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Cafe: Vauxhall Bridge Road

These are the best of the classic cafes left standing largely unharmed in London. Note that most keep odd early closing times at the weekends - and often during the week for that matter. Few open more than a couple of hours on Saturdays. In the long-term all are under threat. Catch 'em now whilst they're still standing.

Click here > for an at-a-glance Top Ten cafe guide.
Click here > for Central London establishments.
Click here > for the abbreviated No. 8 bus London Caff Tour.

Also, here's the full unexpurgated Central London Cafe Tour that was put together for Architecture Week 17-26 June 2005...

Regent Snack Bar interior (RIP), Edgware Road W2


Cafe [Vauxhall Bridge Road, near Causton Street SW1] NEW
"Plain-style cafe with Formica-topped counter & aluminium detailing, glass display cabinet, wooden benches and some Formica-topped tables. Authentic food and clientele." (Patrick Turland) ... "Worth a look if visiting Tony's in Chapter Street. This cafe appears to have no name... recognisable by its yellow canopy. Inside is a gloomy, tiny space: ancient, creaking wooden benches and worn grey Formica topped tables are complemented by a 50s vintage journeyman counter with a glass cabinet complete with suitably old-fashioned looking buns and cakes. The menu is limited. A half-arsed attempt at sprucing the place up appears to have taken place sometime in the 80s. However, as the furniture was retained this is hardly noticeable. Moreover, the patina of dirt which appears to cover everything also reduces the impact of these minor cosmetic changes. Highlights are the classic Pyrex 50s coffee cups and saucers (which you probably won't get unless you're a regular.) The folded paper napkins, and the pyramid display of orange and apple juice cartons. With only about eight small booths, time your visit wisely to get a good spot - it gets busy from abut 12.15 onwards. Not open weekends or evenings." (Ian Turnbull) ... "I wondered if you were aware of a little gem of a place at 11 Vauxhall Bridge Road? According to the staff it's called Cafe (as in Kaff). The lovely grey haired lady serving me said it was over 50 years old, and is owned by the son of the original owner. It's a tiny place, very modest, with wooden tables and benches - presumably not original - but they are decades old. There is a nice yellow Formica counter. There are a couple of modern fridges, which is a pity, but this is one of the nicest places I know of in the area, and the staff are quite lovely. The food's good, too." (Julius Welby)

Tevere [St Peter St SW1P] NEW
is [a chalet-style caff] on the junction of Marsham St and Great Peter St in Westminster. All milk chocolate brown inside - dark wood panels and grey net curtains - the waitresses are black-clad Roman ladies always just slightly annoyed at your very existence. Punters are House of Commons researchers sobbing over their MP's infidelities, grumbling hacks and passed-over civil servants in shiny suits gossiping and grinding their teeth. A moribund masterpiece. And the tea is nice.

Cafe [Redchurch Street E2] NEW
Hidden in what once must have been a thriving little community on the edge of Hoxton (and close by the Spitalfields market) this little find is very similar to the old Tea Rooms as was. Blue painted wooden exterior, Helvetica sign, net curtains and inside an amazing worn old wallpaper patterned interior looking onto a parlour full of old Formica tables, shabby Lino flooring and a proper caff counter. A great find which can't be long for this world in an area that is fast being Loft-ed street by street.

Dave's Diner [Battersea Park Road SW8] NEW
Very much in the 'plain' style, Dave's sports a good old Coke-sign frontage and a miraculously preserved interior slightly to the south of Battersea Park. There's a generous spread of faded red Formica tables inside and proper Thonet chairs throughout. There's also a period ceiling fan; one wall lined with old collectible plates; another displaying a light-up mechanical 3D map of the word; an original 50s Bakelite heater in the corner; old awnings; original cash register; wooden spoon on wall... In short, a corking local of a type in short supply. Hot tip: avoid the charred sausages but don't miss the voyage thru the kitchens to the rancid back yard ablutions!

C. Notarianni [Battersea High Street SW11] NEW
Long-standing Italian cafe site that retains a fair amount of its 1950s atmosphere and charm. The external seaside deco shopfront is magnificent.

