When in London… do as the English do, and make breakfast your most caloric-heavy meal of the day.
Sure, there are hundreds of places in London to get the English breakfast experience, but none quite like Regency Cafe.
As soon as you walk into the door, you hear “omelette for the gentleman by the door” loud and clear, echoing through the small cafe. You will probably automatically assume it’s from a loudspeaker. Nothing unusual.
There may be some empty tables, but don’t think about sitting down first. This is a no frills, get-in-line-order-then-seat-yourself kind of place. As you wait in line, you study the blackboard menu overhead. Should you go for the set breakfast or assemble your own? Just how big will the portion be? Or maybe you’re feeling like omelette? And what in the world is a bubble and squeak? Should you try it?
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the cooks rapidly fire up orders and put them out on the counter. Tea is poured, bread toasted, and beans slopped. The orders are shouted out for pick up, always in that odd, loud voice.
You get to the front of the line and put in your order with the tiny lady at the register. She’s small, with a short blonde bob and glasses. You decide on the set breakfast, tea, beans, add hash browns, and what the hell, throw in the bubble and squeak as well. “That’ll be seven thirty,” she tells you in a small, diminutive voice.
You hand over the cash and start to turn around. And you hear it again: “Eggs on toast with liver.” That’s when you realize with shock and immediate admiration that the booming voice is NOT from a loudspeaker after all, and is in fact coming from this tiny woman. She opens her mouth to shout out the order, and her voice is in an instant, transformed from soft and quiet to loud and almost masculine. It booms throughout the entire cafe.
You turn to your breakfast pal in amazement “Oh. my. god. Are you seeing this?! It’s her!”
This is the legacy of Regency Cafe.
D came upon this small unassuming cafe (as most good ones are) in the quiet Pimlico neighborhood on his previous visit to London, back when he swore it was patronized by mostly locals. And when it didn’t have a TripAdvisor logo on its door. However now, there’s a constant line out the door and the clientele seems to be a mix of both locals and tourists alike. But the food is still as good as he remembered.
The English Breakfast seems to be an institution around here. A full one is hearty, filling, and contains a little something from all the food groups*. Typically, you can expect a mix and match of the following items: egg, sausage, bacon, mushroom caps, tomato, hash browns, black pudding (aka blood sausage), baked beans, and toast. And of course it’s not complete without English Breakfast tea.
(Hey, I said it was filling, but no one said it was healthy. It’s believed to have originated from rural England as a way to sustain workers through a long morning. A typical breakfast contains over 1000 calories!)
* And by the vegetables food group, I meant that England’s idea of veggies only contain peas, mushrooms, and tomatoes.
Over the course of our two visits, we managed to try almost all the items, including the giggles-inducing “bubble and squeak”, which turned out to be some kind of thick potato pancake with cabbage (it’s named for the sound it makes during the cooking process). Everything else was delicious. The egg was always cooked to a perfect semi-gooey medium, the hash browns extra crispy while soft on the inside, the herb sausage plump and juicy, and even the blood sausage surprisingly palatable… and of course the buttered toast (with real butter), so simple, and yet so satisfying.
We always walked out the door with our bellies full and our mouths deliciously greasy.
On our last visit the morning we left London, as we walked out and crossed the street, I snapped this picture.
As I turned my back, I heard it again for one last time, that booming voice – “two eggs and toast” – loud and crisp, even from across the street.
D and I turned to each other and laughed. Indeed, this is the legacy of Regency Cafe – that loud, booming voice echoing through your ears and lingering on your mind, long after the butter and grease have faded.
17-19 Regency Street, Pimlico, London SW1P 4BY, England
Monday – Friday: 7:00am-2:30pm, 4:00pm-7:30pm
Later, after some research, I learned that Regency Cafe has gained immense popularity in London, as it was used in the film Layer Cake, and was voted one of the top 5 restaurants in London on Yelp. I’m SO happy for the chance to have experienced this. It was even better that I went in without knowing any of this!
Next time you’re in London, come for the experience, stay for the great food, and return because you won’t find anywhere better!
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