Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Best Cafe in London?

We were visiting our son in the great metropolis recently. Lunchtime approached, bellies rumbled. He asked if we fancied trying the best cafe in London. It's famous, he said, it gets used as a location in almost any film that requires a 'typical English caff'. The mention of home-made pies clinched it for me, so we trundled off in search of The Regency Cafe (17-19 Regency St, London SW1P 4BY).

It was about 12.45 pm when we got there, and the queue snaked out of the door. We tagged onto the end of it and were pleased to see that it was moving reasonably quickly. The deal here is that you do not take a seat until you've ordered and paid for your food at the counter. We couldn't actually see the counter from the end of the queue, but we could see lots of Formica tables and polypropylene chairs occupied by happy-looking diners (a mix of office workers, builders and tourists) enjoying plates of solid British food. As each order was ready, a booming voice bellowed it out and the recipient would come to collect it. These bellows were coming thick and fast, at least one or two a minute, and people were leaving as soon as they finished eating to make way for the new diners.

The walls are decorated with boxing and football memorabilia and photographs, and beside the counter the days offerings are written on a blackboard. My knees almost turned to jelly when I saw Steak and Kidney Pudding on the menu, and I must have been wearing a stupid grin when it was my turn to order. Did I want my pud with chips, mash or boiled potatoes? Would I like peas, carrots or cabbage with it? Well, boiled potatoes and cabbage are things your mum used to make, not things you usually see in a cafe, so I pounced on them. Wife and son had steak and kidney pie (because my pud was the last one and I ungraciously declined to offer to let it go), and chicken and mushroom pie.

We found seats and waited about ten minutes, sipping our mugs of tea as we did so. The pudding was everything I could have wanted - light suet crust, identifiable chunks of beef and kidney in a thick, rich gravy. The spuds and cabbage were cooked to perfection and arrived plain and unadorned by any fancy herbs or even butter. Everything was sitting in a pool of gravy and if I have one criticism it is that there was some tomato flavour in the gravy that shouldn't have been there.

Is it the best cafe in London? I couldn't say without spending a small fortune and several years in sampling all of them. But I can say the food was great, the service fast and efficient, the place entirely unselfconscious and without a trace of pretension. And the best bit? The price - about £6 per head including a mug of tea. In the centre of London, about 5 minutes from Parliament, this has to be the best value eating in town.

And of course they do the Full English Breakfast thing, and I'll certainly be back to try that.

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