Who doesn’t love a greasy, hearty, proper British cafe breakfast, but what makes a greasy spoon cafe a greasy spoon?
Whether you’re a hangover partygoer, slightly late on your weekly shop and staring into the empty abyss of your fridge, or maybe you have a guest staying over and want to treat them to a hearty British breakfast, ‘Wanna get a cafe brekkie?’ might be the greatest words to hear.
But with so many artisan, chic brunch spots popping up over the last few years, has the traditional greasy spoon breakfast gone out of fashion?
We think not.
The Roman is surrounded by traditional East End cafes, loved and frequented by many of our readers for their brunches, lunches, cuppas, coffees and even vegan fare. But what makes a cafe a greasy spoon? It’s a very particular animal. Laminated menus, check. Black and white tiled floors, check. Utilitarian furniture, check. White bread, check. Open from 5am, check. Fave spot for tradies and workers, check. You just have to look in the right spots to find them.
With a checklist criteria in hand and a rumbling belly, we hunted down the rare gems that are still proper greasy spoons.
Controversially, we have whittled down our list to just three cafes that can be classified as a greasy spoon in our neighbourhood. We had to be very strict, but there is a distinct spirit to a greasy spoon that is hard to emulate in the modern age. With all three run by Turkish owners, it shows that the spirit of the classic British greasy spoon is in its ethos rather than provenance.
Could someone open a traditional greasy spoon cafe now? Maybe we’ll start to see some opening up around the Roman, paying homage to the long-standing community stalwarts who have been serving up fry-ups to the working classes for generations… Until then, here is our trio of traditional greasy spoons near Roman Road.
BEST FOR THE EARLY RISERS
You can’t get more traditional than this. And it’s the only spoon that serves bubble. Hussein Husseiyn (better known as H) has been running Mapp’s Cafe for the last thirty years, after moving to the East End in the 70s. The cafe is decorated with football memorabilia – a classic greasy spoon tell tale sign. Husseiyn himself is a huge Liverpool FC fan.
With a plastic menu on the wall, metal tables, and a tiny TV playing lunchtime reruns on the wall, there is no doubt Mapp’s Cafe is a traditional greasy spoon.
Husseiyn cooks all the meals from scratch, with tried and tested recipes that have held strong for the last three decades. His food includes breakfast dishes with customisable options, lunches and jacket potatoes. Even £1 teas and £1.50 coffees. Mapp’s Cafe is open, bright eyed and bushy tailed at 4:30am every day (except Sunday where it’s closed), and 4am on Saturdays. Perfect for the early workers or those coming back from a late night at Hackney Wick.
What would we recommend? The £8 full English Mapp’s Special, which includes eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, chips or bubble, bread or toast, and tea or coffee. A customer favourite, it has remained at the top of Mapps menu for years. Loved by all the tradies of the East End, this cafe is a much loved treasure. ‘We aim to please’ is Husseiyn’s catchphrase.
13 Chapman Road, E9 5DW.
The Wick Cafe
BEST FOR HOT LUNCHES
Run by Yusuf Yinmaz for the last twelve years, this cafe is fitted with the classic checked floor, large mirrors along the walls and the iconic metal greasy spoon chairs. A no doubt contender, making our VIP list of greasy spoon cafes.
The spacious traditional greasy spoon is visited by locals and professionals, including the neighbourhood policemen. The cafe even has customers travelling back to the East End after moving out, just to get a taste of Yinmaz’s beloved food.
Yinmaz’s specialty is the meat omelette, with ham, bacon, and sausage, which he makes fresh and from scratch every day. Another recommendation is his traditional £6.50 English breakfast, with eggs, chips, bacon, sausage, mushrooms and baked beans.
What makes a cafe a greasy spoon cafe? One that also sells niche lunch dishes! The Wick Cafe is a master of this, serving homemade Chilli Con Carne and Chicken Curry. Regulars recommend the homemade Chilli, which is served with rice, chips or salad. Yinmaz says, ‘it’s rewarding seeing customers happy’.
28 Felstead St, E9 5LG.
BEST OUTDOOR SEATING
Starlight cafe has lived on Roman Road for over thirty years. In the last three years it has been run by Kenan Koksil, who has worked in restaurants for the last 22 years, since he was just sixteen.
Starlight is the perfect example of a classic greasy spoon. £8.50 full breakfast, tea for £1, and laminated menus; it continues to pay homage to its roots. But with a slight Turkish twist of Mediterranean breakfasts, a new chalk menu board, and daily specials, the cafe is modernised.
Koksil says he ‘was thinking to update more, like trendy cafes’ but instead chose to ‘stay in the middle with nice food but a reasonable price’.
And he stays firm in his message three years on. For a fiver you can grab a tasty, quick, greasy spoons fry up in a modernised, yet classic cafe. The aura of its three decade reign remains the same, with its tradie customers and long time local residents to match.
108 Roman Rd, E2 0RN.
Worthy mentions of East End caffs who nearly made the cut
We have many much loved cafes on the Roman. But with our strict criteria many missed the cut. Whether they simply have more than one milk option, or sell more than one vegan dish. Some have had a recent makeover, while others sell too many dishes with avocado on them (a greasy spoon would never!). We wanted to mention these local caffs (not cafés, mind you) that just missed the mark in making our list of greasy spoons.
Randolfi’s, is an office favourite. It can definitely be classed as a traditional local cafe, with its decor, checked floor and rotation of eccentric mugs. But with only making tasty sandwiches and bagels, it just missed the cut. A full English is a greasy spoon cafe necessity.
The Full Monty in Globe Town has been updated with new sign fixtures and fittings, moving it up in the world to being a local cafe list as opposed to the greasy spoon list.
Cafe Crème is a Roman Road classic but now serves an impressive lunch menu. Breakfast wraps? Sardine salads? Aubergine pasta? Not quite greasy enough to make the list.
Semz Cafe, nearly made the cut but with Insta-friendly interiors and some healthy twists to the breakfast menu, it’s a tad too exotic to be classified as a greasy spoon.
If you like this, then read our list on the best places for tea.
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