Paris has its chic patisseries, Turkey its traditional Turkish kahve houses, Vienna its grand cafés populated with poets and artists…
…and Britain has the caff.
That said, the greasy spoon is a treasured part of our cultural consciousness – but thanks to London being the fantastic cultural and culinary melting pot that it is, the capital’s cafe scene is constantly evolving. Specialist coffee shops, Japanese tea houses and fancy cake shops are popping up across the city, and now the London cafe scene is better than ever.
So long, builder’s tea and burnt bacon: here’s where to find the best cafés in London (and there’s not a mass-market chain in sight).
London’s Best Greasy Spoons & Retro Cafés
Regency Cafe | Westminster
Westminster might not evoke much national pride these days. But this retro cafe pitstop on Regency Street might restore your faith. It’s been going since 1946, and you can tell from the pretty much unchanged interiors. The food, too, is resolutely traditional, and it’s one of the best spots for a good fry-up in Central London. In fact, the only problem you’ll encounter here is there might be a bit of a good queue. And for good reason – this place has a bit of a cult following.
Best for: Nostalgic nosh that won’t break the bank.
Details: 17-19 Regency Street, London SW1P 4BY
Anya Cafe | Belgravia
If you like your coffee with a spoonful of style, Anya Cafe in Belgravia will not disappoint. Part of the The Village – Anya Hindmarch’s arrangement of shops and boutiques – the cafe keeps close to the designer’s sense of humour with googly-eyed cakes and kitsch treats. The refreshments are a lot more affordable than the bags, but won’t last as long. Unless you believe that “a moment on the lips” rubbish…
Best for: Quirky cakes and refreshments with a sense of fun.
Details: 9 Pont Street, London SW1X 9EH
Norman’s | Tufnell Park
Formica tables. Bacon sarnies. Ketchup straight from the glass bottle. Norman’s has all the makings of a traditional greasy spoon. But it’s a far cry from Eastenders’ ‘Kathy’s’. The team behind this North London café have worked in some of the best restaurants in the city (we’re talking Lyle’s, The Clove Club, etc), so you can expect quality produce and elevated versions of British cafe classics like Sausage Egg Patties, Bubble and Squeak and Ham, Egg & Chips.
Best for: The hipster take on old-school classics.
Details: 167 Junction Road, Tufnell Park, N19 5PZ
E. Pelicci | Hackney
Small but bursting with character, E Pelicci on Bethnal Green Road is one of London’s oldest family-run cafes. The Kray twins used to come in here, and tell off other punters for using bad language. Inside, it’s a beautiful time capsule, with art deco wall panelling and formica-topped tables. While the surrounding area’s become increasingly gentrified and chains have begun to move in, this independent cafe has stayed true to its heritage and is now an East London icon, famous for serving up simple and hearty breakfasts and a range of delicious Italian fare. If you go for one thing, order the Big Bang Ciabatta with crispy chicken escalope, mozzarella and ragu.
Best for: Hearty food in a unique setting
Details: 332 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 0AG
River Cafe | Putney
Let’s not make the obvious name comparison – this place is a London dining destination in its own right. Opposite Putney Bridge underground station lives a great little spot that serves up traditional caff fare at a very reasonable price. After a night on the tiles the ones all over the walls here might be a bit too much for the eyes at first, but the solid breakfasts and beverages on offer will soon see you right.
Best for: a bacon sarnie the morning after.
Details: 1A Station Approach, London SW6 3UH
Paul Rothe & Son | Marylebone
There’s nothing better than a great family-run business and these days they’re a real rarity, particularly in the West End. Paul Rothe & Son opened in Marylebone Village back in 1900 and is now run by the founder’s grandson Paul and his own son. Most famous for their homemade soups and sandwiches, stop by for some coronation chicken and a cup of tea Monday to Saturday.
Best for: Fresh sandwiches made right in front of you.
Details: 35 Marylebone Lane, London W1U 2NN
Terry’s Cafe | Borough
Founded by a butcher-turned-cook who grew up in South London before he was evacuated during the war, Terry’s Cafe is now run by his son and remains a real example of the great British cafe. The interior is like a trip down memory lane. The walls are crammed with black and white photos of the local area, china plates and wartime posters and memorabilia. Minimalism is not on the table here, and that goes for the menu too. The portions are big, hearty and made from quality produce sourced from Smithfield and Borough Market.
