Pellicci Special: 'See Pellicci's and Die'
TV & Film
The New Rock n' Roll
Italian cafe gets the cream | The Guardian | 23 February 2005 | by Mark Gould
Listed building award aims to put the mochas on 'Starbuckisation'
[Full Director's Cut version]
The backlash against the Starbucking of the high street has started, announced caff aficionado Adrian Maddox at the news that Pellicci's, a tiny time capsule of a caff that has stood in the East End of London for 105 years, has been given listed building status.
'Fuck me, is it that important?' said equally amazed owner Nevio Pellicci as he raced around the Formica tables serving up gargantuan breakfasts at 7am, 'Your not having me on are you?'
Pellicciís has been in the same family since it was built in 1900. Nevio was born above the shop 79 years ago. And English Heritage is not having him on.
Recommending Grade II listing inspectors lovingly describe it as having a 'stylish shop front of custard Vitrolite panels, steel frame and lettering as well as a rich Deco-style marquetry panelled interior, altogether representing an architecturally strong and increasingly rare example of the intact and stylish Italian caf that flourished in London in the inter-war years'.
But they also issued a warning: 'The 50s caf is indeed becoming increasingly rare and the recent proliferation of new chain coffee shops is threatening their economic viability.'
Around 2000 Italian owned cafes and coffee bars flourished in the UK after the Second World War. Maddox, whose website www.classiccafes.co.uk is part memorial to the departed and part calls to arms, estimates that fewer than 500 remain.
He says they have been forced out by massive rent rises and what he calls 'a campaign of corporate cultural napalming' by the coffee chains.
He says these old cafes created an artistic and social cohesion that can't be invented by corporate chains desperate to create ersatz atmosphere.
'Music, fashion, film, advertising, photography, sex, crime, the avant-garde. The cafes were the creative enclaves where it was all honed. They added an impassioned European vibrancy to Britain's deflated post-war social, artistic and commercial scene - all we get from the coffee giants is McCappuccino jobs and Clone Town high streets'.
Pellicci's has its own place in popular culture. It was a meeting place of the notorious Kray gang who lived just around the corner in Voss Street.
Nev's son Nevio junior pulls out an autograph book stuffed with signed pictures of more recent Pellicci worshippers: a sunburst of soap stars, tabloid faces and Page 3 stunners.
It's also part of the fabric for Iain Sinclair, chronicler of weird resonances of the East End, who has been a devotee since the 1960s (see interview in Classic Cafes).
The caff is a focus and social hub of the area. Nevio is small and immaculately turned out in shirt, tie and zippered pullover and matinee idol pencil moustache. He knows everyone and everyone knows him.
And he thanks a sharp-eyed customer for saving the caf from being burnt down in 1999: 'It was about 11 o'clock at night and a regular was driving past in his cab and noticed what he thought were lights on in the kitchen. He stopped and saw it was a fire and phoned the Fire Brigade. They were here very fast and managed to save us.'
One of the many regulars who have been eating here for decades explains the Pellicci strategy: 'He gets you in with them,' he says pointing to a row of brilliant coloured sarsaparilla bottles sitting in the front window, 'you pester your mum and she brings you in and your hooked.'
Nevio Pellicci says the listing is 'a great honour' but he has one dispute with the inspectors. The Vitrolite panelling is primrose not custard.
But he says the tributes should go to his mother Elide who supervised the art-deco style marquetry interior created by in 1946 one of the best local carpenters - Achille Capocci.
'Around here was all carpenters, they all knew each otherís work, but mum wanted Capocci to do the marquetry as he was the best - everyone could tell his work.'
And as a tribute to Elide Pellicci, Capocci placed central marquetry plaque marked 'EP' in a place of honour along the panelling behind the counter.
It's the 1946 work that is so significant for English Heritage: 'This work was fitted in the context of the period just after the war. This was the year of the Britain Can Make It exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, heralding modern British design, and a few years later the Festival of Britain brought a style and design awakening to the Capital. It was also a period of increased Italian immigration and a great number of new cafes and espresso bar started to open up - a modern continuation of a long London tradition that started with 17th century coffee houses.'
