Friday, November 21, 2008

UK Dining: Beppe's Cafe

The first thing I need when flying in to London is breakfast at a greasy spoon. I may love beef and gourmet dining but I can also appreciate things from the other side of the barnyard and lower on the culinary ladder. British breakfasts invariably focus on pork and even in their most exulted form rarely qualify as fine dining. My good friend Grant, who you may remember from our recent adventures at Peter Luger's, Hill Country, and Nathan's, has spent the last few months seeking out the perfect cafe for my purposes and he found one that exactly fit the bill.

Beppe's is located in the shadow of Smithfield Market and as is often the case with many of the great greasy spoons it is run by Italians. While old man Beppe is long gone his journal is framed on the wall in memory of the patriarch. The cafe is admittedly worn and torn but the classic mid century style wood paneling and green tile are charming none the less. As is the light box sign hanging outside that reads simply "Snack Bar."

The portion sizes are anything but snack size. Huge, irregularly shaped slabs of toast dripping with molten butter showed up first along with mugs of tea. The bread was crunchy and flavorful and the rich tea brightened my mood after enduring the flight from NYC.

My favorite breakfast indulgence is fried bread with baked beans. I love the way the outside of the crispy bread becomes soggy from the sugary tomato sauce. It contasts wonderfully with the savory bread producing a creamy, umami sensation. The eggs were not so good, being overcooked and flavorless. Truth be told I don't think that the British, or Italians cooking for the British, treat eggs with much dignity. They treat them with reckless abandon, frying them or scrambling them with more regard for the time it takes than to the end result. Compared to how the French treat them, codling them lovingly and bathing them in butter and it is no wonder that the British have a bad culinary reputation.

But if the British fall behind the rest of the world in eggs, they excel at sausage and the ones on offer at Beppe's are leagues ahead of what most cafes serve. Forget the generic, flavorless, bread-filled bangers that you often get at greasy spoons, Beppe's serves Cumberland sausages, spiked with sage, marjoram and black pepper. The chips are also wonderful, crispy golden with true potato flavor. Beppe's is a classic example of the British greasy spoon, one of the last and finest of a dieing breed. I know were I will be heading after my next flight in to London, and for breakfast on Monday since Beppe's are closed weekends.

Beppe's Cafe
23 West Smithfield,
London, EC1A 9HY


kaszeta said...

Looks good. I really like a good greasy spoon and a Full English.

I'll have to try Beppe's, my usual haunts when visiting London are the Hackney Mess and the The Regency Cafe

DocChuck said...

First, congratulations upon once again surviving the Heathrow experience (I'd almost rather swim than deal with that airport ... almost).

I agree with you about the great way the British (and Scottish and Irish) handle breakfast. Although I have never tried Beppe's, I have never had a breakfast in the UK that I didn't really enjoy.

Well, except for the blood pudding, or whatever that black stuff is. As far as their eggs, I have learned either order them sunny-side up, or forget 'em.

Have a great trip, and enjoy some wonderful British fish 'n chips for me!

Doug Vernon said...

I've been to Beppe's many times and love the place. The Smithfield Market is pretty interesting , as well. But we're usually quite tired by the time we eat breakfast and have a pint or too, since we usually head there right after we land.

Doc probably hasn't been to Heathrow recently, as they have made huge improvements that eliminate a lot of the old hassles like those damn airport busses!

With the exchange rate improving, we are heading to London in February and will stop at Beppe's.

And the Harrod's food court. Two places we ALWAYS hit.

JerzeeTomato said...

Just like Doug Vernon said, Heathrow has made a lot of improvements like those damn airpost busses. I mean me and my hubby (and our friend Louise Wyers) fly into Heathrow at least 4 or 5 times a year, and I am considered by most people in New Jersey to be an expert on Heathrow airport.