene. Today, the clientele might be often bougie — how many other pools of baked beans get so many flat-lay shots on Instagram? — but the food remains true to form: black pudding and golden hash browns, bacon rolls made with soft white baps, messy omelettes to anger the French. The Formica tables are lined with classic pepper pots, the walls adorned with history.
Ignore the “restaurant” part — Andrew’s is a traditional cafe and has been for more than 60 years. In 2016, it made headlines after the site came under threat from property developers, before ITN journalists and regulars of the cafe came to the defence of its unifying presence in a diverse neighbourhood: “This is one of the last mixed inner-city neighbourhoods... Andrew’s is a truly eclectic mix, from TV to road sweeping, rich and poor mix easily.” Originally established by Italian brothers Lorenzo and Andrew, who ran the cafe for nearly five decades, Erdogan Garip is now in charge of Andrew’s, and he makes sure the classics sing. The set breakfast doesn’t disappoint, the tea is always hot and newsreader strong, and the jacket potatoes are pleasingly fluffy.
‘Italian snack bar’ Alpino has been part of the fabric of Chapel Market since 1959. Lunchtime pasta trade is solid, but it is a cafe above anything and its eggs are firm and sausages plump. Alpino hasn’t modernised much — in aesthetic or product — and continues to fry button mushrooms to that firm, glistening place of perfection. Alpino, too, is seemingly one of few in the game still to serve kippers, which come as is correct: with poached eggs. The service is efficient and the atmosphere — as to be expected in Islington’s Chapel Market — is busy.
The Electric Cafe
West Norwood’s Electric Cafe is a South London institution. Established in the 1940s, it is one of the capital’s best preserved greasy spoons — wood panelling, a beautiful facade, a very noisy old till — and is adored by locals. Today, it’s run by Greek Cypriot Stav, whose family have owned the cafe for generations, and who is renowned for his tomatoes, fried with oregano. Bacon sandwiches here are doorstops of brilliance, while the set breakfast — always served with a generous pool of beans and a quality Cumberland sausage — is everything a Crystal Palace fan could want before a game. The fried bread is an absolute must and the cheese omelette doesn’t disappoint.
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While arguably a slightly more upmarket affair — at what other caff would one find a bottle of Pinot Noir? — Terry’s, set up by its namesake owner in Borough in 1982, is still proper. Terry, a former Smithfield Market butcher, came from a family of chefs and was born and raised in south east London. It’s now run by his son Austin Yardley, who clearly recognises Londoners’ desire for authenticity, however ironic it might be. But look past the own-brand tea and the fact the proper, thin white bread is called ‘old school’, and the breakfasts are joyful. ‘The Works’ is a classic full English with the noble addition of flavourful bubble and squeak, while sandwiches burst with crispy bacon and fine sausages. Make room for the 2 Buck Rarebit, too — the cheese toast with an added fried egg. Terry’s made this year’s OFM ‘50 things we love’ list.
The Shepherdess in Hoxton is a timeless nod to aged simplicity. It is special for numerous reasons: staff are warm and loveable, the building is bright and bustling, the breakfast is sublime. Bacon is charred, its fat sweet and rendered, eggs are perfectly fried — the yolk is soft and runny, while the white, tender and gelatinous, has developed a crispy frilled rim. The resurgence of greasy spoons means many see their fair share of celebs, but The Shepherdess is a true icon: Ed Balls has been pictured there, as has food critic Tom Parker-Bowles, and there have been EastEnders stars by the mug-full. Jamie Oliver, too, is a big fan.
E Pellicci is an East End landmark; established in 1900, it remains in the same family today, and feels largely unchanged, too. Now Grade-II listed, with ornate timber panelling and Art Deco features, Pellicci’s is the caff resplendent. Maria Pellicci has been matriarch since 1966, and still runs the kitchen today, while younger generations of the family run front of house. A full English is still £5.50 — quite a feat these days — and the more devoted can level up with classic additions like liver, black pudding, bubble ‘n’ squeak or hand cut chips. With a devoted regular clientele, Pellicci’s is a real community institution, and well worth a visit.