Foodie Adventures: Regency Cafe, Pimlico

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Regency Cafe

I found Regency Cafe during a post-interview wander, which left me floating around Pimlico in search of a late breakfast. I was instantly intrigued by how retro this place looked; white block lettering against a black-tiled exterior, with red and white checked curtains at the windows. Correctly guessing that this kind of place would not take cards, I walked past initially, found a cash point, then went back. Inside, it really was like a time warp. Faded photographs and movie posters in frames lined the cream- tiled walls, and the tables were like the kind you’d associate with a canteen. Linoleum. The menu was spelled out in white letters on those black boards that used to display cinema times: slightly wonky and with some of the letters handmade where they’ve been lost or damaged. The food on offer instantly reminded me of home: the North of England has managed to keep far more of these ‘greasy spoons’ open, and so the fried liver on offer was reminiscent of the tiny cafe where I waitressed growing up. In London, though, there are very few of these places left. The ones that do exist tend to have a manufactured kind of feel, like they’ve been created to look like this kind of cafe, rather than actually being the real thing.

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Specials Board (+ builders’ tea; bottom left)

In my pencil skirt and blazer (remember, post-interview), I was suddenly conscious of looking very out of place: the cafe was mainly filled with working men taking their mid- morning break; all steel-capped boots, dusty overalls and fluorescent jackets. The service was rough and ready, but that only added to the warmth of the place — you order at the counter and then, when your food’s ready, they call out the order and you go up to collect it yourself. The man behind the counter had the kind of infectious friendliness that afflicts all of the best cafe owners; he seemed to know most of the people who came in and out, and by the time you left he bid you farewell like a long-lost friend.

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Condiments in technicolour

Builders’ tea; strong, milky and sloshed into plain white mugs, sat on most of the tables, accompanied by the full English breakfasts that you’d expect. Some people were tucking into large plates of rice and curry, despite the early hour: a chalkboard and the industrial-sized vat of mango chutney beside the till made it clear that this was the lunchtime special: Wednesday is curry day, apparently. The food was what you would expect: it was fresh, tasty and cheap. Definitely no frills, but this is the kind of place that shuns anything resembling frills at first glance. Standing at the counter and glancing at the menu, a man made a quip about Heston Blumenthal, that British gourmet chef famous for his weird, wonderful and very frilly creations (think, snail porridge) which I couldn’t quite hear. The owner replied jovially; ‘Oh yeah, Heston bloomin’ hell!’ It had been a long time since I’d heard anybody say ‘blooming’, and it reminded me instantly of my Dad, who is a fan of that particular exclamation of incredulity or annoyance. I’ve come to think of it as quite an old-fashioned phrase, and it made me realise that this cafe was filled with the invisible London which I hadn’t really experienced before.

Coming to London as an Oxford graduate, I’ve experienced a very particular face of the city. The posh bars and cafes, the professionals I meet when I go for interviews, and the other graduates who I spend most of my time with. But this cafe, and the people saying ‘blooming’, are more like the community I came from originally; using slang, and drinking tea from plain white mugs in cafes that only have two choices of bread (white or brown) and aren’t interested in any kind of smoothie. Don’t get me wrong, I love rye bread and passion fruit smoothies, but I also miss the simplicity of the small, rural place where I grew up.

When I went to Oxford, I was surrounded by people that mainly (not everybody!) spoke very stereotypically ‘British’ English; they were ‘posh’, I supposed you’d say, for want of a better word. Most people spoke very similarly, and I was instantly mocked for my deepened vowels, and the way that I said certain words, like ‘butter’ or ‘grass’. And even though most of it was just friendly teasing, it made me feel like I stood out. So without really realising I started to disguise my Northern accent; I didn’t let my vowels get too deep, and I rarely relaxed into the richness of slang and sayings that I’d grown up with. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the way the people in this cafe spoke reminded me inescapably of home, and that was really very nice.

