I spent a fair fraction of this holiday season in London visiting with friends and relatives. And, more importantly, getting a good fix of British food.
Yeah, I can hear the snickering now, and the jokes about “bangers and mash” and “spotted dick.” But, in all seriousness, London is one of the better towns I’ve been to for good eating, with some seriously good Indian food, some good German food, Cornish pasties, and all sorts of delectably good food.
But, before talking about those, I’ll concede that the good old fashioned “fry up” is still a cornerstone of the British culinary experience. And there is no better place to get a good fry-up than one of several “Caffs” around the greater London area.
One of the best examples is the Regency Cafe, at the corner of Page Street and Regency Street SW1 in Pimlico in Southwest London. Really, go look, it’s even on the Greasy SpoonWikipedia page, and a quick Google shows that there are several other bloggers that agree with this. And, luckily, it was only a five minute walk from where I was staying.
The Regency Cafe really has the British take on the Greasy Spoon down pat. Worn formica. A huge menu board featuring an improbably large number of permutations of the available breakfast items. At least one “set special” that’s a more-or-less complete fry-up. At least half the clientele are street sweepers, construction workers, and such (which, in London, almost all wear these bright orange safety vests, which gives the place an interesting orange hue during the day). And, upon ordering, all orders are yelled back to the kitchen, with more yelling when your order is ready (“BUBBLES, BEANS, UP!”). The exterior is an obvious holdover from the Art Deco phase in London architecture. And the decor features old boxing posters as well, so you can have a nice dose of pugilism with your bacon rolls.
Food wise, this is probably the least healthy place I could find to eat in London, but that’s what made it good. I opted for the set special, your basic fry-up. They did charge extra for toast (which was actually toasted, and not the fried bread you find at some of these joints), and coffee, but I can’t complain. The rest of the meal (at right) was two rashers of bacon, a sausage, beans, and eggs. The bacon was nicely crisp. The sausage was delicious, especially with a little dab of brown sauce. And of course, beans are the hallmark of any good breakfast (both here, and back home in New England). All sopped up with the toast as I ate.
My brother had a much simpler breakfast, two bacon rolls (also at right). An exercise in simplicity, but very well done. Too bad most places in the US don’t appreciate the complexities and subtlety of bacon.
1. It’s good to see that the fry-up is alive and well.
2. Britain has some seriously good bacon, and the important thing for cooks is to not screw it up by over or undercooking it, or doing bizarre and inexplicable things to it.
3. The clientele gives this place a wonderful, gritty ambiance. Even more so, the people running the counter are colorful.
4. This place has the most splendedly over-complicated coffeemaker I’ve ever seen outside of Italy. I wish I got a better picture of it.
1. Sorry, but the beans, while appreciated by me, were a little bland, even by British standard.
2. I’ve had more complete fry-ups. Here, the tomatoes and mushrooms are there, but cost extra. And I didn’t see black pudding on the menu.
All-in-all, this was a seriously good breakfast. Now to call the cardiologist.