Friday, 26 June 2009

The Regency Cafe

When you walk into the noisy bustle of this old fashioned canteen, right in the middle of Westminster, you can almost feel the history pouring from the old fashioned white tiled walls. The diversity of the clientele is mesmerising and it would be easy to lose a couple of hours aimlessly watching the continually growing and then shrinking queue and the countless characters that feature in it.

In the short hour that we occupied our plastic chairs and formica topped table we saw civil servants, scaffolders, builders, school children and even a shadow cabinet minister pass by to order combinations from the chalk inscribed kitchen blackboard. At the Regency, high-vis vests sit comfortably next to pin stripe suits and create a compelling snapshot of the personalities that form London life.

You wonder which famous faces have tucked into stodgy pies and pasties in a vain attempt to ease the ill effects of a night of booze fuelled networking. Or how many government ministers have pulled up to refuel with a cup of sweet tea and a buttery bacon sandwich. The banter and stories which you know are etched in the fabric of this unassuming square canteen are what make it feel as much of an institution as the landmarks that surround it.

It’s loud. We wondered if they held auditions for what seemed to be the pivotal roll in the kitchen: bellowing loudly across the canteen to announce to customers that their heavily laden plates are ready for collection. Or perhaps these powerful vocal chords are developed over time as the staff work their way upwards in the frantic kitchen.

As I heard ‘egg, bacon, tomato, hash brown’ boom out across the room I jumped, nearly fell over in my haste to reach the collection counter and arrived just in time to hear the authoritative announcer quietly mutter the question ‘why does it have to be so hard?’ presumably in frustration at his customers’ inability to register his broad calls and pick up their food on time.

My egg was fried in exactly the way you’d expect in a canteen, with just a little too much grease, the tomatoes were tinned, the hash browns deep fried, the bacon re-heated, and the milky tea from an enormous stainless steel pot. And it was delicious, every mouthful of it.

Chips feature high on the agenda and seemingly arrive with everything in vast piles. There are daily specials too: curry on Wednesday or battered fish on Friday and large Cornish pasties which arrive on a sea of baked beans. The meat pies were the only unappetising fodder we saw, the pastry shrinking soggily from its foil container.

The addition of eggs Benedict to the menu seems completely incongruous with everything else about the Regency and was thankfully made less fussy by the neon label on the wall mentioning the grilled eggs. This is not a place to poach.

There are no frills, nor would you want there to be. I have only been once but don’t doubt that this will soon turn into once a week.
The Regency Cafe, 17-19 Regency Street, London SW1P 4BY

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