Phil Gyford


Thursday 22 July 2004

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Finding a decent, simple cafe in central London is surprisingly tricky (that’s cafe pronounced ‘caff’). If you’re after food that doesn’t come with a rocket salad, and isn’t a hybrid of cuisines from warmer parts of the world, it can take some hunting. There are still classic cafes where egg, bacon chips and beans form the bulk of the menu but they seem to be disappearing.

Last night the five minute post-Channel 4 News spot was apparently about the closing of the New Piccadilly on London’s Denman Street, just off the bright lights of the eponymous tourist traffic jam. I didn’t see the programme, and can’t find anything on Channel 4’s website, but this great Independent article from a year ago shows things were already coming to an end.

I’ve been to the New Piccadilly a couple of times and now, of course, wish I’d been more. I’m not sure it was the best caff food in the world but the decor, atmosphere and waiters’ uniforms more than made up for it. It was, perhaps, a little more formal than your average caff but there is joy in all their simple pleasures. Last Friday I was sitting, reading the paper, in the Friary Cafe in Bristol (a friendly place that does a good all day breakfast and tables are usually shared with strangers) and I really could have barely been happier.

The forced replacement of places like the New Piccadilly is one of the downsides of urban renewal and gentrification. I find the process fascinating, despite the fear that my favourite haunts may soon be replaced with something new, but worse. I’ll save my interest in gentrification for another time however…


For more on the history of Caff's, this Sundays Food Programme on Radio 4 (sun july 25) is devoted entirely to the topic. Sunday, 12.30pm, and then for 7 days on demand after that.

One of the interviewees is the guy behind

The films Channel 4 were showing were compiled from a 15 minute short film directed by Paul Kelly and with a score from Saint Etienne that was premiered at the Barbican a few months back.
Caff was also the title of a late 80s/early 90s fanzine/label run by Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley that released early tracks by Pulp, and the Manic Street Preachers and here's Bob with an eulogy to formica top cafes from The Times as reprinted in Classic Cafes.

They've also just released a very fine "back to mine" type compilation (mostly doe eyed 60s britgirls, northern, philly, reggae and The Searchers) in honour of their favourite cafe. "Songs for Mario's Cafe".

Posted by jem on 22 July 2004, 1:04 pm | Link

I've missed something here, don't every remember going to one of these 'classic' caffs. Earliest recollections of eating out were in Department Store self service cafeteriers. My first McDonalds was 1985 Kensington High Street. Other than that I recall lots of small cafes which tended to be run by Italians, these were not pizza places.

Posted by Richard Hyett on 23 July 2004, 4:30 am | Link

The Channel 4 programme was called "Today's Special" - lasts 5 minutes at 7.55 pm - and was either three times last week, or once every week (for another 2 weeks - I didn't see it either - no TV at present). Anyway, here's a review by Nancy Banks Smith:,,1264966,00.html

Posted by Glyn on 24 July 2004, 6:14 pm | Link

Yep Today's Special (on Caffs) was Mon, Tue, Weds last week.

Of course the American parallel to this is the end of the diner. See this piece in New York magazine. "The Death of the Diner: What

Posted by jem on 25 July 2004, 11:34 am | Link

Sorry to hear that... Along with my annoyance at the lack of decent Mexicans in London, I wish there were more/any American-style diners. I ate at so many on my trip to California earlier in the year, and I do miss them. They'd make a nice alternative to all day breakfasts.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 25 July 2004, 1:54 pm | Link

The Observer ran a piece yesterday with similar interviewees as the Food Programme on the closing of the New Piccadilly.
"Greasy spoon caffs are crushed by coffee giants" -,6903,1273688,00.html

Posted by jem on 2 August 2004, 1:05 pm | Link

There are plenty of caffs outside the centre, but you're right, within zone 1 they're getting pretty thin on the ground (especially if you go west of the Fleet).

There are a few US style diners in London - there's one in Shoreditch we've visited a couple of times, called, imaginatively, The Diner, for example - and candace seems to like them, but I'm not sure if she really thinks of them as authentic. Hash browns are a sticking point. We tried to go the the Breakfast Club in Angel last Sunday, which apaprently does them properly (shredded, not croquettes, if you were wondering), but it was full of hip 20somthings. Obviously we need to get up earlier, or something.

Posted by Paul Mison on 3 August 2007, 2:39 pm | Link

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