Best for: the kind of breakfast you shouldn’t eat everyday. As much as you want to.
Details: 158 Great Suffolk St, London SE1 1PE
Benk&Bo | Barbican
Mariel Lind Hansen
Cafe-cum-creative workspace Benk&Bo stretches over three beautifully decorated floors in Barbican. Whether you’re looking for a space to hole up with just your laptop and a latte, or somewhere to meet colleagues and collaborators for a brainstorm over some delicious baked goods, this place will deliver. In the evening the space becomes a hub for various events, from book clubs to round table talks and lectures. Go forth: drink, eat, and make connections.
Best for: flexible working fuelled by coffee and baked goods.
Details: 4-6 Gravel Lane, London E1 7AW
Ludicrously Pretty Cafés in London
The Wren Coffee | Bank
Tucked inside this City church is a divine little cafe. Open Monday to Friday, The Wren Coffee blesses city workers with breakfast goods in the form of croissants and bacon rolls, but what you’re really here for is the grandiose setting. If you miss the morning service you can grab a freshly made sandwich or wrap for your mid-day meal, and the coffee (supplied by Caravan) is delicious. You might say it’s a holy roast.
Best for: Getting some work done in a palatial setting
Details: St Nicholas Cole Abbey, 114 Queen Victoria Street, London EC4V 4BJ
Café Kitsune | Belgravia
Where can you find chicken katsu sandos and caramel miso rice pudding brioche? Why, Belgravia of course. On the ground floor of Pantechnicon, a five storey building devoted to all things Japanese and Scandinavian, is a cafe serving French patisserie with a Japanese twist. You can enjoy breakfast, lunch or an evening cocktail whilst sitting on the cafe’s beautiful outdoor terrace, the perfect pit stop between exploring what this incredible building has to offer.
Best for: Something a little different (check out more amazing Japanese cafés in London here)
Details: Pantechnicon, 19 Motcomb Street, London SW1X 8LB
Peggy Porschen | Belgravia & Chelsea
What appears to be a giant French Fancy stuck on a corner of Chelsea is, in fact, a café. And the cakes inside are just as beautiful a confection as the exterior – drop in for cupcakes, brownies, or go the whole hog with an afternoon tea.
Best for: Excessively pretty sweet treats
Details: 219 King’s Rd, London SW3 5EJ | 116 Ebury St, London SW1W 9QQ
London Cafés with Great Food
Pavilion Cafe | Victoria Park
Slap bang in the middle of one of London’s most beautiful parks, Pavilion Cafe will kickstart your morning with glory. Open since 2004, the cafe sits right on the park’s boating lake which you can enjoy from the covered veranda all year round, whilst tucking into favourites like the Portobello mushroom burger with caramelised onion, cheddar and pesto, or Pavilion’s famed Sri Lankan breakfasts.
Best for: Great food and drinks with an even better view.
Details: Victoria Park, Hackney, E9 7DE
Pophams | Islington & Hackney
Feel the knead for some baked goods? Look no further than Pophams. With outlets in Hackney and Islington, this artisanal bakery delivers a spin on viennoiserie: pastries that are made from a yeast that makes them bread-like. But more importantly, delicious. You can enjoy all sorts of croissants and other flaky fancies throughout the day, and at lunchtime they serve a range of toasties and a seasonal lunch menu that changes fortnightly.
Best for: Beautiful pastry & soothing interiors.
Details: 19 Prebend Street, Islington, N1 8PF | 197 Richmond Road, Hackney, E8 3NJ
The Towpath Cafe | Haggerston
Situated along the Regents Canal, just south of De Beauvoir Town – aka “The Haggerston Riviera” – is The Towpath Cafe. Serving up great drinks and delicious seasonal food during the spring and summer months, this place has got a bit of a cult following thanks to its chintzy crockery and waterside setting. These guys even have their own cookery book, so rest assured while the menu may continuously change, it’s always guaranteed to be good.
Best for: Wholesome food and people watching.
