Regency Café has hosted Hollywood and locals alike since 1946. Its secret? The best full English in town. 

Words by Alex Briand.

 

 

The secret to running the capital’s favourite caff is simple, says Marco Schiavetta.

It’s 6pm on a Monday evening, and the after-work service is starting.

“My secret… that’s a great cup of tea, right?”

It’s a terrific cup of tea.

“You have to really care, and have a passion about what you do,” he adds. “You don’t want to serve a bad cup of tea or a dodgy sausage.”

But before I can gain any more insight a local customer enters, and Marco is already up at the counter, taking his order and catching up.

The café sits at 17-19 Regency Street, just off Vincent Square. It’s been running since 1946, and in that time it has become a must-try destination for tourists.

“I asked a table of eight Americans how they found us. They said, ‘We googled “best breakfast in London” and you came up’.

“The internet can break you or make you; one step on the wrong side, you’re done. But on the right side, we’re first on the list,” he said.

A few years ago, the Regency Café  entered the top five restaurants in the entire capital on Yelp, beating scores of Michelin-starred destinations.

It has also formed the backdrop to films including Brighton Rock, Layer Cake (yes, that tea-pouring scene – “the service has got better since then,” says Marco).

Most recently it was in the Elton John biopic Rocketman.

The café itself is spacious, with Art Deco features and high Victorian windows.

 

The menu presents a list of ingredients and a few suggested combinations: egg and two bacon; egg, sausage and baked beans. And, so on.

The full English, by far their most popular order, is not on the list.

Its contents can be contentious, so I take the opportunity to ask the expert.

“The basics are egg, bacon and sausage. You can have beans or tomatoes, toast or bread, tea or coffee, six and a half quid.

“If you want to add something special there’s fresh mushrooms, homemade bubble and squeak, black pudding,” he said.

 

Local boy

Marco acquired the café in partnership with a friend of his father’s, Antonio Perotti.

“I went to school here,” says Marco.

“I lived above the fish and chip shop across the road. Tony and my father were West End boys. Tony had always been in catering since he came over from Italy.

“I was 21 years old, and my father wanted me to have some substance in my life. One day Dad says to me, ‘Go and have a look at this restaurant you and Tony are going to buy,'” he added.

Since Tony’s passing in 1994 Marco has split the running of the café with Tony’s daughter, Claudia Perotti.

From cab drivers to actors

Though it started off serving “predominantly the cab drivers, engineers – the working man”, the café’s location, charm and timeless British character soon saw it make its way into magazine shoots for Vogue and GQ, adverts, film and TV.

Marco puts it down to its space and charm.

“It’s a big restaurant. It’s double aspect, so they can get makeup in here, all the crew, everyone. Plus, it can be 1960, it can be 1990, it can be 2019, doesn’t matter. It’s a timeless building, so it’s a timeless cafe,” he said.

Its location also increases the chances of newsworthy faces. Channel 4 is just around the corner, and Westminster is on the doorstep.

A pre-mayoral Boris Johnson would regularly park his bike on the lamppost across the street and come in for breakfast. Cressida Dick came in for lunch before her interview to be police commissioner.

 

This article first appeared in Victoria magazine.

Regency Café  is at 17-19 Regency Street, near Westminster.

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