Crispy bacon, glistening with grease. Toasted white bread, slathered in full-fat butter. Succulent sausages swimming in a generous pool of baked-bean juice. In other words: a work of art. There’s nothing that quite compares to the sloppy, salty, satisfying fry-ups that are so unique to London’s greasy-spoon caffs. You’ll easily find one of these great British institutions on every other street corner in the capital.
An Instagram account named Caffs not Cafes, set up two years ago by Isaac Rangaswami, is on a mission to document the best caffs in the capital. ‘There’s a human element to caffs,’ Rangaswami says. ‘They serve such affordable food and are so welcoming, but the really old ones have incredible, decades-old, beautifully ornate interiors.’
What’s the difference, then, between a caff and a café? ‘I don’t feel strongly against coffee house chains,’ he says. ‘I think the distinction is, you’d probably feel uncomfortable using your laptop in one for an entire afternoon and just get a cup of tea. But you can do that in a caff, without being made to move along. It’s kind of like a safe haven.’
Often captioning photos with love-letters, poems, and elaborate descriptions, Caffs not Cafes highlights the charm and romance of London's greasy spoons. ‘These caffs are all breathtakingly beautiful and not that well known by people outside of their regulars,’ says Rangaswami. ‘I’ve never seen one that doesn’t do a veggie breakfast. And they often have a menu of other things, like spaghetti bolognese and all of these other weird, British, old-school things – like liver and onions. 1970s food, but in the best way possible.’
Caffs not Cafes has picked five caffs for Time Out that any London greasy spoon lover should add to their bucket list, pronto.
Rock Steady Eddie’s
‘It’s right in the middle of Camberwell – the same street has a Greggs, McDonald’s, and a Costa – but somehow it still survives. It’s astonishingly cheap, you can get a fry-up for less than five pounds. The guy behind the counter knows all of his customers by name, and he received so many Christmas cards, he had to hang them from a string behind the counter.’
Good for Top-notch fried bread.
2a Coldharbour Lane, SE5 9PR.
‘When I went, I had a corned beef sandwich and liked it so much I got another one right after. They use tweezers to squeeze your teabag out to make your tea extra strong – there’s a real dedication to the perfect cup of tea.’
Good for ‘Lunchbox dreams come true.’
514 Roman Rd, E3 5ES.
Scotti’s Snack Bar
‘I’ve never seen a menu here. You just go up to the counter and think of a sandwich and they’ll prepare it for you. I used to get a beef-and-horseradish sandwich on soft white bread, like the kind of thing your mum used to make. For their sausage sandwich, they skilfully slice the sausages into thirds lengthwise, so it’s like a clever Jenga that fits into the sandwich perfectly.’
Good for Thicc, flavoursome sandwiches.
38 Clerkenwell Green, EC1R 0DU.
‘I used to go quite regularly when I lived nearby because it’s open on Sundays, which is quite rare [for a caff]. Hardly anyone’s heard of it, but it’s been around since 1965. It’s not just old and beautiful, though, the quality of the breakfast is way better than you’d expect, with proper butcher’s sausages and white pudding.’
Good for All of the breakfast meats.
83 Camberwell Rd, SE5 0EZ.
Frank’s Sandwich Bar
‘It’s in this really unusual building: an old shack thing that used to be used by train staff. Frank’s was used in the photo in the sleeve artwork from the ’90s band Pulp’s EP, “Common People”.’
Good for Bacon butties and a cuppa.
Addison Bridge Place, W14 8XP.