The London Review of Breakfasts

"Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper." (Francis Bacon)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Frank's Café, Southwark

Frank’s Café
132 Southwark Street
0207 928 3850
Mon – Fri 6.30-3.30

by Evelyn Waughffle

Do you believe in love at first sight? What about love at first breakfast? 

A few months ago at a friend’s wedding I felt that irresistible tug towards another person that is a little like falling over and a little like being gripped about the kidneys by an invisible fist. He was flailing somewhere in the middle of the reception with what looked like a handheld mixer. I was at the edge of the room with a paper plate full of potato salad. Was it his helplessness that drew me to him? His evident laissez-fair attitude to the wrapping of wedding presents? Or was it his coal eyes and crumpled black suit? Whatever it was I longed to be near him. I tried to follow his progress while making small talk and spearing resistant cherry tomatoes onto my fork but lost him somewhere between the disobedient crudité and a story about the bride’s due date (imminent). Moments later he was in front of me, asking if there was room on my bench for one more. I said there was, shuffled along awkwardly, and then wracked my brains for a suitable opener, something that would convey to him our shared fate, our comingled destiny, our blended reasons for being. I found myself looking into his eyes and asking instead, “Do you have a favourite greasy spoon?”.

We talked for a while and in the confusion of toasts, tears and cake were separated. I was kicking myself for being so inane when suddenly he was beside me again, a dark figure in the awkward mill of friends and relatives that had accumulated in the space between the tables and chairs. The band began to play. As the conga line started I felt him put his hands around my waist and tried not to fall over. 

That was three months ago now and I would have forgotten all about the mysterious stranger from the conga line had I not chanced to walk past the café he had recommended during our fleeting (too fleeting!) moments of conversation. What would I discover about him there? Not to be confused with Peckham’s gentrified car park rooftop bar, this café remembers when Campari was as cool as, well, your mother. With an unprepossessing façade, plastic lettering that doesn’t quite achieve nostalgia, and food photographs that look to have been boiled before they were stuck to the window, you would be forgiven for walking straight past this humble humdrum haven. But reader, Franks is the place the proverbial book and cover were coined for. It is an exquisite greasy spoon. If these things do it for you then prepare to be seduced.

As soon as you enter you are greeted by two countermen who take your order. Behind them, ’spoon essentials cram themselves into view; epic constructions which have more in common with ancient sites of worship than kitchen ingredients. Stacks of bread teetering like plaster columns, pyramids of butter pats and a vast totem of a peanut butter pot which demands submission from the tea bags that surround it. Along the walls hang framed pictures of sporting heroes, a collage made for ‘the world’s best Dad’ and several shots of a variety of people holding up an implausibly large fish. I felt myself go weak at the knees.

Even ordering was a joy. The man behind the till performed an acrobatic ritual combining money taking and coffee pouring that was the most dexterous thing I have ever seen at such close quarters. He whisked away my note and threw it down on top of his till whilst frothing milk in a small white cup with his other hand. Between filling the cup with coffee from a great silver drum and placing it onto a saucer he had somehow also scooped the note into the till and fished out my change. He handed me coins and cup with a flourish and, after admonishing another customer for swearing in a lady’s presence, told me to sit down. 

I sat down obediently in a booth next to the kitchen hatch. Lists of ingredients were shouted out when ready. Delicately tuned combinations like, “Fanta, chips, lasagna!” “Sausage, chips, beans!” and “Double scrambled eggs on brown toast!” The words were like music to my ears, a song sung which only I could hear. Is this what love feels like? My breakfast arrived in a three-slice stack which glistened pleasingly. It was thinly sliced bread of good quality (crisply crusted but forgiving in the middle) and generously spread with crunchy peanut butter. The coffee was too hot to taste and somewhat overwhelmed by bathwateresque foam. I followed it up with a black one which was thick and bitter (much better). 

As I sat in the booth, enjoying my second coffee and the clatter of crockery, I could not help but think about what might have been. A man who knows how to breakfast is hard to find. Could it be that he is sitting somewhere, above a fried egg sandwich, dreaming of me?

We’ll always have the conga line. 


Anonymous Rachael said...

Oh my goodness, that was a breathtakingly good piece of writing. Thank you for leaving me jealously impressed and lustfully hungry.

11:32 PM, October 30, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was there for two days recently, and upon the second day when I was to pay for my ciabatta´s , the older guy said - "the same as yesterday"
I was a bit perplexed and asked - do you remember?
His answer - "of course".
This is a piece of England I really like, reminds me of my first visit some 30 years ago.

"A tourist"

12:43 PM, December 04, 2013  
Blogger Unknown said...

Nice piece. I came along after recounting the following story to work colleague by email:
The guy behind the counter who does the tea looked up as I walked in today and smiled, saying “oh, hi Steve!”. The last time he saw me was in 2008.
In the quality of the staff and the care taken to make the food taste just right, this cafe punches well above its weight.

4:14 PM, January 31, 2019  

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