Well, that turned into something of a tangent, but it comes down to the fact that if you’re looking for two eggs, chips and a Diet Coke for £4, then this place is ideal. And its friendliness is only enhanced by how rough it is around the edges.

Listening to: Warpath by Ingrid Michaelson, I Will Never Let You Down by Rita Ora, Strong and Wrong by Joni Mitchell.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Blenheim, Burgers and General Bumbling

Once we’d finished our exams, we found ourselves in the unfamiliar situation of being in Oxford with two weeks to go before the end of term and nothing in particular to do. Being in college with no essays to write and no exams to revise for was very weird, but with every intention of making the most of it, we set out to enjoy our last few days of university in the sunshine. I love a good list, so here are my three favourite things that I got up to in those last few weeks, with lots of photographs.

1. Blenheim Palace

I’ve loved visiting historic homes since I was little, and Blenheim was really interesting: it’s the birthplace of William Churchill so that’s a big focus of the exhibitions, but the guided tour also included lots about other residents of the house. There were collections of Churchill’s letters and diaries, giving an insight into his personal life and not just his well- known wartime persona. I was especially taken with the story of his life long love affair with his wife Clementine, including how he was so nervous about proposing to her that she had to be taken on a ride around the palace grounds by another member of his family while Winston worked up the courage to ask. Given that the main image I’ve always had of the wartime leader was of a rather gruff, forceful man, it was nice to see a different side to him. It made me like him more.

His iconic World War Two speeches were also playing throughout the exhibition, and although I don’t tend to think of myself as especially patriotic, his speeches, and the amazing sense of unity which they inspired, really get to me every time. The grounds were also amazing, complete with their own lake, a huge stone bridge, a chapel and a rose garden.

2.  Burgers

One of the places I’ve wanted to visit since I got to Oxford is Atomic Burger on Cowley Road, a burger place famous for its American style burgers, fries and milkshakes. I’ll admit that things like ‘Diners, Drive- Ins and Dives’ on the Food Channel may have contributed to me wanting to try it! So when my brother came to visit for a few days we headed down there, and we definitely weren’t disappointed.

My brother had ‘The Garfield’, which was basically a burger with lasagna on top: the menu describes it as ‘so wrong but oh so right’, which just about sums it up! I had the ‘Audrey Hepburn’, which was topped with a fried egg, bacon and an onion ring, plus fries and the BEST strawberry milkshake I’ve ever had. My boyfriend had the ‘Dead Elvis’, which was topped with Swiss cheese, American cheese, bacon and onions. He also went for the ‘Dirty Fries’, which were loaded with beef chilli, aged cheddar sauce & jalapenoes: he was pretty much in heaven with those.

So lunch was awesome, and the surroundings made it even better: the menu describes those behind Atomic Burger as pop culture junkies, and that sums up the place. A TV plays loads of old music videos, the cornier the better, and the walls are filled with geeky sci- fi memorabilia. My brother said that eating there was like being in ‘Pulp Fiction’, which he reliably informs me was a positive thing. They also had cool ketchup/ mustard bottles: tick, tick, tick.

3. General Bumbling

What do students do when they finish their exams? Go to pubs. Lots of pubs. Well we did anyway. One of my friends has a pub crawl poster with about fifty pubs on which she’d been ticking off gradually throughout our degree, but in the last two weeks she went on a one woman mission in a bid to visit every single one. We also spent a lot of time lying on the quad in the sunshine, sleeping, and going to formal dinners. At times it was quite emotional, since we knew this was the last time that we’d all be in Oxford together, but I really tried not to let it all get too much. I knew that once I let the emotion overwhelm me I’d be useless, and I really wanted to make the most of my last few days. The photographs below are from a lunch I had with two of my best friends in a beautiful pub by a meadow just outside Oxford. It was quite a long walk there, which we spent setting the world to rights and laughing a lot: exactly what friends are for.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2014.