Why London Loves A Greasy Spoon

Helen Graves
By Helen Graves Last edited 24 months ago
Why London Loves A Greasy Spoon
Old faithful — London's greasy spoons. Photo by Andy Matthews via the Londonist Flickr Pool.

The greasy spoon caff is so very British. London is littered with them, and nearly every area will have at least one, probably two, maybe three or four. They’re so much a part of the furniture, sizzling away in the background, ready to lean on when the time is right.

When you’re strapped for cash or hungover, they tick all the boxes — you’re fed a lot of food for hardly any money, and it’s possible to rock up having just rolled out of bed without anyone batting an eyelid. We remember, with fondness, one favourite haunt, a (cough) leader in its field and pioneer in its cooking methods, by which we mean they used to deep fry pretty much everything. It’s quite a shock to receive deep fried bacon and sausages when you’re not expecting them. Tea would come in random mugs, stained and chipped, collected over the years and stacked in the window, ready to be grabbed by a hairy hand and filled with steaming tea from an urn. There’s a unique flavour and mouthfeel to urn brew; it’s almost chewy, thick with limescale. Still, there is something oddly satisfying about it. No matter how poorly made, the spot is always hit.

The food has similar restorative powers, despite concerns about quality. The oddly pasty sausages, the bacon fat that could do with crisping and eggs… well the eggs are the measure of the place. It’s such a joy to be presented with two wibbly amber yolks, quivering sunny side up, daring you to burst them. Eggs flipped over and fully cooked? Time to move on, my friend. Mushrooms, beans, tomato, chips, fried slice; the rest is just personal preference. Red and brown sauces languish in scuzzy plastic containers — and scuzzy they must be. Flick the nozzle, avoid the crust, squeeze the sauce, and watch your t-shirt. It’s never HP or Heinz, but a vaguely familiar imposter, found exclusively in establishments serving fry ups.

We visit the ‘spoon rarely these days, perhaps once a year slipping into the plastic, screwed-to-the-floor chairs and succumbing to a pappy bread sandwich, sauce wiped from chin with a scratchy white serviette.

A criminal lack of oozy yolk.

On the rare occasions that the steamed up doors are darkened, the appeal is about more than the food. There is familiarity, accessibility, an open-to-all absence of airs or expectations on the part of punter and patron. The greasy spoon satisfies and hugs in a strange and basic way.

There’s a comforting monotony, too; a sense that the world keeps turning, life goes on, and you’ll always be welcome no matter what. There are youngsters, keen to slip in without having to brush their hair, elderly people, perhaps solitary, sparking up chit chat with strangers; and there are people from the fringes, dropping in with regularity, anchoring themselves to society via eggs, beans and formica. By early afternoon the caff is shuttered, staff gone home to rest, ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Where are London’s Best Greasy Spoons?

There are some famous caffs in London, such as Regency Café, known for its art deco frontage and (because of said frontage) for appearing in the films Layer Cake and the 2010 remake of Brighton Rock. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to see tourists inside. It’s not our favourite, but it is worth visiting just to experience the booming voice of the lady who shouts out the orders. Don’t jump and spill your tea, now.

Regency Cafe, 17-19 Regency St, London SW1P 4BY

London's famous art deco fronted caff. Photo by shadow_in_the_water via the Londonist Flickr pool.

Rock Steady Eddie’s in Camberwell is a classic example of its kind. Visit for chewy white baps, questionable saucing, and amusing notes about customers’ personal hygiene on the walls.

Rock Steady Eddie's, 2 Coldharbour Lane, Camberwell, SE5 9PR

Customer notice at Rock Steady Eddie's, Camberwell.

Author of The Breakfast Bible, Seb Emina (a.k.a Malcolm Eggs), laments the closure of his favourite caff, telling us, “my favourite ever greasy spoon was Muratori's, between King's Cross and Farringdon. It was where the postal workers and taxi drivers all went. When I was writing the book, I'd meet one of the other contributors there about once a month. We said it was for work but that was just an excuse. It was run by a lovely old woman called Vita, her daughter and a chef with an amazing knack for poaching eggs. They'd all been there for decades. "You must have loads of amazing stories," we once asked the chef and he said, "No. Just been in here. Making breakfast". Then one day in 2012 we showed up and it was closed. We later heard it was because the chef had died suddenly. I really miss that place. In the end we dedicated the book to it."

Where are your favourite greasy spoons? Do any stand out? Or is it just a case of whichever is closest?

Last Updated 28 October 2016