So will Nevio be leaving the marquetry and Vitrolite to a coffee chain when he retires? 'Over my dead body.'
A well-breakfasted customer puts down his Star and laughs: 'I always said you was in institution, or should be in one, Nev.'
Heritage accolade for
Italian coffee bar
| Daily Telegraph | 7 Mar 2005
| by Sally Pook
An East End cafe that once served coffee to the Krays has been awarded listed building status in an unusual step by English Heritage.
Pellicci's is described as a rare example of the stylish Italian cafe that flourished in London in the inter-war years.
Fewer than 500 are thought to remain from an estimated 2,000 and the move has been interpreted as an attempt by English Heritage to protect their dwindling number.
"To tell the truth, I wasn't sure what it meant at first," said Nevio Pellicci, the cafe owner, who was born upstairs in 1926 and remembers the Krays as "gentlemen".
"A young lady came round and was looking at the place. I asked her if it was going to be to my advantage or not. Of course, I am very proud."
English Heritage, in awarding the cafe in Bethnal Green grade II status, described it as stylish, intact and architecturally strong with a rich deco-style panelled interior. But it also issued a warning.
"The 1950s cafe is becoming increasingly rare and the recent proliferation of chain coffee shops is threatening their economic viability."
Mr Pellicci, whose family came
from Tuscany and bought the cafe at the turn of the last century,
is not worried about the future. His son, Nevio junior, works
alongside him and he is not about to run out of customers.
"A lot of my original customers are dead, of course. But a lot of my customers now were schoolkids when they first came here. I would serve them chips and beans. Now their children come here. It's terrific. It feels like home to them."
Mr Pellicci remembers the Krays, who used to live around the corner, but only for their activities inside the cafe.
"They were children when I started serving them. They were very respectful, charming. If my mother was behind the counter and someone swore they would ask them to show some respect."
Adrian Maddox, the author of a website devoted to the preservation of cafes such as Pellicci's, is campaigning to have others listed.
"This is an amazing moral victory and hugely cheering," he said. "At last someone is taking notice of this type of architecture. Pellicci's is one of my top cafes of all time.
"These cafes started dying off in the 1980s and then came Starbucks and the other chains and they started vanishing.
"But these cafes have a whole secret history; they tell a story, of the wave of Italian immigrants who came here and brought their culture with them. They incubated a whole sub-culture of music, fashion, film, sex, crime."
Mr Maddox, 35, hopes the backlash against what he terms the "Starbuckisation" of the high street has begun with the listing of Pellicci's.
A spokesman for Starbucks said there was room for everyone. She added: "With the growing popularity of quality coffee, recent years have seen growth in the number of coffee shops across the UK, both stores such as Starbucks and independent cafes."
Daily Telegraph Leader: Mar 7 2005
The Kray twins could hardly have claimed to have been gourmets.
When they bought a pub, the Carpenters Arms, in 1967, they were less concerned about the menu than its layout: with its narrow bar and one doorway to the road, no one could get in unobserved, so it made for the perfect headquarters.
The only time Reggie Kray got involved in the catering side of the business was when he took a carving knife from the kitchen to stab Jack "The Hat" McVitie in the face, body and chest, before impaling him through the throat to the floor.
That said, the Krays were spot on in their choice of favourite café: Pellicci's, the little gem in Bethnal Green that has just been given listed building status by English Heritage.
It is certainly architecturally attractive, with its Art Deco interior and a façade with a tasteful illuminated sign straight out of Edward Hopper.
But the principal reason for the survival of Pellicci's, while other cafés are eclipsed by Starbucks and Prêt à Manger, is the quality of its food and service.
For all the fogeyish laments about the death of the greasy spoon, most of the old cafés just did not serve food that was as good as the chain branches'.
Pellicci's, on the other hand, goes way beyond cooked breakfasts and Nescafé.
As well as café staples such as chips and beans, lasagne and pasta dishes are prepared every day on site, with fresh pastries and ground coffee to follow.
