Regency Café- the Best English Breakfast in London
Get the full feeling of a classic full English breakfast in one of London’s oldest ‘cafs’; arguably the best English restaurant in London for this archetypal dish.
The Regency Cafe has just been voted London’s fifth best restaurant by over one million users of Yelp, a review website. What’s so good about it?
I expect my bread and butter puddings to arrive crisply blow-torched on top, with a dusting of icing sugar. Crafted, possibly, from layers of perfumed panettone, with a sprig of mint on the side.
This one was a huge soggy Chelsea bun swimming in thick custard. A dish as far removed from haute cuisine as Poundland is from Prada.
But the Regency Cafe Victoria, in a Westminster side street, has been voted London’s fifth best restaurant by over one million users of Yelp, a user-generated review website. Happy customers have left comments on the site raving about “the brilliant, gorgeous old school café”. Many of them are Americans baffled by the “bold service” (you have to collect your food from the counter, and occasionally get shouted at), but they claim they would fly all the way back to Britain just to spend another half-hour in this eatery.
The Regency beats such places as the eponymous deli run by Israeli chef Ottolenghi, where the meals are laced with exotic sumac, saffron and dukkah; and the Wolseley Restaurant in Piccadilly, where coffee is served from silver pots, and the waiters glide between Hollywood stars and tycoons of industry.
The only stars at the Regency I could see, when I visited yesterday, were a faded signed picture of Frank Sinatra on the wall, alongside a signed picture of the 1962 Tottenham Hotspur FA Cup winning team.
The prices, too, are a world apart. At the Wolseley, eggs benedict will set you back £14. At the Regency it costs £4.
The eggs at the Westminster café are fried rather than delicately poached as they should be, but the hollandaise sauce was pretty decent. And chips on the side were fat, crispy, English chips – not those matchstick excuses of French fries that seem to have colonised restaurants.
Add another 90 pence if you want a mug of tea. Proper builders’ tea, the stuff that once fuelled the docks, factories and steelworks of Britain; a mug of pure, liquid copper.
The most expensive item on the menu was the lunch of the day: fresh roast pork for £6.20. The prices are clearly a major draw. Claudia Perotti, the manager and daughter of the co-owner of the café, says 95 per cent of customers are regulars. “Business is OK. Everyone is feeling the pinch, but we have a very loyal fan base.”
The place was full, mostly with builders, taxi drivers, the odd office worker and a few slightly disorientated tourists. By lunchtime it was filling up and queues were starting to build for tables.
Keith Chambers, a foreman from a local building site, says he comes every day for lunch because “it isn’t too fancy here. I can’t stand fancy places with all those baguettes and salads.” There are no baguettes on the menu at the Regency. Just bloomers.
Yesterday, he was tucking into burger, eggs, and chips.
Perotti says the popularity of the café, which opened in 1947, is not just its low prices and hearty food, but also the atmosphere. The decor is unrelentingly half a century out of joint: original ceramic tiles on the walls, lino floor (patched with yellow gaffer tape), Formica tables with grimy bottles of tomato ketchup, brown sauce, Colman’s mustard and gingham curtains around the bottom-half of the windows.
The café was used as the set for the films Layer Cake (2004) and a remake of Brighton Rock in 2010.
“People says this harks back to the old days; we are the old days,” says Perotti. “Our view is that we are dying breed, one of the last traditional cafés around. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
There are plenty of “retro” cafés around, many of whom spend a fortune trying to replicate the authentic feel of the Regency. But the Hoxton hipsters never get it right. The menu boards are too artfully chalked up; the sausages too artisanal; the bread even has seeds in it.
This, however, is the real deal. It lacks finesse, the food is unsubtle, and the service is a little rough around the edges – Perotti bellows out customers’ orders at the volume level of a pneumatic drill. But it works.
And the bread and butter pudding? After my initial shock that it looked like a school dinner spotted dick, I tucked into one of the most unctuous, creamy, puddings possible. A great hunk of love being hugged by a lake of custard. It wasn’t pretty but it tasted good.
The Regency Café address: 17-19 Regency Street, London, SW1P 4BY
The Regency Cafe Opening Hours: Mondays-Saturdays 7am-2:30pm, and 4pm-7:15pm. Closed on Sundays.