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A man sits at a table in a London caff, eating a fry-up off a white plate. Behind him are posters and framed clippings from history.
Tucking in at Regency Cafe.
Isaac Rangaswami

Step Inside London’s Finest Historical Italian Caffs

Community spaces that run on bacon rolls, plates of pasta, and good talk

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Tucking in at Regency Cafe.
| Isaac Rangaswami

In the late 1880s, a man called Giacomo Bracchi arrived in London, where he made money by playing a mechanical organ on wheels. After a while, maybe with the pennies he’d saved, Bracchi made the 150-mile journey to Newport in Wales, where he started a new life once more. It was there he had an enterprising idea: to open the country’s first Italian cafe, inspiring generations of his countryfolk do the same – or so the story goes.

From Glasgow to Broadstairs, Italian-run eating places soon popped up everywhere. These restaurants were where many Victorians and Edwardians first enjoyed comfort foods like chips, ice cream and deep-fried battered fish. But it wasn’t until the aftermath of World War II that these places reached their high point, when Britain was reinventing itself and a new wave of Italian migrants, with the skills to run restaurants, came here looking for work.

Italians brought dreary post-war London back to life, with the help of Formica and Vitrolite, the mass-market materials which made these thoroughly modern cafes a reality. Suddenly the capital was bursting with exciting, ornately decorated places to eat, with Italian names glittering above their doors. Some people called these places “greasy spoons,” or better yet, “caffs”.

Caffs are about shelter as much as they are about food. They’re places to eat something simple, without spending much or being moved along. But after decades of fuelling the city, the developer’s wrecking ball razed and gutted dozens of these vital spaces, maybe because offices and coffee chains could pay more rent, or because people thought these old restaurants didn’t look beautiful anymore.

But lamenting their loss won’t bring them back. And fortunately, a small handful of these extraordinary Italian caffs have survived in London against all the odds. Keeping these miraculous eating places alive is simple: just visit them and spend money on something inside. This is a list of the finest, most historic Italian caffs, where everyone should do just that.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

E Pellicci

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E Pellicci, which opened while Queen Victoria was still on the throne, is the prettiest, oldest caff in London. Stepping into the place feels like opening the door of an elaborate, century-old Art Deco grandfather clock, only to find a thriving community restaurant inside. It’s perfect, really – and one of the most historic places to eat in the city. 

While the Grade II-listed dining room caters to a close-knit family of East End regulars during the week, it bursts into a joyful, party-like atmosphere every Saturday morning. On a typical Saturday, Nevio Jr. is liable to leap up onto the counter any moment, to announce a birthday by banging on a metal jug, before his sister Anna leads the packed room in song. The ritual always ends with cousin Tony playing “Je t’aime moi non plus” by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg on the speakers, which is a weird song to choose, but strangely apt. 

The restaurant’s extraordinary longevity comes down to two things: the Pelliccis, who bring the place to life with their unique brand of sweary Cockney-Italian hospitality, and their delicious, carb-loaded food, which appears to be what happens when those two cultures collide. Smart people go for the chicken pie with chips, gravy and broccoli cheese, but everything on the menu is easy to fall in love with, from the spag bol to the American-sized fried breakfast, which may be the biggest full English in London.

Randolfi L

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The best thing about Randolfi’s is the impeccably-mannered, white-coated old boys who run the place, who quite casually supply the local populace with elegant, cress-topped sandwiches and exquisite cups of tea. Their trick with the tea, no doubt honed over many decades, is to use a pair of tiny tongs to squeeze the bag until the contents of the mug reach the desired strength, signalled by a particular shade of brownish-red. Sandwich-wise, the obvious choice is the ham, which is thick-cut and delicatessen-quality, or the corned beef, which is similarly bona fide and sliced from an enormous and fascinating block. 

The Randolfi family have been assembling handsome packed lunches on plates since 1906, but their current restaurant isn’t as old as that. Still, there are a few items of furniture probably from their previous premises, which were also on Roman Road, such as the marble tables and a trio of marvellous, nut brown letter board-style menus, on which are listed historical artefacts like  “Bovril,” “hot ribena,” and “liver sausage.”