Nevio Pellicci and his son, Nevio junior, are leading graduates of the brisk yet polite, wisecracking school of excellent Italian service.
And the carving knives are never used on humans.
Bethnal Green's famous
Café | BBC: Inside Out | Mar
2005 | Sumit Bose
Pellici's has a long legacy in London - it's been run by the Pellicci family since 1900 and the current owner Nevio, was even born upstairs!
It's a little bit of history, and with generations of the Pellicci family manning the counter, it's not going anywhere anytime soon.
Nevio, along with his son Nevio Junior, 22, and daughter Anna, 25, man the counters while wife Maria cooks up a storm in the kitchen.
But it's not the family heritage which has landed the Café Pellicci a major prize - it's the café's unique interior.
The Café Pellicci's wooden panelling is a major attraction
The Café Pellicci boasts an ornate panelled wooden décor, carved by regular customer and carpenter Achille Capocci back in 1946.
Thanks to his handiwork, the Café Pellicci has now been awarded Grade II listed status by English Heritage.
But it might not be here today if it wasn't for an eagle-eyed passer-by - the café nearly burnt down in 1999 and was saved only because someone called the fire brigade just in time!
English Heritage say Pellicci's is an example of rare and unchanged workmanship, reminiscent of the Art Deco style and representative of Italian café culture in post-war London.
Back in the 1950s and 60s there would have been hundreds of cafes like Pellicci's all over London.
Sadly, due to competition from bigger franchises, most of the remaining cafés have either been taken over or closed down.
That's why Pellicci's is so special.
Sumit visited the Café Pellicci to find out what makes it so special
The café's new title means it joins the ranks of other famous London landmarks, including Centrepoint and The Post Office tower.
But English Heritage aren't the only fans of the café - at one time the infamous Kray Gang, who lived just around the corner, were known to pop in.
Today Pellicci's can count among their customers the likes of Liam Gallagher, Robbie Williams and even members of the Eastenders cast!
They've all signed their names in Nevio Junior's autograph book - and with a reputation like this, for the Café Pellicci it looks like there'll be many more to come.
BBC, Inside Out, Mar 2005
The Krays' favourite cafe has been has been listed by English Heritage.
Pellicci's, in Bethnal Green, is one of London's last surviving Fifties Italian coffee bars, and the unusual move is seen as an attempt to preserve them in the face of the increasing domination of chains like Starbucks.
English Heritage, awarding the cafe grade II status, described it as stylish, intact and architecturally strong with a rich deco-style panelled interior.
"The 1950s cafe is becoming increasingly rare and the recent proliferation of chain coffee shops is threatening their economic viability," it said.
Owner Nevio Pellicci, born upstairs in 1926, said: "I am very proud."
He remembers the Krays, who used to live nearby, as "gentlemen", adding: "They were children when I started serving them. They were very respectful, charming. If my mother was behind the counter and someone swore, they would ask them to show some respect."
Mr Pellicci's family arrived from Tuscany at the turn of the last century and now he runs the cafe with son Nevio Jr.
Adrian Maddox, whose website campaigns for the preservation of cafes like Pellicci's, said: "This is an amazing moral victory. Pellicci's is one of my top cafe of all time."
A Day in the Life of
a Cafe Owner | Evening Standard | 2001 | Clancy Gebler Davies
There have been Pelliccis serving bacon sandwiches, steak pies and bread pudding to hungry customers ever since (give or take a war or two).
Nevio Pellici's Bethnal Green cafe has been serving for over 100 years. At 70, Nevio might be excused for feeling a little jaded and looking forward to his retirement, but he is one of those lucky people who loves his job - and can't come up with a single answer when he is asked if there is a downside to what he does for a living.
Nevio even met his wife Maria, who rustles up the home-cooked pies and pastas in the back kitchen, when she was sent over from the same Tuscan village from which the Nevios originated, to help with the business.
"When she saw the handsome Neville she couldn't resist me," says Nevio, laughing, while Maria goes quietly scarlet in the background. "She's the best thing that happened to me," he says, by way of mollification.
