I once went on a date with a guy that looked like Moss from ‘The IT Crowd’. I’d thought he might be ‘geeky cool’ or even ‘geeky quirky’. Alas, I realised almost immediately that he was actually ‘geeky dorky’ and not at all my cup of tea. We were completely mismatched.
An hour of polite chit chat later I apologised and made my excuses. “I need to go this way” I told him. “I need to go that way too” he replied. I stride towards home while he’d trotted alongside, drawing my attention to various points of interest. One of these was E Pellicci. “It’s famous, a Bethnal Green institution” he told me. I filed that nugget of information away as I gave him an awkward ‘goodbye forever’ hug.
If all cafes are created equal then this one is definitely more equal than others. It’s tiny, with grade two listed interiors, was opened in 1900 and is still owned by the same family. The children are out front running the place and yelling instructions to mamma in the kitchen. Nobody stands on ceremony here. I walk in, to overhear one of the customers being told, “What are you doing? Make him bloody pay!” and am welcomed warmly and without a shred of pretention. My friend arrives late and is promply berated for his tardiness. It’s so packed that strangers very quickly become chatty and familiar.
They serve up full English breakfasts and traditional Italian fare including lasagna and chicken pie with a pure, effortless joy. Not being able to decide between breakfast or lunch I order a caprese salad, eggs with hash browns, bubble and squeak. “Bacon?” They ask. “No, I’m Jewish” I tell them. “That doesn’t matter,” they reply. “This is Kosher bacon, it’s been blessed by the East London rabbi” My friend has the bacon, it looks crispy, but what do I know? “Mum makes fantastic chips, you have to try them” we are told. They give us a free side of chips. I order the penne after getting food envy from the people next to me. The table feels like it’s groaning under the weight of so much hearty grub.
The poached egg is cut open and I sigh with joy as the yolk runs across the plate. It’s perfectly cooked. I eat it mixed with the fresh sweet tomatoes, mozzarella and a drizzle of oil. When the penne arrives I ladle it on top of the crunchy bubble and hash. It’s a strange combination to have on one plate and I couldn’t care less. The sauce is flavourful, I slurp it up through the centre of the penne before I bite into it. I could close my eyes and be in Italy if it weren’t for the distinct East London banter that bounces across the room.
We are interrupted from our conversation by a series of loud bangs. There is a birthday in the house and we’re asked to sing happy birthday. Everyone obliges, and our voices intermingle, slightly off key and punctuated by opportune pot banging.
The bill is so cheap that I can’t believe it’s right, and I leave clutching a doggy bag of homemade bread pudding that has generously been shoved into my hands. Their warmth is overwhelming. It’s a unique place run by beautiful people, and the joshing and din feels like the hug of home. I consider asking them to adopt me, but decide it’s unnecessary. After one delicious meal, they have already made me feel like family.