diamond geezer

 Wednesday, December 21, 2011

For reasons that aren't entirely clear, I've left it until this week to finally visit E Pellicci. I'd walked past this classic yellow-fronted cafe on the Bethnal Green Road umpteen times, but never previously ventured inside. "Well we should do that then," said BestMate, so off we went. I wasn't expecting the queue. Even though it wasn't what you might call peak lunch hour, there were two people waiting patiently outside the front door, and rather more queueing at the counter within. The three tables outside on the pavement might have been busier were this July. Warmly-wrapped coffee-sippers had taken two, but no queue-jumper seeking food seemed willing to risk the third. We escaped for an hour (to the Geffrye Museum and Christmas Past, lovely, as usual) before returning to Pellicci's and trying again.

Still a queue, but this time we were inside and at the front. The entire cafe was abuzz. Several family members dashed around behind the counter, juggling orders and pouring drinks in a pressure cooker atmosphere. Diners sat eating, or more likely waiting to start eating, at one of the many tables crammed into the not terribly large space. There's only a narrow aisle to the rear, to the hatch from the kitchen, which required some careful negotiation when an order came through. Through the gap I could see Maria Pellicci at the stove - apparently she cooks everything - and beyond her the chilled soft drinks cabinet branded "Vimto" across the top.

Pellicci's is Grade II listed, no less, blessed by Italianate Deco-style detail. The entire cafe is irrevocably endearingly retro. Originally opened in 1900, the current decor dates back to a refit in 1946. The walls were covered with gorgeous marquetry, each panel with a motif that reminded me of an ocean liner approaching bow first. Where there was glass, for example in the door or the front window, it was decoratively stained. The tables were formica - you'd expect no less - with a row of four colour-coded condiments lined up against the wall. The Krays probably saw exactly the same when they frequented the place. I suspect the strings of gold tinsel and red baubles at ceiling level were temporary, but everything else about the place had a reassuringly non-modern feel. These things all help when you're standing waiting.

At last the quartet of diners at the far table rose to pay, and we wondered whether to nip forward or wait to be ushered. "Go on, take it," urged the bloke standing behind us in the queue. When Pellicci's is busy everyone gets to share tables, and he wanted the spare seat beside us so he could grab lunch. This place was a second home to him, he was on first name terms with management, and had some banter about wedding arrangements to pass on. While we perused the menu he'd already yelled his order through the hatch, then settled back to check a pending bet on his phone. Pie and chips and gravy for him, with divine smelling gravy, and every chip individually cut by Mam in the kitchen behind.

I had been planning "something and chips" myself, but this being mid-December there was a special festive deal on. Go on then, Christmas lunch for a tenner, why not? A bit steep perhaps, but when the plate arrived it was piled high with goodies. The roast potatoes were crisp on the outside but butter-fluffy inside, matched with a semi-soft Yorkshire pud alongside. The dominant vegetables were carrots and broccoli - they love their broccoli here, often doused with liquid cheese - plus a pool of peas recently liberated from the tin. The stuffing came in three sage-packed strips, each seemingly sliced from an industrial sized slab. And beneath every item on the plate, turkey and more turkey. Much as I'd have loved a jam roly-poly or apple crumble and custard to round the meal off, by the time the choice came I was stuffed.

I was struck by the friendly nature of Pellicci's. Dad Nevio passed on a couple of years back, but it's still ever-so much a family-run concern, and the family extends to all the diners in the cafe. Everyone was welcome, and everyone earned a smile, whether this was their hundredth visit or their first. Indeed I've rarely had quite such an attentive cheery chat when settling the bill - totted up the old fashioned way with pen and paper by Nevio Jr. And I'm so having liver, bacon and beans (and jam roly-poly) next time.

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