Nevio and Maria's day starts at five. The baker has already made his delivery and, since the place is spotless from the night before, Nevio will get stuck straight in, cutting up the bread and rolls at the counter after he has turned on the fan, the boiler and the radio.
"I turn Capital Radio
on low for a bit of company," he says, "unless I'm
feeling like a bit of Sinatra or Tom Jones, while Maria does
what she has to do in the kitchen. She has to make the bread
puddings and lasagne practically every day because we're so busy.
At six o'clock my nephew Tony comes in and does a couple of loaves.
Maria does the potatoes. I got her a
Pellicci's opens at 6.30am - sometimes before, but never after - and there are often customers pressing their noses against the window. "Bob and Joe, the cab drivers, are often our first customers," says Nevio, "and Bob comes in at 6.30am every Saturday for spaghetti bolognese, chips and a roll."
There are fewer market traders these days - fewer regular customers overall, although the business is still thriving - but Pellicci's has a good selection of signed photos from local celebs such as Steven Berkoff and Patsy Palmer ("to my favourite bread pudding gaff").
"Everything has to be ready by the time we open because we never know how busy we're going to be," explains Nevio. "Saturday is busy right through, but it's a nice day because there are always lots of children and they like to say 'Hello' to Maria in the kitchen."
Nevio and Maria's children play an important part in the cafe too. "I couldn't believe my luck when my children said they wanted to join the business," he says of Anna, 25, and Nevio junior, 22. Thirty-one-year-old Bruna is sticking to computing.
"It makes a real difference working with your own kids," their father enthuses. "People outside the family don't always treat the customers right because they're just doing it for the money. I must admit that we do get a bit on top of each other sometimes, particularly at this time of year, but you can always go for a quick walk to cool off."
Nevio senior is particularly pleased that Anna and the younger Nevio have joined the business as they have taken to shooing him off the premises in the afternoon so that he gets a break from the constant stream of orders for tea, cappuccino, rolls and dinners that he fields from behind the counter.
"We get busiest between
noon and 2pm and serve our last customer at five," he explains,
"but now they tell me to go home and freshen up in the afternoon
and I pop round to the pub for a couple of pints at about three-ish.
When I get back the kids have done the tidying and cleaning,
its great! Maria makes us all something to eat and we'll sit
down together in
Nevio has noticed that his customers have been much more willing to try something other than bacon sandwiches, chips and tea in recent years. "Now we serve cappuccinos and lots of pasta," he says. "More people want vegetarian food, but we still sell lots of steak pie."
When the Pelliccis' meal is finished, so is their working day, and Nevio shuts up shop at around 7pm. It's exhausting work and so, in August, the Pellicci clan shuts up shop for a month and heads back to Tuscany and the village from which it hailed nearly 100 years ago.
"We don't like closing," says Nevio, "but it's the only way to get a proper break - and it's always lovely to see our customers when we get back." ...
Are you ready to order?
| Daily Telegraph | 12 Mar 2005 | Jan
'Mum!" "What?" "One sultana sponge with custard, one jam roly-poly with custard and an apple crumble with custard, please." "Coming up."
No one stands on ceremony at Pellicci's. Son Nevio junior shouts the orders to his mother, Maria, in the kitchen, while his father, who was born in the flat upstairs 79 years ago, works the coffee machine. A cousin serves the tables and his sister makes sandwiches for the steady takeaway trade - big slices of fluffy white bread slapped around chunks of ham off the bone.
If you don't fancy that, there are another 35 varieties available, including liver and onion sandwiches, fried-egg rolls or the cultural collision that is corned beef on ciabatta.
Its 1.30pm and the tiny place is packed. We're all crammed in at the 10 or so Formica tables in a fug of bonhomie and espresso steam. Plates heaped with food stream out of the little hatch - grilled lamb chops with cabbage, kidneys and chips, home-made cannelloni with spinach and ricotta, chicken casserole, shepherd's pie, steak and kidney puddings, roast beef with roast potatoes and carrots. All priced at £4.40, except the braised steak, which is 20p more.
