August 2019: No new greasy spoons have opened recently (none that we’re aware of, anyway) but we’ve scoped out all our favourites and we’re pleased to report that they’re all doing very nicely indeed.
Ah, the greasy spoon. These traditional cafés are where formica tables, full English breakfasts and milky, milky tea rule supreme. These mostly family-run joints offer a welcome warmer than the toast and well faded 'celebrity' photos on the walls, and we love them for it. But, alas, they're a dying breed in London these days, so we've decided to celebrate the finest caffs in the capital. Long live the greasy spoon!
The best greasy spoons in London
Going strong since 1959, this Chapel Market institution may bill itself as an ‘Italian snack bar’ these days, but at heart it’s still a grand old greasy spoon. Ginormous fry-ups, pancakes, kippers and porridge will set you up for the day, while traditional sarnies sit alongside filled ciabattas and baguettes. At lunch, it’s all about hefty plates of pasta, risottos and other trattoria stalwarts at knock-down prices, with proper coffee and wall-to-wall photos of Serie A footie stars pointing up the venue’s Italian connections. Note that Alpino shuts soon after lunch each day.
TV presenter Jon Snow loves Andrew’s fried eggs. As do Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Tom Bradby, all of whom signed a petition to prevent developers shutting down this classic caff. Inside, it’s all battered chairs, wipe-down tables and photos of Routemaster buses, with a vast wall-to-wall blackboard menu above the counter. Local cabbies and electricians rub shoulders with familiar faces from the nearby ITN building, who are here for the stupendous breakfast fry-ups (including top-notch fried slice), plus burgers, omelettes, sarnies and a host of proper home-cooked lunch dishes – roasts, shepherd’s pie, liver and bacon, stewed steak with veg, chicken Kiev and so on.
The name and the vintage frontage might suggest a deliberately stylised hipster café, but this Tulse Hill hangout is the real thing – a genuine greasy spoon that has been plying its trade for more than a century. The Electric’s long serving Greek-Cypriot owners have lovingly preserved the interior as a 1940s time-warp – all lace curtains, pastel-hued wooden walls and chequered tiling. Drop by midweek and you’ll get a free mug of tea or coffee with your breakfast fry-up, but the kitchen also rustles up roast lunches and old-fashioned nursery puds – not forgetting turkey dinners come Christmas time. At weekends, local families and hungover clubbers crowd the place.
Launched back in 1900, this Grade II-listed caff is an East End classic that once counted the Kray twins among its regulars. Chrome-lined Vitrolite panels line the frontage, while the opulent art-deco interior harks back to the time when café culture was king in the capital – note the photos of famous faces on the walls. They do pretty decent grub, too: their huge fry-ups are first rate, and it’s also worth taking a punt on their fish and chips, grills, Italian specials and homemade desserts – anything from bread pudding to Portuguese pasteis de nata. But ultimately, it’s the welcoming vibe that makes the place so special.
Venue says A classic east London café serving the local community for over a century.
Our second-favourite thing about Marie’s is the retro green-painted shopfront, which has somehow remained unchanged for decades. Our favourite thing, though, is the fact that jungle curries and pad thai are as popular as plates of fried eggs and chips at this tiny caff near Waterloo station. By day, the Formica-heavy interior functions as a full-on greasy spoon serving gut-busting fry-ups; by night, it’s a Thai restaurant packed with nattering cabbies and spice-loving locals scoffing authentic food at bargain-basement prices – think chicken satay, som tum salad, stir-fries, noodles and banana fritters. BYOB (£1 corkage).
‘Rainy café, Kentish Town, Tuesday. Barry’s looking through the Racing Post, orders coffee, another round of toast.’ So runs the 1993 song by Saint Etienne, written in honour of this tiny café. Italian-owned Mario’s relies on locals’ enduring appetite for cut-above breakfasts – from poached eggs and prosciutto on ciabatta to the full English (including extras such as bubble ‘n’ squeak and black pudding). But don’t discount the line-up of decent, unfussy Italian mains, from Sicilian arancini to spag bol, goat’s cheese salad or chicken escalope with penne napoli. Mario’s is also known for its ever-changing displays of local artwork.
A fixture of the Westminster/Pimlico borderlands since 1946, this classic greasy spoon does a roaring trade behind its black-tiled art deco exterior. Customers sit at Formica-topped tables, watched over by photos of muscular boxers and Spurs stars of yore, whose images hang on the beautiful tiled walls. Omelettes, salads, things with chips, every conceivable cooked breakfast and mugs of tannin-rich tea are the mainstays, but also check out the fishcakes, pasta, burgers and stodge-tastic homemade steak pie. Still hungry? The improbably gigantic bread-and-butter pud should see you right for the rest of the day.
No, not that River Café! This particular venue, opposite the entrance to Putney Bridge tube station, is a fine example of an old-fashioned British greasy spoon. The breakfast menu is built around a generously portioned mix-and-match full English, while lunch is anchored by hearty British classics – roast chicken, lamb chops, liver and bacon, bangers and mash, all at knockdown prices. If you still have room, apple pie and some tasty Italian puds await. What sells the place for us, however, is the feeling of being in a living museum dedicated to the 1960s – think gleaming blue-and-white tiling, seascape murals, plywood panelling and Formica tabletops.
An unreconstructed greasy spoon, complete with strip lighting, laminated menus and old-fashioned plastic sauce bottles, this corner café has been luring in a motley crew of builders, Hoxton locals and showbiz celebs for more than 30 years. All-day breakfast combos are the headliners, but the full menu runs also takes in sarnies, jacket potatoes and lunch dishes such as steak and kidney pie – all served with chips. Don’t leave without having a peek at the photos of former customers behind the till – from girl band All Saints to Delia Smith, Tom Jones and half the cast of ‘EastEnders’.
The only caff in London with its own brand of tea, Terry’s was founded in 1982 by, er, Terry, who originally plied his trade as a butcher in Smithfield Market. Inside, it’s wall-to-wall nostalgia with black-and-white photos galore, old sugar shakers on the check-clothed tables and wartime music coming out of crackly speakers. Brilliant breakfast-fry-ups and sarnies do the business for local workers, and there’s an honest all-day ‘bistro’ menu too – think bangers and mash, burgers, steak and kidney pud etc. Terry’s is also a diamond if you fancy ‘tea for two’.