Beppe's Cafe.

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West Smithfield has been a place to buy, sell and eat meat for almost 1000 years. For the last 90 of those years, Beppe’s has been doing its bit to keep that tradition alive, with meat-heavy breakfasts made using suppliers from the ancient market across the road. It’s pretty much impossible to go wrong here, whether it’s the superb bacon rolls, or the mixed grill, which is a fry-up with the addition of a burger that melts in the mouth like a buttery rib-eye steak.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to visit Beppe’s without eating anything and still fall in love with the place. Outside it’s a bonanza of glazed brickwork, like Russell Square tube remade in forest green; inside it’s wood panelling, fading family pictures and high-backed booths galore. But the best thing about the place is its antiquated signage, which proclaims “hot snacks and sandwich bar” in a stark and beautifully ancient sans serif.

Regency Cafe

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Visiting Regency Cafe requires a certain level of faith. Visitors must believe that once the fast-moving queue takes them to the counter, they’ll order without stumbling over their words; they must trust that when their food arrives, a free seat will emerge just in time. Somehow, all of these things do happen, thanks to the place’s well-oiled operational setup and the bellowing voice behind the counter, which binds together cook, customer and front of house. 

There are a thousand things that make Regency Cafe so incredibly interesting, but it’s probably the place’s archetypal interior, with its fixed seats, gingham window curtains and gorgeous oxblood laminate floor, that draws the crowds. As a result, the caff has appeared in more films than Eric Roberts, including that iconic Layer Cake scene where somebody gets beaten to a pulp with a kettle to the sound of Duran Duran. 

But it’s the food that keeps all the cab drivers, civil servants and Channel 4 staff coming back. The sausages are flecked with herbs, for example, which takes the Regency well beyond the typical caff. There’s a fruit pie with custard too, with the power to bring back childhood memories adults may not have realised they’d lost. Then there’s a quietly offal-heavy lunch menu, with wonderfully British staples like liver, gammon, and steak and kidney pudding.

River Cafe.

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“Years of exposure to smoke, fried bacon and chips have left them with the deep-brown patina of old masters,” writes Edwin Heathcote, the FT’s architecture critic, of the ageing coastal scenes that plaster the walls of the River Cafe, in his book London Caffs. Yes, with the River Cafe, there’s lots to wax lyrical about: its cerulean blue wall tiles, decorated with garlands; its lovely, mirror-like pigmented glass ceiling panels; the prehistoric signage out front. 

But for those more into food than interiors, a visit to the River Cafe won’t leave anybody disappointed. The place attracts a steady match-day crowd, along with plenty of classic old-man-with-a-newspaper types, all digging into chip-heavy fry-ups, soft Britalian pastas and other elevated canteen-style dishes, like crumble and custard. Visitors might even spot a Juventus-shirted staff member eating a cooked breakfast after his shift, which might just be the strongest endorsement a caff can get.

Scotti's Snack Bar

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Scotti’s Snack Bar is among a very select group of eating places where it’s quite possible to feel embarrassment and even a small amount of shame for not being able to drive a black cab. But that doesn’t mean the caff’s kindly proprietor, Al, doesn’t make his customers feel at ease. If he spots one struggling to decide what to order, he’ll most certainly help them along; the place has a “talking menu” in any case. Plenty of cabbies are to be found here eating chicken escalopes, which Al cooks fresh, rather than reheating like most other places. He has also been known to cut slices from his prized joint of perfectly pink roast beef, which he leaves on show in a metal basket, like a baby in a manger. Others may prefer the bacon roll, which has the neatness and refinement of something that has clearly been prepared with love thousands of times. 