Mrs Pellicci makes most of the food herself. Nevio senior once bought her a Crypto chip-maker to lighten the load, but she didn't like the way it left bits of skin on the spuds, so reverted to doing it by hand. Her chips are huge, like potato kindling, and are served in eye-bogglingly generous measures.
"Try some of mum's veggie pie," Nevio junior encourages a non-meat-eater, while his cousin raps a teaspoon on a glass and calls for silence. "Attention, ladies and gentlemen," he shouts. "Phillip is leaving the building. A round of applause, please, because he's been here four hours."
As he exits, his innards swimming in tea, regular customer Phillip acknowledges his ovation with a regal wave, while over in another corner, someone who might well be the original Del-Boy snaps open a briefcase and passes around some spectacles. Then there is a moment's pause, as everyone in Pellicci's stops to sing happy birthday to a celebrating party, before resuming the serious business of lunch again.
"Here, mum gave you a little bit extra,'' says Nevio junior to S, as he slides over a plate of Maria's lasagne - a tower of layered pasta, with a summit of white sauce that might possibly need crampons and a rope to surmount. Piping hot and fresh from the oven, with the béchamel top bubbling and turning brown at the edges, it is straightforward and hearty.
I know plenty of restaurants that will sell you a lasagne at three times the price for a quarter of the size and it won't be half as good. Mrs Pellicci's steak pie is baked in a suety crust, with good-quality meat in a thick gravy that Nevio junior insists you have got to dip your chips in.
Pellicci's is in the news this week because it has just been awarded Grade II-listed building status by English Heritage, a remarkable step for a small cafe in the East End of London.
"Is that important?" was Nevio senior's response to the news, as he darted between tables serving the usual massive breakfasts one morning last week.
Well, yes. It means that Pellicci's glorious yellow Vitrolite façade and Art Deco-style marquetry panelled interior will be preserved, a living testament of an increasingly rare type of stylish Italian cafe that flourished in Britain during the inter-war years.
As branded coffee chains such as Starbucks continue to squeeze independent coffee shops off our streets, it is heartening news, particularly as even a cup of Pellicci's coffee is liquid history.
One sip of that weak, pale, milky brew and I am transported to teenage afternoons misspent in the similar types of Italian cafes that once proliferated in Scotland. And yes, the scalding coffee still forms a skin between sips, no matter how quickly you try to drink it.
Yet Pellicci's is much more than a neighbourhood cafe. Opened in 1900 by the Pelliccis, who hail from Tuscany, it has survived so long by giving the customers what they want. Nervio senior said it used to be all bacon sandwiches and cups of tea, but now customers want cappuccinos and pasta, sometimes even, oh, extra vegetables.
In the finest traditions of properly catering for their own community - and how many restaurants do that today, I wonder? - the emphasis at Pellicci's seems to be on feeding people as much and as decently as they can, as cheaply as they can, an arrangement that appears to suit everyone just fine.
One of their regulars is a taxi-driver called Bob, who comes in at 6.30am on the dot every Saturday for spaghetti bolognese, chips and a roll. A photograph of the soap actress Patsy Palmer adorns the wall - "To my favourite bread pudding gaff" - while Steven Berkoff, the actress Jessie Wallace, the Gallagher brothers of Oasis and even Robbie Williams have all been and signed the autograph book.
Not because Pellicci's is a culinary heritage site, but because here you can eat good, honest fare in an unpretentious atmosphere in a bygone world where chips are served with pasta and a potato is not a vegetable, but an entity all on its own, as in the menu description of roast beef with potatoes and one veg.
For pudding, we have jam tart with ice cream, syrup sponge with custard and a helicopter with winch to get us home. While the building may now be listed, a preservation order should be slapped on to the Pellicci family, whose old-school expertise and easy charm could be a masterclass in how to run a successful cafe.
I particularly love Nevio senior, with his neat pencil moustache, tie fastened to his crisp shirt with a gold clip - very professional - and his obvious pleasure in his customers and his business as he surveys his steamy, cosy fiefdom. He will be 80 in November, but shows no signs of slowing down.
"What would I retire for?"
he says. "What would I do?"