When I lived in London I used to go to Alfredo's near Angel, Islington for a cup of strong, milky coffee Saturday mornings.
Alfredo's, alas, has gone. It was a real old Italian style coffee bar, gleaming metal fittings and formica tops, and I loved it dearly. But rising real estate prices and gentrification have pushed out many of these caffs - and Alfredo's was just another victim of redevelopment.
The next best place in London is E Pellici's - going for a hundred years and now a grade II listed interior. It's on Bethnal Green Road, London E2.
There are a few traditional eel pie and mash shops left in the East End, too. Most of them also sell a beef pie for the more squeamish eater. Watch out for 'liquor', green gravy which looks more than a little sinister. There are two in Broadway Market, still, and there's Manze's near the Tower of London (just over the river at 87 Tower Bridge Road). But many have closed - I just heard that Goddards in Greenwich has closed down, and others are struggling.
My favourite no longer serves eel pie and mash but it's still in pristine condition with its counters, tiling, and even the little eel-shaped clips that hold up the wall mirrors. It's now the Shanghai, on Kingsland High Street, E8. A lovely bit of architecture and the Chinese food is rather good, too.
It's a pity that at a time when there's more interest in developing a real English tradition of good cooking, we're throwing out our traditional caffs. I wonder why no bright young English chef has tried fusion-eel-pie? or why the tacky lounge bar feel of Costa Coffee seems so much more alluring to modern consumers than the glitz and shine of Alfredo's or Pellici's?
If you're travelling to London, and fancy seeing these 'real' caffs for yourself, do it soon. They may not be there much longer.