Metropolitan [Edgware Road W2] RIP
Just down from where the Regent Milk Bar used to be, this longstanding local features lots of
green and cream Vitrolite and an original plastic deco counter with stylish moderne lettering. Joe Strummer and Paul Simenon were regulars in the late 1970s and the old place briefly appears to no great effect in the execrable Clash vehicle Rude Boy. See also...

Sunsnacks Cafe [Lisson Grove NW1] NEW
Top find almost opposite the dole office where, legend has it, Joe Strummer was first approached by Mick Jones and Paul Simenon to form The Clash (see also Metropolitan Cafe just down the road). Fine wooden-backed booths with proper leatherette.

Rendez-Vous [56 Maddox St W1] RIP 2004

This is one of the very best caffs left standing between Oxford Circus and Bond St. It's located in a lovely enclave that's also handy for that venerable Soho original, the Chalet. Good prices and open until 4.00pm on Saturdays - rare for central London. Arranged like a domestic parlour, all the classic elements are present and correct: swell tables and amazingly good chairs; lights; counters and lashings of warm Formica on the walls along with the celebrity signed pix (though Kevin Rowland's picture has vanished in disgrace!) Gaze longingly at the outside Espresso Bongo-like sign and reflect on just how good life can be down Moribundia way...

More > Rendez-Vous special

Parma [Seymour Place / Marble Arch end] W1. RIP
The main window bay appears to date from the 1900s and is completely unchanged from the days when it was probably an Edwardian shopfront. The original 50s cafe signs in the panes remain intact - a real rarity for this part of town. The sills are full of choking old plants above which hang three large beguiling chalet lamps. As if this wasn't enough the doorway is of original mid-century design with a fine circular handle and a cheery coloured 'Open' sign quite unmatched anywhere else in central London! Hooray. The interior is all dark steamy oppressive fake wood. A very good selection of Formica tables but, unfortunately, no matching seating - on this occasion we'll let this pass as the Parma's compensating charms are overwhelming. We particulary like the grand tea-boiler fronted by a small breakfast bar with two swivel stools. And best of all, the Parma is tucked into a pretty London street-that-time-forgot. Well worth a long, drawn out visit with a follow-on trip to the nearby...

Buscot Dairy [Molyneux Street W1] NEW
Beautifully sited in the base of a lovely mansion block in a truly forgotten area of the West End north of Oxford St, this place retains four good caramel booths, old wall heaters and some original signage in the windows. The entire frontage looks very 1940s and the cafe seems to be attached to an incredibly narrow - only 6ft wide - block of flats. Obviously once a local dairy, there's no other exterior quite like it in London. A real find.

Pacific Fish Bar [King Street W6] NEW
In the down at heel end of King Street Hammersmith, opposite the UGC cinema. (In the same parade of shops there is a secondhand magazine store, just as there is in Rochester Row next to the Italian Restaurant). The Pacific has a truly awesome sign, sadly no longer illuminated at night, but it must have been a stunner. Behind the counter is an equally impressive menu board in yellow and blue. Tables are a lovely pale green Formica which may be more recent than the authentically battered red leatherette seating. Wall paneling is a newish wood effect, the lights are awful but the triumph of this place is the magnificent pale green, orange and chrome counter. To get the full effect of this lovely cafe, sit at the back. Clientele are certainly authentic: single, cheerless diners who have been coming in so long that they just sit and are served without ordering. (Richard Gray)

Chelsea Kitchen [King's Road SW3] NEW
Long established coffee bar-ish place dating back to the 1960s with nice period booths and banquettes upstairs and a roomy downstairs basement full of alcoves. (The Picasso cafe down the road retains its original sign-though little else-from an era when it too was a key Kings Road hangout with Martin Amis and Anita Pallenberg among the regulars.)

Dino's [Pelham St SW7] NEW
Built into South Ken tube, this is a roomy restaurant/cafe with a decent spread of lodge-style tables and chairs, fluted panel walls, masses of hanging, iron chalet lights and - best of all - three large pleasant murals on the back wall. The usual ersatz Italiana, but gently understated and thankfully non-corporate - which is something of a miracle for SW7. Open until 10.30-ish pm most nights. Coffees and pastries served at all times.

