Real, authentic London cafes | A greasy spoon voyage 

From the Bridge Cafe featured on The Apprentice to the 70-year-old Regency Cafe in Westminster, London's cafes are among the strongest remnants of the capital's culture.

Number One Cafe London


NOUN, British slang

A cafe.

I had one mission, to search for London’s real Holy Grail – the Heritage Caff. A few criteria helped me locate these dwindling yet adored businesses. These were:

  • No bread-based sausage served
  • A history of at least 30 years
  • Must serve bubble and squeak
  • Smashed avocado must not be served
  • Closed on a Sunday 

As I ventured out on my Full English expedition, I reminded myself of why the Caff is so important to London culture in an era of protest and political unrest. It’s a safe haven for the unhealthy whilst also being a non-judgemental space that lets your gluttonous traits loose.

Not only does it satisfy the stomach, but it ripens the heart and is a visual feast for the Londoner or occasional culinary tourist. To ensure London’s Caff culture was correctly represented, I began my tour in South West before slowly making my way to the East via North London. 

The Electric Café – 258 Norwood Rd, West Norwood, London SE27 9AJ

Dating back to 1901, The Electric Café is undoubtedly the most handsome cafe in London. Stylistically the interior is an eclectic clutter of the 1940s to 1970s décor; every corner of the room boasts a plethora of obsolete vintage objects to catch your eye. As I conversed with the charming joint owners, a Greek-Cypriot mother and son, about their experiences in the Caff sector, I immediately felt as if time and space were bending around me. 

‘Everything is changing in London, just look at Brixton now – we are still here surviving. We have to, for our customers’ sake.’ Stavros

Not only does Electric transport you to a fantastical yet unknown time and place in London’s history, but their food is also exceptional, serving a supreme breakfast with the addition of some seasonal in-house specials.

READ MORE: The true story behind London’s worst-rated restaurant

Max Café – 345 Wandsworth Rd, London SW8 2JH

My local Caff based in Stockwell has taken care of me for years. Every time I swing open that door, the owner, Max, is sitting on the first table by the counter, hosting a warm smile with the predetermined knowledge that my hangover needs an immediate fried solution.

As I sat down for my umpteenth breakfast, I gazed up at my favourite alternative artefact in London, a shrine to Joan Collins. Not any old shrine either. It’s a double-shelved bookcase housing a full 1982 Encyclopaedia Britannia collection and a signed portrait of Joan balancing on top.

‘Joan Collins came in by herself one day to look at my café for a music video, we talked for ages and then she had a Full English breakfast right where you are sat young man.’ – Max

Bridge Café – Westfields Rd, West Acton, London W3 0AP

I arrived at Bridge Café just as British brothers Frank and Jerry were packing down; initially, they were quite rightly hesitant to chat as each day the café is home to numerous TV tourists who have travelled to see ‘the losers café on The Apprentice’.

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In the window, a pyramid of ‘You’re Fired’ mugs, priced at £7.99 each, stands precariously, which is unquestionably one of the seven wonders of the London Caff world (alongside the Joan Collins shrine and Electric Cafés vintage CCTV camera).

As we squeezed around the poky Caff, it was evident that the brothers were true London Legends as they rattled off a long list of TV stars and sports personalities that had eaten ham, eggs and chips at Bridge Café.

‘We’re old now, but if we stopped, there would be no one to row with. I get bored at home with no one to row with.’ – Frank

Regency Café – 17-19 Regency St, Westminster, London SW1P 4BY

Arguably the most eminent Caff on my short list Regency Café opened its doors over 70 years ago in the bustling streets of Westminster. An art deco lover’s paradise, the interior sports original pale yellow tiling, brown plastic seats and Formica-topped tables.

Regency Café has been crowned one of London’s top ‘restaurants’ by numerous food critics and journalists;. However, the food is excellent and outrageously affordable. I feel that it is just the critics’ disingenuous way of appearing to be more human. I chatted with Alistair (husband to one of the English Italian owners, Claudia Perotti) as local blokes poured in for some afternoon tea and traditional English food.

Some of you reading this may recognise Regency Café from Layer Cake, Brighton Rock, Pride and most recently Rocketman.

‘I used to work at Northern Rock before it all crashed, so I started working for my wives business here. It was temporary to start with but it is really hard not to fall in love with this place. It’s a place where men can sneak off from their wives and get some quality food that their wives may not approve of.’ – Alistair

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The Station Café – 17 Station Terrace, Kensal Green, London NW10 5RX

I headed over to North London to the busiest cafe of the day, The Station Café, situation seconds away from Kensal Rise station. As I walked in, I realised there was no messing about in here; plastic table mats with faded photographs of Full English and the sound of metal scraping against china hit me all at once.

Although it may not have been as striking and ‘pretty’ as some of the others, it emphasised the importance of what the English breakfast is to a ravenous and fatigued Londoner.

Honourable Mentions

Number 1 Café – 36-38 Well St, London E9 7PX

Deep in Hackney number 1 café has found recent fame from featuring as a location in the second series of Top Boy.

Sheperdess Café – 221 City Rd, Hoxton, London EC1V 1JN

On the corner of the busy City Road lies Shepherdess Café, a traditional and typical haunt for East Londoners. Also featured as a location in Richard Eyre’s British classic Notes On A Scandal.

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