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5 Delicious vintage eateries you need to visit in London

BY Federica Carr

6th Sep 2022 Food Heroes

5 Delicious vintage eateries you need to visit in London

From high dining in London's oldest restaurant to a traditional full English in one of its remaining caffs, dive in to the City's culinary heritage

Forget street food and latte art. From classic caff Regency Café to sumptuous Rules in Covent Garden, these are some of London's best retro places to eat.

The caff: Regency Café

Man walks past outside of Regency cafe in LondonCredit: Rayray at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0. The art deco Regency Café has made several TV and film appearances, including in RocketmanJudge John Deed and Pride

Before flat whites and avocado on toast, Londoners crowded local cafés—or caffs—to tuck into a hearty breakfast of bacon, sausages, eggs and beans accompanied by stainless steel pots of strong, milky tea.

Most caffs are gone now but a few keep hanging in there, even experiencing a big revival among tourists, students and locals alike. Top marks if they are also social media savvy.

We particularly love the Regency Café, a stone’s throw from Victoria Station, founded in 1946.

"Londoners crowded local cafés—or caffs—to tuck into a hearty breakfast of bacon, sausages, eggs and beans"

Its black-tiled corner facade is striking and beautiful. Inside, formica tables, chequered window half curtains and original flooring showcase the diner’s vintage mood.

After a short, fast-moving queue, you order at the counter, pay and find a seat. The food is not going to win any Michelin stars, but the reasonably priced, large portions will leave you satisfied for sure.

Hungry for more? Visit historic Britalian café Pellicci’s on Bethnal Green Road, which has been in the same family since it opened in 1900, or check out Bar Italia, founded in 1949, in Soho for an authentic Italian espresso and a film set feel.

Beppe’s in Smithfield and River Cafe in Putney are two more names in this fascinating, but sadly disappearing, category. 

The formal restaurant: Rules

Diners enjoy meal in extravagant interior of Rules restaurant in LondonCredit: Herry Lawford, CC BY 2.0. London's oldest restaurant first opened as an oyster bar, and continues to serve traditional British cuisine. 

The exquisite, opulent interior of Rules has appeared in many films and TV series, Downtown Abbey among them.

With its "understated glamour of a by-gone era”, it is the epitome of fine dining: white tablecloths, silverware, red leather sofas and gilded decor with paintings and drawings adorning every wall.

Allegedly the oldest restaurant in London (opened in 1798 by Thomas Rule), the venue hasn’t changed much since then in atmosphere and elegance. However their cuisine has kept abreast of the times, and the delicious British classics they serve are presented in a contemporary manner.

"The oldest restaurant in London (opened in 1798 by Thomas Rule) hasn’t changed much in atmosphere and elegance"

The first-floor bar is the perfect place to enjoy an expertly crafted cocktail. Dress up and make it a night to remember. 

Hungry for more? Nearby, glamorous carver Simpson's in the Strand is due to reopen soon. Hop next door to the Savoy’s American Bar, the longest-surviving cocktail bar in town, or walk towards Piccadilly where Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill has been serving the finest seafood to discerning customers since 1916.

The chophouse: Simpson’s Tavern

City workers might be more familiar with this gorgeous tavern, London’s oldest chophouse.

Tucked away in one of the many alleys that testify to the area’s history as a financial hub since the Middle Ages, Simpson’s Tavern was opened at the peculiar address of Ball Court, 38½ Cornhill in 1757.

The tavern—with its polished wood interior, old world feel and substantial menu with daily changing offers—is still a City favourite. Among the dishes to try, a must is their famous “stewed cheese” pudding.

Hungry for more? Chophouses might be gone, yet London still has many pubs that date back centuries. We love the literary connected Ye Old Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street, visited by the likes of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan-Doyle.

You could also try the aptly named Blackfriar by Blackfriars Bridge, rebuilt in 1905 with a decor half way between medieval and art nouveau.

The bakery: Rinkoff

Box of crodoughs made by Rinkoff's bakery in LondonRinkoff's famous crodoughs, the UK's answer to the cronut, sit somewhere between a croissant and a donut

An East London institution, this bakery has been run by the same family since 1911. Hyman Rinkoff came from Ukraine, bringing his family recipes for mouthwatering bakes, which are still used today.

"Hyman Rinkoff came from Ukraine, bringing his family recipes for mouthwatering bakes"

They have a deli and a bakery within a short stroll of Whitechapel. We love both, but the bakery, standing proud on a corner of Vallance Road, with its retro sign and indoor stalls is truly a wonderful time-travel example.

You’d be hard pressed not to try at least one of their cakes, including their signature crodoughs, flaky, buttery and packed full of superb fillings.

The pie and mash shop: M. Manze

Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, “pie, mash & liquor” is one of London’s most iconic foodstuffs. Decades ago you’d have found pie and mash shops everywhere, sating Londoners’ appetite for the dish as well as the other traditional staple of jellied eels.

Changes in taste and fashion have seen many of these disappear (like the caffs), yet some survive. The gorgeous Bermondsey shop, M. Manze, dating from 1902, is one of these, with its wooden banquettes, white and green-tiled walls, and marble and wrought iron tables.

Like other retro diners, they are thriving thanks to a modern approach. Nationwide delivery, takeaway ice cream and a sign with “tips for first timers” ensure that new generations and tourists can make the most of such a historic establishment.

Hungry for more? Visit Arments just off Walworth road or F Cooke in Broadway Market, two more classic pie houses that are withstanding the test of time.

Banner credit: Regency Cafe by russell daviesCC BY-NC 2.0.

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