It’s easy to fall head over heels with every caff on this list, but there’s something particularly exhilarating about going to Scotti’s. The place is a time capsule, a living museum, a faithfully rendered and beautifully preserved exhibit on “life in 1950s Britain”. A lot of this comes down to all the incredibly old functional things in the place: the ancient water boiler, which rises up from the counter like a periscope; their antique metal cuboid of a toaster, which has probably been around longer than Elizabeth II has been queen. But the finest historical piece of kitchenware in Scotti’s is obviously its age-old meat fork, which Al’s grandmotherly sidekick uses to shallow fry the bacon, as the pair exchange Italian phrases.

Casa Fabrizi (formerly Alpino Cafe)

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During the writing of this guide, a sign appeared in the windows of Alpino Cafe, informing customers that it was leaving its 60 year-old premises, owing to a “greedy landlord”. It would be easy to slip into hopeless nostalgia, to lament the loss of the place’s wood-panelled dining room, one of London’s few remaining mid-century artefacts of its kind, or the lightly-seriffed, slender letters of its signage, which stand out so nicely. But that would be overly sentimental – and who’s to say the building’s next occupant will strip everything out? Sure, the new place, which will be called Casa Fabrizi, will be less historical than the original, but the important thing is it’s staying in business.

Anyway, the main draw at Alpino is its wonderful Italo-British food, which will doubtless live on at the new place across the street. That means things like spag bol, lasagne, or one of the hundred other pasta, gnocchi and risotto dishes in its book-length menu. Plus there’s its excellent fry-ups too. Like Cafe Cecilia and The Wolseley, Casa Fabrizi ought to remain part of the same exclusive club Alpino was in: restaurants that serve herring for breakfast. So when the place reopens, it’s definitely worth trying those kippers, which are tender fillets of vibrant orange, smoky flesh. 

With any luck, visitors may still find a band of slim, grey-haired men milling around outside the new restaurant too, inhaling tobacco smoke and thimbles of espresso, just as their cousins are probably doing back home. 

Casa Fabrizi will open in September 2022.

Bar Bruno

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Along with Trisha’s, Quo Vadis, Ronnie Scott’s, Bar Italia, The Toucan, L’Escargot, Maison Bertaux, The French House, I Camisa & Son and The Coach and Horses, Bar Bruno is proof that there’s actually quite a few “last bastions of old Soho” left. Still, it is the only surviving Italian caff in a neighborhood once overflowing with them, not counting Bar Italia, which doesn’t serve fry-ups. The place is the closest thing Soho has to a cafeteria these days, and although a lot of its period features have been revamped, the dining room’s gorgeous, wrap-around Chesterfield booth seating is still going strong.

Bruno attracts a delightfully mixed crowd: cabbies eating omelettes and ham, egg and chips; office workers grabbing sandwiches to eat at their desk. On a first visit, try the spaghetti Napoli, which is less “trattoria” and more “red sauce joint” and features no less than one metric ton of pasta.

Anyone who has ever been to the Scottish Highlands might have stumbled across a bothy, one of those remote mountainside cabins which are left unlocked for someone to take shelter for the night. Surprisingly, west London has something quite similar, in the form of Frank’s Sandwich Bar, a shack perched precariously on the edge above a section of railway line, at the exact midpoint between Kensington and Hammersmith.

It’s an extremely unusual place to have a building, even more so a functioning restaurant. Fascinatingly, it used to be a railway signalling box, a raised wooden hut where early rail workers used to wave flags at passing train drivers to stop them from crashing into each other. Since 1954 this hut has taken on an even more practical purpose, as a sandwich caff, run by multiple generations of the Cura family. They focus on the classics: eggs, sausages and rashers of bacon, fried in batches on a flat top grill, then slipped inside slices of white bread or buttery crusty rolls, to be enjoyed from the comfort of a time-worn stool.

Maria's Market Cafe

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The best way to enjoy Maria’s Market Cafe is the best way to enjoy Borough Market: get there early, preferably on a weekday, when there’s fewer tourists around, and get a feel for the history of the place, where there’s been a market in some shape or form since the 12th century. At Maria’s, visitors can enjoy all manner of things inside a pillowy bap, including lamb, liver, and wild game sausage. Still, the fried breakfasts – particularly the ones with chips – are among London’s most refined examples of the genre, which here hinges on quality ingredients, positioned elegantly on a plate. 

