The Lorelei was on Bateman Street in Soho and closed down in 2013, its passing being noted in The Guardian and New Statesman. Like the Stockpot on Old Compton Street, now also gone, it was one of the cheaper good places to eat in the West End. The menu was dominated by pizzas (priced around £6) and simple pasta dishes.
The inside was a hybrid of lino-and-formica cafe and the dark woody Mittel European rustic look favoured by London’s older Italian restaurants. A mural covered most of one wall and depicted the cafe’s mythological namesake: a mermaid on a rock turning to gaze at an approaching sailing ship. To the left of the photo is a sign for La Capannina, which was then run by a Maltese man and popular as a hangout for strippers and other Soho nighthawks. It’s now under Chinese management and describes itself as an ‘exclusive gentlemen’s club’.
Quite close by on the west side of Charing Cross Road was the scuzzy-looking 101 Snack Bar. The man behind the counter had the manner of someone who’d just woken from a deep sleep. In answer to my request to take a photo inside, he nodded his head slowly, almost imperceptibly.
In its early days the 101 Snack Bar must have appeared bright and modern. By 2001 it had blended with the general air of rent-seeking neglect which then characterised the northern end of Charing Cross Road.
Fitzrovia was better known for its Greek and Italian restaurants along Cleveland Street than its cafes and snack bars. Below is Maria’s Sandwich Bar as it was on Grafton Way. Since then it’s had a makeover, perhaps to keep up with the newer coffee shops and sushi bars which have sprouted alongside the growth of offices and media firms in the district.
Vauxhall Bridge Road, Victoria Street and the Thames define a triangle enclosing an unusual and reserved part of London. It includes buildings and institutions such as MI5, Westminster Abbey, Tate Britain, Channel 4, the Labour Party’s headquarters, and Westminster public school. There are also the Peabody and Guinness Trust estates which replaced one of the most wretched Victorian slums in Britain, known as the Devil’s Acre. Like elsewhere in central London, there is little middle ground between the Georgian townhouse and the council flat.
A couple of small cafes off Strutton Ground serve residents from the old blocks of flats along Abbey Orchard Street and Great Peter Street. Further south, on Horseferry Road, is the Astral Cafe. In 2001 it was popular with cab drivers who used to park at the top of Maunsel Street close by. The food then was mostly of the sausage, egg, chips and beans variety and the unusual name was taken from Astral House, the corner block of private flats in which the cafe occupied the ground floor. It appeared in the video for the 1985 UK hit single ‘Take on Me’ by the Norwegian pop band A-ha. The cafe is still in business in the same premises.
Another survivor is the well-known Regency cafe, also on Horseferry Road. This large and quite grand-looking cafe has an interior that’s very clean and tidy in the masculine sort of way which pie-and-mash shops tend to have. It draws its clientele from surrounding offices and Channel 4 staffers wanting a change from their subsidised canteen.
Further along Horseferry Road, towards the Thames, was the Fiesta snack bar. It’s included here because of its attractive sign. Since then it’s changed hands and now presents a more modern and nondescript front.
A similarly attractive old sign adorned Vince’s on Red Lion Street in Holborn. The premises are now occupied by a Chinese takeaway. The street formerly had more evidence of the presence of an Italian community than it does today, with the Mazzini Garibaldi Cliub, a nice restaurant called the Conca D’Oro (now a Thai) and, a little further away, the Mille Penne.
The last establishment has been hopefully included here, because I can’t remember exactly where it was. I think it may have been on or somewhere near Edgware Road a short distance north of the junction with Marylebone Road.
It made an attractive sight with the chrome fittings on the front and its smaller plastic-lettered sign. The generic name makes it hard to find out anything more about the place, but if you remember it, please drop me a line.