Dom's [Green Lanes N13 just south of Palmers Green] NEW
Lovely lettering on the exterior and an interior still packing plenty of classic punch: leather banquettes, Formica tables, lime green 'target' clock above the counter, small cylindrical lights hung from the ceiling, mugs which tapered down to a base shaped like a screw-in lightbulb Too many Pre-Raphealite prints rather the spoil the effect, but at least there's still a bit of 1960s style in there. Staff are friendly and the tea is strong. Lovely. (The nexus of shops around Dom's have a great air of Morinbundia to them. None better than the Christening/Wedding Outifitters called 'Lollipops'. (Ross McFarlane)

Don's [Lower Clapton Road E5] NEW
Almost as turbid as the Clapton Ponds it stands next to, with its creaky double-fronted exterior and unremitting drab decor, this caff seems to be perpetually on its last legs. Orders are written in felt-tip pen on an ancient piece of plastic on the counter which is then wiped clean. Don's chirpy whistling (and the accompanying polka music) is a unique selling pointalong with the big fat caff cat.

Lorelei [Bateman St W1] NEW
Despite being slapbang in the Hoxton Fin epicentre of Little Tyneside [nee Soho], this little place really packs in all the requisites. And more besides. For starters the Italian flag exterior and the lovely old sign are all absolutely untouched. A long perusal of the exterior is bound to lift the spirits. The inside resembles a miniature village hall circa 1958 - linoleum floor; minimalist square formica tables, shabby posters walls; tiny serving area with swooshing coffee machine; creaky wooden chairs and - best of all - pretty well no customers. Most of the nosh appears to come straight from hidden microwaves secreted in some off-limits alcove but space is always guaranteed and anywhere that's this deliberately off-putting to the average Soho schlepp merchant in an area seething with rip-off wannabe Shoreditch shiteholes has unequivocally got our vote. See also the mighty Presto, Pollo and Centrale cafe/restaurants just off - or near - Cambridge Circus. Hot tip: Look carefully at the sign on the side of the restaurant. The club is through an anonymous door and - legend has it - is the strip club that all the other local strippers retire to when their own gaffs have closed.

Scotti's Snack Bar [Clerkenwell Green EC1] NEW
2001 gets off to a great start with the find of the year to date. This is what it's all about. An absolute timewarp in a wonderful area surrounded by churches, fine industrial architecture and the myriad attractions of Little Italy. This little place is packed with cabbies and features a roll call of honour vis a vis vital caff qualities: great panel ceiling; stupendous grey op-art formica wall panels; grade-A chairs; classic counters and 50s shelving throughout; attentive Italian staff; fine lights; good clocks; kitsch parlour paintings; textured 40s wallpaper; confection displys...every last detail is right. A wonderland. Come find yourself. Even we're not sure why this isn't in the Best Of... section.

St John's Cafe [Jerusalem Passage EC1] RIP 2003
Almost as good as Scotti's, this place has an even better frontage with an early 20thC serif typeface but seems to be in a lost alleyway not shown on the A-Z. If that doesn't fry your onions then you have no business browsing this site. Get back to your double mochha latte with frothy decaf guano or better still stand in a line at any branch of Benjy's until your will to live is atrophied by hopeless sandwich-chain eyesore in-store design infelicities. We mean it maaaannnnn. The St John's also features a mysterious stairway [again, as per Scotti's] promising all sorts of hidden upstairs delights. An overwhelmingly beautiful treat in the magnificent caffscape of EC1 - fast becoming the centre of classic cafe conservation. A word to the wise: Visit this place and Scotti's now, then come back each day at the same time for the next twenty years... at the same table! Just like the regulars. You know it makes sense. Warning, may be full of graphic designers and web monkeys. So, bring own combats and tin-tin tonsure to be on the safe side. Not.

Star Cafe [219 Whitechapel Rd] NEW
OK caff. We like this for its acres of proper 70s caramel booths and general air of Spitalfielded squalor. Also because it reminds us of the place - fleetingly seen - at the start of 'Bedazzled'. If you are not familiar with the original Stanley Donen film [widescreen version only please!] or the cataclysmicaly fine soundtrack composed by the blessed Dudley Moore then please follow the instructions above re: Benjy's. However, this time be sure to enter with a large Hari Kari blade and disembowel yourself over the sandwich displays. Well, what are you waiting for - a brackish Starbucks espresso with a triple mochha tosser-surprise spritzer probably. Am I right, or am I right?