Before Maria’s there was Borough Cafe, which opened round the corner on Park Street in 1961. The original caff was where the eponymous Maria Moruzzi grew up and later worked, alongside her parents who opened the place, before they had to give it up. When they opened their stall in the market, this time with Maria in charge, she naturally put her name on it. Although its founder has since hung up her apron, Maria’s is still a brilliant place to enjoy a slightly fancier fry-up, rooted in decades of love, care and family tradition.

Marios Cafe

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The coolest thing about Mario’s is that it has been immortalised in a pop song. But if the caff itself was a band, it would only have one member: Mario Saggese, on drums, guitar, bass, cookery, service, coffee-making, management, front of house and plenty more besides, including shooting the breeze with his devoted regulars. It may be the artiest caff in London, thanks to its creative crowd, all the photos on the walls and Mario himself, who has the old-school, north London jazz guy demeanour of somebody like Gilles Peterson. 

Mario is an excellent cook too, rushing into the back to knock together whatever’s been ordered, like a dad rustling up dinner for his kids. Remarkably, he manages to keep conversations going at the same time, literally shouting to customers from the kitchen while he fries an escalope or tosses pasta with sauce. Interestingly, Mario’s is actually a caff within a caff, in that it used to be Tony’s Restaurant, which Mario’s grandad opened in 1958. After a fallow period, Mario’s dad reopened the place in the 1980s, before suffering a heart attack and handing it over to his son, who made it his own.

Dino's Cafe

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Although at least one time-honoured Italian spot technically closed its doors during the writing of this piece, another historical caff came creeping into focus worthy of its place. That caff is called Dino’s and it’s in Leyton, where London’s wholesale fruit and vegetable market moved to in 1991. Interestingly, like a few other caffs on this list, Dino’s had a previous life: the original opened in 1946 on Crispin St, a stone’s throw from the original Spitalfields Market, 45 years before the Victorian market building succumbed to traffic congestion, poor refrigeration and other legacy issues. When New Spitalfields Market opened in Leyton, Dino’s Cafe moved with it.

Dino’s is full of old friends and market colleagues, gently ribbing each other and offering words of support. Over cooked breakfasts, men talk about fishing trips, gush with pride about their children’s new jobs and reminisce about the decades they’ve spent working together here. This environment makes it clear that even the “new” place is pretty old now. 

The fixed seating in Dino’s probably looked new when it was installed, certainly newer than the likely wooden chairs of its Spitalfields forbear. The same goes for the concrete block of a building it occupies. But these days both of these features are relics of the past, like floppy disks and portable CD players. Dino’s serves as a beautiful reminder that even when an ancient caff loses a bit of its history, whether it’s through moving, changing hands or refurbishment, that’s not always the end. Because eventually everything gets old, given enough time.

E Pellicci

E Pellicci, which opened while Queen Victoria was still on the throne, is the prettiest, oldest caff in London. Stepping into the place feels like opening the door of an elaborate, century-old Art Deco grandfather clock, only to find a thriving community restaurant inside. It’s perfect, really – and one of the most historic places to eat in the city. 

While the Grade II-listed dining room caters to a close-knit family of East End regulars during the week, it bursts into a joyful, party-like atmosphere every Saturday morning. On a typical Saturday, Nevio Jr. is liable to leap up onto the counter any moment, to announce a birthday by banging on a metal jug, before his sister Anna leads the packed room in song. The ritual always ends with cousin Tony playing “Je t’aime moi non plus” by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg on the speakers, which is a weird song to choose, but strangely apt. 

