Pellicci’s of Bethnal Green Road
Pellicci’s is possibly the finest café in the world. (That’s café in the English ‘caff’ sense of the word.) You can find it in Bethnal Green, in east London.
I’m writing this partly because Pellicci’s recently re-opened after a terrible fire this summer. They were very lucky to save the original art deco interior and the fire was a real shock to everyone who knows Pellicci’s. I happened to be passing while the fire was still burning, Nevio, the owner was standing outside the café on the pavement. He was crying. Nevio was born in the flat above the café and has worked there his whole life. He was staring up into the sky and all he could say was ‘It’s all over, everything, my whole life, it’s gone…’
Pellicci’s first opened its doors in 1900, it is an old family run café. Nevio Pellicci, the current owner was born in the flat above the café and has worked there his whole life. He is the grandson of the café’s original owners who emigrated to London from the Italian region of Tuscany. The business has been passed down through the family for 100 years now and you can see Victorian photographs of Nevio’s grandparents on either side of the hatch into the kitchen. Nevio works in the café every day, along with his wife Maria in the kitchen and helping him serve the food, their son Nevio, daughter Anna and cousin Tony.
The café is tiny and cramped. It is also very busy, noisy and hot with a low ceiling and wood panelled walls. The tables are very close together and more often than not the lack of space means that you have to share your table with strangers. This is good. You meet amazing people in Pellicci’s – from petty thieves to retired gangsters, market traders to paparazzi photographers. And that’s without mentioning all the famous people you see eating there. My personal favourite is seeing Gilbert & George, the famous English artists. They go in for breakfast every Saturday at 10.30. And yes, they do wear their suits all the time.
Food at Pellicci’s rocks. The menu is a combination of English fry ups, school dinners and home cooked Italian food]. It’s the only place I’ve ever eaten where you can order cauliflower cheese, pasta with home made pesto followed by a spotted dick. In fact, Call Nev or Anna over and ask what puddings they’ve got, the answer goes something like this – ‘We’ve got treacle pudding, chocolate sponge, spotted dick, jam roly poly, bread pudding, apple pie, apple crumble, ice cream, jelly, or sticky toffee pudding…’ Obviously this list is said very quickly for maximum comedy effect, especially if they don’t know you.
Which takes me to [the other reason why Pellicci’s is so good – while Nev snr is endlessly polite Nev jnr, Anna and Tony spend most of their time taking the piss out of their customers. If you go in with a girl who they know then they’ll ask you who the girl you were with the other day was. If they don’t know her then they’ll spend their time trying to embarrass you. If you go in with your mum then they’ll say that you’re the one with lots of ‘sisters’. Kids are tormented and wound up the whole time they are there. One little girl said she was going to Southampton for the day, so they spent about twenty minutes explaining how they don’t have electricity there and that everyone travels by cow and blah blah blah. Kids believe them. Old ladies are always told to stop being dirty and trying to feel up the young men under the table.
And then there’s Tony’s occasional Elvis impressions and the fact that they always know if a traffic warden is coming and shout to everyone on the café and that the Kray twins used to live in the flat above the café and that baked beans are called ‘fajolie’ and and and…
Anyway, if you’re ever in London then you are obliged by law to visit Pellicci’s. It’s about a third of a mile up Bethnal Green Road from Bethnal Green tube station.