Regent Cafe [Whitcomb St WC2 - behind National Gallery] NEW
Decent little plain cafe with three brown booths at the back. Nice sign hanging outside - mostly frequented by office workers. Good counter, crap ceiling and rather quotidian interior if the truth be told but this is in an impressive little enclave with a magnificent old barber shop ' Croses' just up the street. Good to see it hidden off the main tourist drag of Trafalgar Sq too. That's how we like 'em - pensive and withdrawn!


The Mug of Tea [Cambridge Heath Rd E8] RIP

One of only a very few caffs in these desolate industrial heartlands, surrounded by endless artist squat studios... With its chirpy green sign and stacked-high grimy windows this looks quite hopeful, but once inside you find that all the light fittings are naff 1970s salvage and that the counter is defaced by injudicious B&Q coverings. Seats however are a plus point and the tables - though covered - seem to be of proper vintage. What saves the day is the wood panelling half way up the walls throughout. Possibly worth a visit in either of two circumstances: 1) you get lost en route to London Fields 2) you get lost on the way to the nearby Metropolis lapdance emporium. It's your call...


Muratori [Farringdon Rd/Margery St] NEW
Great black-cab driver's gaffe perched on the rising road up from Kings Cross to Mount Pleasant and opposite the disgusting Holiday Inn. This all-in-brown cafe retains superb panels throughout and a great recessed door leading to the ablutions. Walls are scattered with stills from The Godfather [alongside portraits of Sinatra and Lollabrigida] and the tables are top-notch brown formica veneer with classic chairs at each one. There are two good high backed booth style sections. It's Italian family run and always rammed with cabbies in extremely high-spirits. A chocolate coloured gem somewhat reminiscent of Amsterdam's better 'brown bars.' Don't be put off by the 70s bubble-lettering logo. This is a swell cafe full of plain and simple character. Pretty cheap food too: eggs, beans & chips £2.30! And no Hoxton Fins! Have they taken leave of their senses? More > Muratori Pic Special

Mandy's [Mare St E8] NEW
Wretched exterior sign but the inside seems suitably down-at-heel. Included [as per The Mug of Tea] more for its East End rarity value than anything else. Again, useful to know about if you're trawling galleries and exhibitions in the area. Another Category 3 candidate that could be worth keeping an eye on.

Cafe Bliss [Dalston Rd E8] NEW
Most certainly a prime sight, though the old sign [a large orange 60s panel saying CAFE] was better. This place has been taken over but the nice interior survives and makes for a great local cafe experience. This IS worth a voyage - difficult to get to if you aren't local but the dark emerald formica table tops and polished little leatherette booths confer high Category 2 kudos with an impending promotion to Cat 1 a distinct possibility. Bliss also scores highly for having Edward Hopper prints on the walls. Someone overseeing this place has the right idea and deserves applause if only for keeping the old place running in its original shell. Bravo

George's [Leytonstone High St E11] NEW
Disgusting modern aluminium frame-window frontage but the grey op-art formica table check patterning is good along with the dark plum panels and off-white lumpy walls hung with crap celebrity autographs [Cilla, Beadle, Tarrant etc.] Incredibly cheap too: £1.00 for a mug of tea and bacon sandwich as of July 2000! Surely some kind of record for the London area? Leytonstone is worth a lookover if only for the monumental 40s library with its breathtaking stone foyer and the spooky church and overgrown graveyard opposite full of soiled, yowling alchos. There also seem to be an unusual amount of interesting looking old 'centres' for rehabilitees of all stripes. A good enclave. Take a peek too at...

Percy Ingle [Leytonstone High St E11]

With its original 1950s sineage left sparklingly intact (as nature intended), the feisty Percy Ingle chain in the East End is a pleasant choice for cakes and pastries. You often see the shops dotted around the area, filled with sprightly grannies hot for tea-time treats - and who are we to mock? There's way too much orange plastic on display (wholly contravening Classic Cafes' 'essential' dictums) but we like the Ingle approach, and can just about forgive their recalcitrance on the modular seating front. Other branches can be seen to good effect in Bethnal Green Road. But the E11 branch has by far the best outlook and seems to retain a stupendous original orange teapot logo that brings a tear to the eye. One for the trainspotters.