The restaurant’s extraordinary longevity comes down to two things: the Pelliccis, who bring the place to life with their unique brand of sweary Cockney-Italian hospitality, and their delicious, carb-loaded food, which appears to be what happens when those two cultures collide. Smart people go for the chicken pie with chips, gravy and broccoli cheese, but everything on the menu is easy to fall in love with, from the spag bol to the American-sized fried breakfast, which may be the biggest full English in London.

Randolfi L

The best thing about Randolfi’s is the impeccably-mannered, white-coated old boys who run the place, who quite casually supply the local populace with elegant, cress-topped sandwiches and exquisite cups of tea. Their trick with the tea, no doubt honed over many decades, is to use a pair of tiny tongs to squeeze the bag until the contents of the mug reach the desired strength, signalled by a particular shade of brownish-red. Sandwich-wise, the obvious choice is the ham, which is thick-cut and delicatessen-quality, or the corned beef, which is similarly bona fide and sliced from an enormous and fascinating block. 

The Randolfi family have been assembling handsome packed lunches on plates since 1906, but their current restaurant isn’t as old as that. Still, there are a few items of furniture probably from their previous premises, which were also on Roman Road, such as the marble tables and a trio of marvellous, nut brown letter board-style menus, on which are listed historical artefacts like  “Bovril,” “hot ribena,” and “liver sausage.”

Beppe's Cafe.

West Smithfield has been a place to buy, sell and eat meat for almost 1000 years. For the last 90 of those years, Beppe’s has been doing its bit to keep that tradition alive, with meat-heavy breakfasts made using suppliers from the ancient market across the road. It’s pretty much impossible to go wrong here, whether it’s the superb bacon rolls, or the mixed grill, which is a fry-up with the addition of a burger that melts in the mouth like a buttery rib-eye steak.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to visit Beppe’s without eating anything and still fall in love with the place. Outside it’s a bonanza of glazed brickwork, like Russell Square tube remade in forest green; inside it’s wood panelling, fading family pictures and high-backed booths galore. But the best thing about the place is its antiquated signage, which proclaims “hot snacks and sandwich bar” in a stark and beautifully ancient sans serif.

Regency Cafe

Visiting Regency Cafe requires a certain level of faith. Visitors must believe that once the fast-moving queue takes them to the counter, they’ll order without stumbling over their words; they must trust that when their food arrives, a free seat will emerge just in time. Somehow, all of these things do happen, thanks to the place’s well-oiled operational setup and the bellowing voice behind the counter, which binds together cook, customer and front of house. 

There are a thousand things that make Regency Cafe so incredibly interesting, but it’s probably the place’s archetypal interior, with its fixed seats, gingham window curtains and gorgeous oxblood laminate floor, that draws the crowds. As a result, the caff has appeared in more films than Eric Roberts, including that iconic Layer Cake scene where somebody gets beaten to a pulp with a kettle to the sound of Duran Duran. 

But it’s the food that keeps all the cab drivers, civil servants and Channel 4 staff coming back. The sausages are flecked with herbs, for example, which takes the Regency well beyond the typical caff. There’s a fruit pie with custard too, with the power to bring back childhood memories adults may not have realised they’d lost. Then there’s a quietly offal-heavy lunch menu, with wonderfully British staples like liver, gammon, and steak and kidney pudding.

River Cafe.

“Years of exposure to smoke, fried bacon and chips have left them with the deep-brown patina of old masters,” writes Edwin Heathcote, the FT’s architecture critic, of the ageing coastal scenes that plaster the walls of the River Cafe, in his book London Caffs. Yes, with the River Cafe, there’s lots to wax lyrical about: its cerulean blue wall tiles, decorated with garlands; its lovely, mirror-like pigmented glass ceiling panels; the prehistoric signage out front. 

But for those more into food than interiors, a visit to the River Cafe won’t leave anybody disappointed. The place attracts a steady match-day crowd, along with plenty of classic old-man-with-a-newspaper types, all digging into chip-heavy fry-ups, soft Britalian pastas and other elevated canteen-style dishes, like crumble and custard. Visitors might even spot a Juventus-shirted staff member eating a cooked breakfast after his shift, which might just be the strongest endorsement a caff can get.

