Crikey, I hate Pret a Manger. Their fresh from the fridge, wet bread sandwiches. Their £2.10 cardboard cups of charcoal coffee. The fact that they began blasting out Christmas music in August. And let’s not even get started on their dubious ethics and employment strategies.
A recent survey named it the worst coffee shop on the high street. But the likes of Costa and Caffe Nero can’t be too far behind.
It’s interesting to reflect on life before coffee shops. My Granddad founded a corporate catering company – back in the day when offices had cafeterias. Interestingly, it was after the Second World War that workplace dining really took off. Post-war rationing meant that employers couldn’t assume that their employees were healthy and well-nourished. It was in their interest to supply subsidised meals, and make sure that they had at least one hot meal in their belly each day – enabling them to work to the best of their abilities.
But then things started to change. People wanted more choice than a cafeteria menu. They wanted to leave the office, stretch their legs, and buy their own sandwich. In 1986 Pret a Manger came along, and then four years later the first Caffe Nero appeared on the Old Brompton Road. Four years on from that, the first episode of Friends aired – showing the aspirational, American coffee shop way of life. Another four years on, and Starbucks washed up on British shores, cementing the nation’s full blown love affair with its newly-adopted cafe culture.
As my recent post on Diner’s Union said, I believe that dining habits are cyclical. Or at least susceptible to change. There once was a time where cafeterias were a big deal. Then they went out of fashion. We’ve endured almost three decades of coffee shop chains now. Surely it’s time to move on? The question is, what do we move on to?
Well, I have an idea – and it’s called E Pellici.
A commonly-cited criticism of cafe chains is their anonymity. The daily ritual of buying a coffee shouldn’t be a transaction with a stranger, but an exchange with a friend. A smile, a couple of niceties – but not blank faced anonymity. Starbucks boldly addressed this by getting their baristas to write people’s names on the coffee cups, which has lead to much hilarity. Click HERE. All I can say, is that I’m glad I’m not called Virginia….
No, at E Pellici, they’ve always got time to ask your name and get it right. Hell, they’ll ask you about your brother and sister’s name, and then promptly welcome you into the family. Because that’s what E Pellici is. A full-blown family affair. The East End caff was founded in 1900 by Priamo Pellicci, one of the many waves of immigrants washing up round Brick Lane. It was his wife Elide who put the ‘E’ in E Pellici. She single-handedly brought up their seven children while running the cafe to keep the family going, after her husband’s death in 1931.
Nevio Snr was born upstairs, and took over the running of his cafe from his mother – until his death in 2008. E Pellici is currently run by Nevio Snr’s wife – who has been cooking here since 1966. “Remember, it’s-a all cooked my my-a mamm” Nevio Junior shouted after me, as I popped by this morning to take a photograph of the menu.
It is indeed home cooking. And great home cooking at that. A couple of years ago, the tiny Bethnal Green caff won an award for the best bolognese in Britain. Quite brilliantly, the unchanging menu serves up some classics like grilled lamb’s liver (80 extra for bacon), or a rump steak and onion sandwich (£3.40 for a sandwich, £3 for it in a roll).
But it’s the fry-ups which I go for. So, when the editor of Blogosphere magazine suggested that we had a breakfast meeting, I was quick to insist that we went to E Pellici. It’s fair to say that neither of us are Pret kinda gals.
Now, dear readers, allow me a little digression as I introduce you to Blogosphere magazine. It’s a project I’ve been working on for a couple of months now, but as the launch is tonight, I can finally let the cat out of the bag.
“The blogosphere can be an overwhelming place, and navigating it a minefield” so says our blurb. “Which is why we’re here to help.” We’ve all been there – that long lunch break in front of the computer, not sure what to type into google. You want to read some new writing, discover a new blog – perhaps escape from the office confines through a half hour of perusing a travel blog, or get some supper inspiration from a recipe blog. Well, hopefully Blogosphere magazine will help steer you in the right direction. Every issue showcases a range of different blogs, from photography to fashion – and yes, you’ve guessed it – I’m heading up the recipe section.
I’ve also been working on the magazine as a director. So last Saturday, E Pellici was the caff of choice to discuss issue two. I was wearing a poncho. The editor was rocking a trilby and a kimono. I couldn’t be further from my bookish, Oxford days. Sitting in an E Pellici discussing a new blogging magazine – I was more like an extra from friggin’ Nathan Barley.
Anyway, I rarely call upon you, dear readers. But if you are interested in getting into blogging, or know anybody who would like to join our happy blogging community, then please do steer them in the direction of Blogosphere magazine. And, one more request – please help me accelerate the inevitable demise of the high street coffee chain by finding your own E Pellici type caff nearby – ditch the Pret, and go big with a lunchtime liver sandwich and a £1.70 coffee instead.
332 Bethnal Green Road
Meals served 7am-4pm Mon-Sat