Its a shame that the wholesome backbone of London's refreshments
infrastructure is geared solely to fast finance, that being either the nasty
non phenomenon that is fast food, or the only general alternative that is
expensive food. Neither option is a guarantee of health, nourishment or even
The landscape of London eateries is now a quagmire of mostly horrid
concerns, very uninviting to the man of modest income, and very
unappealing to one wishing to savour with architectural flavour.
One is lucky to find an establishment that doesnt
exist mainly for mass catering profits. This is certainly the state of play
today. But it wasn't always like that. Before
the onslaught of burger chains and coffee shops,
bistros and kebab houses, London was lined with
reliable retailers of edible exquisites. There was many a nice quiet place
where one could get a nice cuppa tea and maybe even a nice basic meal based
on beneficial elements rather than comfort substance and monosodium
In the late 19th century the concept of Teahouses grew around Britain, and this formulea allowed for a rather polite and sedate atmosphere where it was possible to enjoy a cuppa and indeed a lite lunch. The market was literally cornered by Lyons Corner Houses, and later, by the ABC insignia of the Aerated Bread Co Cafes. During the last century this trend would develop to incorporate the occasional Pie & Mash shop, or even the Italian style transport cafes that sprang up everywhere in the fifties. Even those greasy spoons were more of a rewarding choice than todays burnt offering burger joints. The result was that Londoners had many a place to grab their food without being over charged or over poisoned. Even the Railway Stations, now ruined by franchised outfits and looking like Motorway Service Canteens, used to have exceptionally nice venues for basic sustenance, and, like in the movie 'Brief Encounter' would be a much happier environment to relax and manage your social life.
Nowadays, I yearn for the return of those great days, and look around me at the awfulness on offer. It's true that there's a healthy bargain to be had if one can find it, and it's the case that some of those greasy spoons do still exist, if you can find them. Or maybe even a decent old style Fish & Chip shop. But generally, if you can't find anywhere decent, it's best to starve yourself, and wait till you go home for a meal, rather than go with any easy options. And i'm afraid it's just getting worse, as the culture of eating out becomes more and more refined and sickly. There is one ray of hope, however. A happening of the last few decades that might be a cure for all dining ills. This phenomenon is, of course, the rise of the curry house. Our dearest friends from those asian lands have sourced London with some great super culinary crazies, and these, with their odd veggy range, can be a good and healthy basic alternative for the muck of the fast food joint. The London curry is surely one of my greatest and only vices, one that i'm hooked on for life. Sadly, however, this addiction will never make up for the loss of the wonderful London tearooms and cafes, and that loss I shall mourn indefinately.
One last item i'm afraid. And thats about modern day eateries. Are they not so ugly? From Burger Bars to the Pizza Parlours, the fittings are enough to put you off your food. There may be much plastic involved in the decor, even more than is in the plasticated junk burgers on the plate. Also, why is it that these fast food places really stink so bad? I dont know what it is, but there's always a ghastly stench hovering in the air. It's so unnatural. I'd rather have a formica topped greasy spoon cafe any day, with the beans stuck to the plate, and that wonderful aroma of burnt bacon and stale dog ends. A transport cafe would always use more raw and natural basic ingredients to their OTT cardiac specials. Top hole! Better still, might I venture to suggest a return to those fabulous tea rooms of the past, like those supplied by J.Lyons & Co. Back to the good old days when food was less processed and less full of chemicals and E-numbers. Where every tea shoppe was so nicely designed and clean, and good manners were the order of the day. I remember it well. Good morning Sir! Yes, that sounds more like it...
Finally, a pic of the delicious Alfredos Cafe of Islington, the ultimate Art Deco cafe, now rather ruined by by new owners with their so called 'sensitive' refurbishment. Damn them for destroying ANY of the original features. Under it's former family management, this place used to serve a killer of a fry-up and cuppa, within the confines of the Quadrophenia film set of 1979. Why did they mess with it?
Charles (of London Town)