Visitors to London for the first time often find it hard to find something to eat.
They end up either wandering from street to street in increasing degrees of hunger or spending a fortune in Planet Famousville or the like. London for the uninitiated can be like having liposuction on your wallet.
However, even in the capital, it is perfectly possible to eat quite a good sized meal for £5-10 if one knows where to go.
This is where the Greasy Spoon Café comes in. This kind of eatery is, in no way, to be confused with anything referred to as a Café (pronounced ka-fey) – it is a Kaff and there are simple rules to recognise one and how one should behave once inside the doors of this most prized and sort-after eatery
Trust me: no trip to London is truly complete without a big plate of ehem, bekon, hegs n cheeps (see below)
So – here are the rules of the Greasy Spoon Kaff
1) How to find one
Locate a tube station in central London – look for some buildings that are clearly office spaces. Walk along the main street between point a (tube station) and b (office space) looking down the small streets to the side – within four or five streets you will find a Kaff
2) How to recognise it when you see it
It will be called INSERT NAME HERE’s Café
It will have a window next to the door for take-away meals (in the really good ones these will be welded shut so you have to go in regardless)
It will be filled with large IT staff eating sausage/bacon sarnies (sandwiches) and drinking coffee/huge cups of milky tea
The menu will be clearly visible from the street – usually written on a blackboard or a piece of laminated paper
The only options on the menu will be sandwiches and fried things (some places stretch to Jacket Potatoes, but most correctly assume that said IT staff eschew anything healthy) – in the really good ones even the salad is deep fried
It will have an awning over the entrance so that diners can sit outside in the pouring rain and enjoy the fume-filled air when the inside (inevitably) becomes over-crowded
It is law that all Greasy Spoon Kaff’s have fixed benches and chipped formica tables the size of which Bilbo Baggins would consider petite – the trick is to approach these sideways and slowly squeeze oneself in – then never, never breathe out again until you leave.
There must be either: a football banner on the wall showing the colours and names of a local London club or pictures of famous people who may, at some point, have been desperate enough to eat there (and those of you wondering where Joanna Lumley eats when in London should visit the Kaff just around the corner from Liverpool St Station to see her picture on the wall) or both
4) Queuing system
This varies from place to place. The best approach is to stand outside for 5-10 minutes and observe how the regulars do it – or to face the wrath of the staff
It varies between:
a) Being ushered to a chair to wait your turn
b) Forming one of two queues (depending whether one is eating in or out) in the tiny space that is laughingly described as the entrance in the fire evacuation forms
5) Taking the order
DO NOT order anything healthy. The correct order in a Kaff is either a Bacon Sarnie (sandwich) or similar meat-filled sandwich, a plate full of dead animal – or ham, egg, bacon, chips and beans.
Vegetarianism might as well be a foreign country as far as these places are considered and they are still labouring under the mis-apprehension that Vegans are those pointy-eared people from Star Trek.
Your order will then be shouted out across the café to the small room where the tiny workers toil – your order of ham, egg, bacon and chips will be translated into Kaff speak as “ehem, bekon, hegs n cheeps”
Regardless of what you order you will be asked if you want bread and butter with it – even (and I can’t stress this enough) your order in the first place was bread and butter.
(Americans: be warned – chips are what you call French Fries. Crisps are what you call Chips)
Whether eating in or out one must order a cup of tea or coffee – this is how you can tell a really good Greasy Spoon from a mere pretender:
a) Is the tea/coffee as weak as humanly possible?
b) Did half of the milk/tea/coffee end up on the floor/saucer?
c) Was the sugar thrown towards the cup with a similar level of gusto to an Olympic athlete throwing a javelin?
If the answer to all the above is “yes” then you are in a top quality Kaff and should mark it on your GPS for future visits
There are two types of Kaff workers
a) Elderly slim men with a mixture of greek and cockney accents, who despite their size and lack of meat on their bones could easily break you in two if required. They are unfailingly either extremely pleasant or entirely ignorant of your existence
b) Diminutive women in pinafores carrying more weight in their arms than Sherpa Tensing did when he went up Everest
It is the ultimate honour on Earth for one of the staff to recognise you and remember your order – if this happens then it is probably time to give up your outside life, move in upstairs above the building and put on an apron
The size of both types of workers goes some way towards explaining the small table size, alongside the policy to push as many people in as possible
7) Etiquette on leaving
Greasy Spoon Kaff’s are not, by the very nature of their existence, the kind of place one is encouraged to linger. They rely on a fast turn-over of customer and so the polite thing to do is to eat your meal as soon as it arrives, linger for a few seconds reflectively over your cup of tea/coffee and, having paid, leave quietly.
The best way to deal with getting through the inevitable queue in the doorway is just to throw oneself bodily towards it and hope for the best.
OK - so some of you novices out there who have never been to a Greasy Spoon may be reading this and thinking that actually it doesn't sound like such a great experience.
And ok: so these places are never going to win a Michelin star, and the only reason that Egon Ronay would be seen dead inside the doors would be to commit arson, but here's the thing...
It's great. From the moment you go through the door and the bloke behind the door calls you "mate" instead of "sir", to the moment where you sit down at the formica table and regard the world over a large cup of tea, all the way through to the no-nonsense food, the wink of the waiter/waitress, the informal atmosphere and the simple, straight-forward food.
Given the choice between tea at the Ritz and ham, egg and chips in a simple London cafe I'd chose the bacon buttie every time