Princess [Leytonstone High St E11]

Just before you get to George's in Leytonstone you might run into this chirpy little place - now closed - with tantalising net curtains and moribund mien. Look through the windwos and you see the old tables and chairs scattered and the small caff sign above the door harking back to happier times...


Wilton [Wilton Rd SW1] NEW
Splendid little 'plain style' find - again, right in the heart of Victoria. This area is really becoming the number one spot to find proper cafes sprinkled in their natural habitat. Here we have a top sign, cracking powder blue marbelised flooring and neat rosewood and black leatherette booths. Good menu. Well worth a look.

Express [Mayfair Shepherd's Market] RIPish
After the shockingly sad demise of the late, lamented Ginos nearby, this has got to be the only authentic cafe left in this neck of the woods. Great frontage in the classic style and small but perfectly formed formica n' table interior. Thank God this gem survives. Has a definite feel of Graham Green just about to set up an assignation inside. A nice touch is the 'model for hire' red-light perched in the window of the flat above and the welcoming open doorway. Apparently a throwback to the friendly old Mayfair of yore! Heritage Britain at its best. Lovely.

Olympic [Dawes Rd SW6] NEW
Notable for the wall to wall gingham interior which can be spotted from the bus through the superbly greying net curtains.

Stan's [Brick Lane E1] RIP Jun 2002
Just up from the SARM east studios. Blinding orange frontage but poor metal window surrounds. This is worth a visit for the overwhelming teak-effect formica and dark, humid atmosphere. The sort of ambience this part of Spitalfields does so well. A poor relation to the legendary Rossi and the spookily uninhabited Market caff but worth a punt. Actually, on second thoughts, the Vernassa is a much better variation on the same theme near Petticoat Lane. Then again, anything's better than the dismal Vibe Bar graphic-designer-theme-park mindset that's disfigured the entire area. Harvester for Hoxton-ites. Hrmmmphhhh.

Sak [GIllingham St SW1] NEW
Thai restaurant by evening and possibly during the day. A suitably lost little place on a nowhere-corner in deepest Victoria. A fine array of solid wooden tables and chairs but little else in the way of decor to recommend it. Sums up the dead, polluted feel of this part of SW1 near the station.

Jenny's [Wilton Rd SW1] RIP
Horrific outside sign that is truly off-putting but...the interior is a huge surprise with a large lurid lit mural in 70s style and a big selection of decent booths to choose from. Usually with this sort of place the interior is reworked catastrophically along with the exterior refit but here it's been left well alone. Quite worthwhile.

Fiesta [Horseferry Rd SW1] RIP
Good ext. 60s plainstyle int. Good lights above counter area and roomy booths. Excellent logo and ceiling details. Fine 60s plain-styling tucked into a large municipal block of a kind which will probably become increasingly fashionable. The front sign above the window is worth pondering all on its own.

Phoenix [Coldharbour Lane SW2]
Great little local next to the best second hand bookshop in South London. Fine service and good tables. Magnificent chips. Brilliant thick sliced toast. Fast becoming a local legend.

West One [Wells St off Oxford St] RIP 2002
Useful little plain cafe near Brunchies - good plum coloured seating and decent tables in the back area.

Terminus Snack Bar [Brixton Tube arcade]RIP 2000
Amazing turquoise and orange 70s style Italian cafe ­ great selection of Italian cakes. Startling array of tiling in horrific 70s colours. Included here for its secluded quality rather than the period fitings.

Rheidol Rooms [St Peters St/Islington N1]
Good plain cafe. Yellow formica and good chairs and tables throughout.


Regency Cafe [Page St SW1]
Imposing black tile Deco exterior with lovely Gill typface logo. Walls and ceiling are good but all the original tables and seating have been removed from the interior leaving the old place looking very out of sorts. Built into the base of a 1930s block of mansion flats, the Regency is often used for period film shoots...

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