Scotti's Snack Bar

Scotti’s Snack Bar is among a very select group of eating places where it’s quite possible to feel embarrassment and even a small amount of shame for not being able to drive a black cab. But that doesn’t mean the caff’s kindly proprietor, Al, doesn’t make his customers feel at ease. If he spots one struggling to decide what to order, he’ll most certainly help them along; the place has a “talking menu” in any case. Plenty of cabbies are to be found here eating chicken escalopes, which Al cooks fresh, rather than reheating like most other places. He has also been known to cut slices from his prized joint of perfectly pink roast beef, which he leaves on show in a metal basket, like a baby in a manger. Others may prefer the bacon roll, which has the neatness and refinement of something that has clearly been prepared with love thousands of times. 

It’s easy to fall head over heels with every caff on this list, but there’s something particularly exhilarating about going to Scotti’s. The place is a time capsule, a living museum, a faithfully rendered and beautifully preserved exhibit on “life in 1950s Britain”. A lot of this comes down to all the incredibly old functional things in the place: the ancient water boiler, which rises up from the counter like a periscope; their antique metal cuboid of a toaster, which has probably been around longer than Elizabeth II has been queen. But the finest historical piece of kitchenware in Scotti’s is obviously its age-old meat fork, which Al’s grandmotherly sidekick uses to shallow fry the bacon, as the pair exchange Italian phrases.

Casa Fabrizi (formerly Alpino Cafe)

During the writing of this guide, a sign appeared in the windows of Alpino Cafe, informing customers that it was leaving its 60 year-old premises, owing to a “greedy landlord”. It would be easy to slip into hopeless nostalgia, to lament the loss of the place’s wood-panelled dining room, one of London’s few remaining mid-century artefacts of its kind, or the lightly-seriffed, slender letters of its signage, which stand out so nicely. But that would be overly sentimental – and who’s to say the building’s next occupant will strip everything out? Sure, the new place, which will be called Casa Fabrizi, will be less historical than the original, but the important thing is it’s staying in business.

Anyway, the main draw at Alpino is its wonderful Italo-British food, which will doubtless live on at the new place across the street. That means things like spag bol, lasagne, or one of the hundred other pasta, gnocchi and risotto dishes in its book-length menu. Plus there’s its excellent fry-ups too. Like Cafe Cecilia and The Wolseley, Casa Fabrizi ought to remain part of the same exclusive club Alpino was in: restaurants that serve herring for breakfast. So when the place reopens, it’s definitely worth trying those kippers, which are tender fillets of vibrant orange, smoky flesh. 

With any luck, visitors may still find a band of slim, grey-haired men milling around outside the new restaurant too, inhaling tobacco smoke and thimbles of espresso, just as their cousins are probably doing back home. 

Casa Fabrizi will open in September 2022.

Bar Bruno

Along with Trisha’s, Quo Vadis, Ronnie Scott’s, Bar Italia, The Toucan, L’Escargot, Maison Bertaux, The French House, I Camisa & Son and The Coach and Horses, Bar Bruno is proof that there’s actually quite a few “last bastions of old Soho” left. Still, it is the only surviving Italian caff in a neighborhood once overflowing with them, not counting Bar Italia, which doesn’t serve fry-ups. The place is the closest thing Soho has to a cafeteria these days, and although a lot of its period features have been revamped, the dining room’s gorgeous, wrap-around Chesterfield booth seating is still going strong.

Bruno attracts a delightfully mixed crowd: cabbies eating omelettes and ham, egg and chips; office workers grabbing sandwiches to eat at their desk. On a first visit, try the spaghetti Napoli, which is less “trattoria” and more “red sauce joint” and features no less than one metric ton of pasta.

Franks

Anyone who has ever been to the Scottish Highlands might have stumbled across a bothy, one of those remote mountainside cabins which are left unlocked for someone to take shelter for the night. Surprisingly, west London has something quite similar, in the form of Frank’s Sandwich Bar, a shack perched precariously on the edge above a section of railway line, at the exact midpoint between Kensington and Hammersmith.

