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Elsewhere Radio Orchestrar / Flickr December 2008
Monday, December 15th, 2008 12:08 pm
Nevio Pellicci


I was at a friend's house on Saturday evening and they mentioned the recent passing away of Nevio Pellicci, proprietor of the Pellicci family cafe at 332 Bethnal Green Road. The funeral took place on Friday and there were around 300 crowding out the church, singing his praises, saying their goodbyes, adjusting their eyes as the light dimmed, for there's a stretch of London just a little darker without him. I'm sorry I missed it. It was, as they say, a proper East End send-off with giant floral tributes, horse drawn carriage, hats off...

Pellicci's is a long-running East End institution. An Italian cafe founded in 1900. Nevio was born upstairs in 1925 and worked in the cafe all his life. The place is well known for its period marquetry interior and magnolia Vitriolite exterior. It's also known for its fine breakfasts, delicious home cooking, generous portions, reasonable prices and the fact the Kray Twins used to eat there. And Stephen Berkoff. Back in the day. What I have always cherished it for (besides the lasagne, steak pie and what-have-you) is the the generosity of its staff. It's a place you want to go back to. And you do. The quality of the chat - the ambient sounds of orders taken, jokes made, snatches of conversation from other tables, confidences, betrayals, the characters, the opera - these vital elements sorely lacking in most London restaurants. With his death, something of this city's fabric vanishes, this isn't a voice you will be hearing again.

I was first taken to Pellicci's in about 1986 or so. I won't pretend I was a regular. I've never lived that close - although I'm now significantly closer - but if I can find an excuse to meet someone in the area, it will be the place I suggest. My friend Pearcey who took me had just moved to Whitechapel, part of that initial wave of artists and creative types into the the East End. One of my favourite stories about Pearcey, a jeweller, is that he once made a body cast of Kylie Minogue for a crystal dress he was constructing. The process first involved smearing Kylie's naked entirety in vaseline... But, hang on, I'm supposed to be writing about Pellicci's.

The cafe is one of places I always take people who ask me to show them London. A decent breakfast or an early lunch and then walk through the City, along the river or canal, a spot of mudlarking, out east, Cable Street, whatever. Forget the Palace or Tate Modern. Nevio would be there in the morning when I visited. He was always immaculate. He once offered me advice on how to tie a cravat. He was, as they say again, a proper gentleman. Of the old school. Not from the world of push and shove, hostile takeovers, covert surveillance. I find it hard to describe the precise art of the cafe proprietor, for along with his son and other family members there, he made it appear quite effortless. It can't be copied, although I'd suggest that many places would be vastly improved if they tried. Say hello, wave goodbye, extend a welcome, how-are-you, patter, human warmth, hospitality without industry. There's not much of it about. Pellicci's is Pellicci's. It's not seeking to expand its business operation, open other branches, self-replicate, sell off the franchise. It is sufficient by itself.

Rest assured, the cafe is not closing. Mother's still in the kitchen at the back, the son and others out the front, I'll be heading along there soon enough to offer my slight condolences among the many others, drink tea, eat steak pie and chips, savour the moments.

I'm not feeling that eloquent about Nevio Pellicci, but there's plenty more to read, see and hear in various other places:

A well-deserved obituary in The Times

A tribute page at Classic Cafes

A short film by Ali Taylor:


Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 09:44 pm (UTC)

As ever, a shame to lose someone like that. I've never been, for my sins. Seems like the kind of place where they don't tack a 'voluntary' 15% service charge onto the bill (on top of the tip you're stil expected to leave), as well as the kind of place where you needn't worry about braying office Xmas parties. Food served with a genuine smile. What can be so hard about that?

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC)

i'm glad you commented, though. it's always nice to hear from you, dear sarmoung.

i'm going through a bit of a rough patch where i'm not quite a young bright student anymore and yet i'm not quite ready (partly because i haven't been doing well in school) to enter the real world? and of course existential crises don't pay the bills or really do too much good for one's figure-- .

The Empire Never Ended
Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 09:43 am (UTC)

Hello again. I thought you must have finished in Lawrence by now, so, hmm, back in Wichita!

No monastery for me as yet. After several previous planning incarnations, the business is now going ahead as a Japanese food stall for markets around London. It's taking a fair deal of planning, with more yet to come, but I will let everyone know once it actually appears. Even it couldn't really be much further from your front door. It'll mostly okonomiyaki, but I might give pajeon a go as well from time to time as it's popular in Osaka, where it's called chijimi.

And if no one wants to eat my pancakes? Err. Nor sure what to do then...

Anyway, M., I certainly believe you're both young and bright, if no longer exactly a student. It can be a tricky time, if you haven't made the decision to be immediately sucked into a corporate salaried package (and quite right too for not doing so!), but existential crises do have their purpose, even if it's not clear at the time.

You're always welcome in London. We have lots of water!

ReplyThread Parent
Thursday, April 2nd, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)

my brother was a big fan of the korean chive pancakes. i never really liked pancakes, asian or buttermilk, but an okonimiyaki stall does have its appeal.

are you doing multiple venues? how?

ReplyThread Parent