Stop with me a while, enjoy Italy in London

I love it when we have friends staying with us. I realised this past weekend that we’ve had more people stay with us in London than anywhere else we’ve lived. London’s like that.

We had a friend staying with us over the weekend and planned a full weekend for him. While not everything went according to plan, it was just how it was meant to be. Life’s like that.

Our plan for Friday night was to go to one of our favourite restaurants next to Tower Bridge. It is right next to London’s City Hall, a modern and interesting-looking building that was added to London’s skyline in 2002.

London's City Hall designed by architect, Norman Foster

So our destination was London Bridge. We stood at the bus stop where the buses all head off in the same general direction. We discovered (actually we knew, but weren’t thinking) that the bus we jumped on gave London Bridge a wide berth. We decided to stay on board and travel to Waterloo and walk back along the South Bank to our final destination. The walk took us about an hour.

We walked the route I described in my blog post last week – Come and walk along the South Bank with me – but without the buskers, the book market and daylight. It was dark and cold, but still a wonderful walk, always with so much to see and soak in. The view of St Paul’s on the far side of the river, lit brightly against a dark, autumn sky, is always breathtaking. We walked past the working replica of the Golden Hinde, the small flagship that unbelievably took Sir Francis Drake around the world in 1577. We walked through, past, alongside and underneath amazing culture and history – I always wonder what the walls have seen and what they could tell us.

When we saw Tower Bridge in the distance, and the Tower of London on the far side of the river, we knew we were nearly there. We got a table upstairs at our favourite Italian restaurant, with the brightly lit Tower Bridge as the backdrop to our meal.

The view from the restaurant

Our delightful young Italian waiter, two months new to London and here to learn English, smiled awkwardly at us as he tried to make sense of our strange accents. English must be bad enough to understand. Saffa English? Heaven help the boy.

We ordered our meals from the menu bursting with Italian delights. Our friend wanted to impress the waiter, so he squeezed in a “Paolo Nutini” with his order, just to sound Italian. That was really funny!

Saturday morning and we headed east to Bethnal Green, to our favourite breakfast spot: ePellicci. Not only is the restaurant itself Grade II listed for its wooden art-deco interior, but it is an experience I would recommend to anyone visiting London. A true East End caff, ePellicci combines the wonderful, witty banter of the East End with the food, hospitality and kind community-mindedness that is typically Italian.

The best caff in London

The restaurant was started in around 1900 by the Pellicci family when they moved to London from Tuscany, and has been run by the family ever since. Mamma works in the kitchen (she is the daughter-in-law of the original couple and was sadly widowed two years ago; a framed photograph of her late husband hangs proudly on the wall), and her son, daughter and nephew run the show, with help of a few young waiters.

It is a tiny restaurant and I would imagine, at capacity (at which it operates constantly) seats about 35 people. The first time we went there, we walked in and were greeted warmly by the daughter who said to me, “Are you stoppin’, young lady?” I was sold.

They fill chairs, not tables, so you will always be seated with other people. The breakfast is a jolly good, greasy, fry-up for a fiver and if you leave anything on your plate, the staff feels bad because you could have substituted what you didn’t like for something else. They don’t want you to lose out – I loved that. Service is good and personal, they introduce people to each other, they have regulars who eat there daily or weekly, and plenty of people who travel from afar to experience Cockney Italian hospitality at its finest. On Saturday they showed us their photo album, which is filled with photos of celebrities – local and international – who have eaten there.

On our first visit, Nevio Jnr insisted on giving us – “guv, and the young lady” – a taste of the bread pudding his mamma made. He wrapped two slices of it in tinfoil for us, told us it was a taste of heaven and asked us to let him know, next time, what we thought of it. Generosity, community-mindedness, good service, personal touch and good, old-fashioned, tasty nosh – I thought you didn’t get any of that, anywhere, any more. ePellicci gives it to you in spades.

I’ll save the rest of our weekend for another post. I wanted you to enjoy a little Italian with us. Music and markets for another day.

Sunshine signing off for today.