It’s an extremely unusual place to have a building, even more so a functioning restaurant. Fascinatingly, it used to be a railway signalling box, a raised wooden hut where early rail workers used to wave flags at passing train drivers to stop them from crashing into each other. Since 1954 this hut has taken on an even more practical purpose, as a sandwich caff, run by multiple generations of the Cura family. They focus on the classics: eggs, sausages and rashers of bacon, fried in batches on a flat top grill, then slipped inside slices of white bread or buttery crusty rolls, to be enjoyed from the comfort of a time-worn stool.

Maria's Market Cafe

The best way to enjoy Maria’s Market Cafe is the best way to enjoy Borough Market: get there early, preferably on a weekday, when there’s fewer tourists around, and get a feel for the history of the place, where there’s been a market in some shape or form since the 12th century. At Maria’s, visitors can enjoy all manner of things inside a pillowy bap, including lamb, liver, and wild game sausage. Still, the fried breakfasts – particularly the ones with chips – are among London’s most refined examples of the genre, which here hinges on quality ingredients, positioned elegantly on a plate. 

Before Maria’s there was Borough Cafe, which opened round the corner on Park Street in 1961. The original caff was where the eponymous Maria Moruzzi grew up and later worked, alongside her parents who opened the place, before they had to give it up. When they opened their stall in the market, this time with Maria in charge, she naturally put her name on it. Although its founder has since hung up her apron, Maria’s is still a brilliant place to enjoy a slightly fancier fry-up, rooted in decades of love, care and family tradition.

Marios Cafe

The coolest thing about Mario’s is that it has been immortalised in a pop song. But if the caff itself was a band, it would only have one member: Mario Saggese, on drums, guitar, bass, cookery, service, coffee-making, management, front of house and plenty more besides, including shooting the breeze with his devoted regulars. It may be the artiest caff in London, thanks to its creative crowd, all the photos on the walls and Mario himself, who has the old-school, north London jazz guy demeanour of somebody like Gilles Peterson. 

Mario is an excellent cook too, rushing into the back to knock together whatever’s been ordered, like a dad rustling up dinner for his kids. Remarkably, he manages to keep conversations going at the same time, literally shouting to customers from the kitchen while he fries an escalope or tosses pasta with sauce. Interestingly, Mario’s is actually a caff within a caff, in that it used to be Tony’s Restaurant, which Mario’s grandad opened in 1958. After a fallow period, Mario’s dad reopened the place in the 1980s, before suffering a heart attack and handing it over to his son, who made it his own.

Dino's Cafe

Although at least one time-honoured Italian spot technically closed its doors during the writing of this piece, another historical caff came creeping into focus worthy of its place. That caff is called Dino’s and it’s in Leyton, where London’s wholesale fruit and vegetable market moved to in 1991. Interestingly, like a few other caffs on this list, Dino’s had a previous life: the original opened in 1946 on Crispin St, a stone’s throw from the original Spitalfields Market, 45 years before the Victorian market building succumbed to traffic congestion, poor refrigeration and other legacy issues. When New Spitalfields Market opened in Leyton, Dino’s Cafe moved with it.

Dino’s is full of old friends and market colleagues, gently ribbing each other and offering words of support. Over cooked breakfasts, men talk about fishing trips, gush with pride about their children’s new jobs and reminisce about the decades they’ve spent working together here. This environment makes it clear that even the “new” place is pretty old now. 

The fixed seating in Dino’s probably looked new when it was installed, certainly newer than the likely wooden chairs of its Spitalfields forbear. The same goes for the concrete block of a building it occupies. But these days both of these features are relics of the past, like floppy disks and portable CD players. Dino’s serves as a beautiful reminder that even when an ancient caff loses a bit of its history, whether it’s through moving, changing hands or refurbishment, that’s not always the end. Because eventually everything gets old, given enough time.

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