Details: 42 De Beauvoir Crescent, London N1 5SB
The Stables Cafe | Dollis Hill
At the highest point of Gladstone Park, a beautiful and vast but lesser-known green space in NW London, is the ruins of a house previously owned by Mark Twain. But behind that is a hidden gem of a cafe in an old converted stable. Surrounded by a cobbled patio that welcomes furry friends, this cafe is known for its homemade healthy cakes. The brunch options are few, but the produce is high quality.
Best for: Stopping off during a stroll for a whole foods cake.
Details: Gladstone Park, Dollis Hill Lane, London NW2 6HT
London Cafés with Great Coffee
NOLA | Peckham
Open seven days a week, Nola is a seriously popular South London cafe. Founded by a couple of coffee lovers, Josephine and Anthony (who used to tour the world in their band), this cafe is inspired by all the cafés they visited on their travels. The interior its simple and elegant and lets the food and drink do all the talking – come for all-day brunch with exceptional dippy eggs; lunchtime bagels & toasties; and the rotating guest coffee beans served alongside their house roast.
Best for: Working in the week, brunching at the weekend
Details: 224 Rye Lane, Peckham, SE15 4NL
Lo-Fi | Crouch End
Tucked up in Crouch End is this great little independent coffee shop. Formerly inside the area’s branch of Flashback Records (it’s now just over the road), the cafe promises an eclectic mix of delicious coffee, local produce and even the chance to discover some new sounds at their listening station. It’s no surprise, then, that one of the founders is a regular Ministry of Sound DJ. Lo-Fi is
small but packs a lot more than a 7” punch.
Best for: Sweet sounds and your coffee fix all under one roof.
Details: 11 Broadway, Crouch End, London N8 9DE
Monocle Cafe | Marylebone
If you were in any doubt about Monocle Cafe’s association with the magazine, the black and white striped awning and bright yellow outdoor seating will reassure you, as will the menu of Japanese-inflected breakfast and lunch dishes. Freshly baked pastries sit alongside bagels and Japanese bento plates, and later in the afternoon they do a nice line in yuzu G&Ts. There’s also a cosy couch area at the back where you can relax with a nice cup of coffee and a good read. They’re sure to have some literature floating around…
Best for: Quality coffee with a dose of minimalism.
Details: 18 Chiltern Street, London W1U 7QA
WatchHouse | Bermondsey
Perched on the corner of Bermondsey Street, this quirky coffee shop is housed in a converted 19th century guard shelter. For the adjacent graveyard. Contrary to its neighbour(s) though, this place is anything but dead. In fact it’s pretty much always buzzing, so with a limited amount of seats inside, you might have a bit of a wait, although they do cap tables to 90 minute time slots during peak hours. Obviously you can have a taste of the signature WatchHouse coffee collections here, but you can also grab a variety of cakes and delicious breakfast and lunchtime sandwiches and wraps – the veggie focaccia is particularly good.
Best for: A fly-by coffee and a bite to eat.
Details: 199 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UW
Love great coffee? Check out our full guide to London’s best coffee shops
London Tea Rooms
be-oom | Clerkenwell
The walled garden space at the back of this Clerkenwell tea shop is small but be-ootiful, and well worth a visit just for that. But there’s lots more on offer… except for coffee. Stay on the line though, caller, as these teas are very special. All sourced from Korea, there’s green teas, blended teas, matcha teas, flower teas… All kinds of tea and sweet treats that deliver an exotic infusion of
flavour, good health and indulgence. We’ll clink to that.
Best for: Tea, obviously. In a beautiful, calm environment.
Details: 27 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QL
Katsute100 | Islington & Brick Lane
Katsute100 is a Japanese tea room that offers a huge range of teas sourced from small Japanese producers, so the majority of them are not widely available in the UK. Enjoy a sweet gyokuro tea and a traditional cake with an elegant twist, like their matcha brownies and yuzu scones. There’s a supremely calm atmosphere across the café’s two rooms, and on a sunny day you can take a seat outside in the back garden.
Best for: Unwinding with a specialist tea
Details: 100 Islington High St, London N1 8EG | 147 Brick Lane, London E1 6SB
Looking for more inspiration? Check out the best afternoon tea in London…
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