Crossroads café at 190 Bellenden Road in Peckham, is a greasy spoon open from 6am to 3pm, every day apart from Sunday when it opens at 7.30am. There is a long menu displayed on a large yellow acrylic board above the counter, featuring unchanging daily specials, breakfasts, omelettes, roast dinners and extras on offer. Many dishes are ‘served with…’ a slice of bread and butter and tea, or coffee, or chips, or beans, or salad, or peas, or roast vegetables and potatoes.
Anything that you might think would be the ideal addition to your order, comes with it anyway. It is thoughtful and generous in the mould of greasy spoon cafés. Crossroads is not a place that you think, upon paying, “well, it all adds up.” As well as the yellow menu, sheets of printed A4 paper listing the elements included in a range of special menus – varying combinations of the breakfast ingredients – are stuck on the walls around the counter. The special menus are numbered and are all different, and yet more or less identical. I have not worked out the pricing logic behind the special menus, which are all marginally different.
On the wall, there are framed photographic posters of bright green mountain valleys, meadows and lakes dotted with wooden cow shacks underneath blue skies, which could be Switzerland or rural France, were it not for the gleaming white mosque nestling in the technicolor idyll. I think the family are of Turkish descent, as the pictures show the Turkish countryside, but the posters could just be generic images of somewhere beautiful. There’s also a watercolour illustration of Crossroads on the wall. The café has been here since 2001, longer than most of the other restaurants and food shops on the street.
Image: google street view
The woman who does front of house, whose name I have not yet asked, is effusively welcoming to all, highly effective, and always makes a cup of tea the same way, without asking how anyone wants it. It always comes exactly how I want it: with the bag in, with milk, no sugar. The bread that they use to make the egg and bacon bap that I usually order is a broad, crusty, flavoursome white roll, not the limp slices that collapse into a pulp when squeezed around a fried egg. The sandwich loaf that they use is also a robust, handmade style and is an excellent place to put 5 fish fingers, which is how many you get in their fish finger sandwiches, along with chips. It’s hard to spend more than £10 between two for breakfast including coffee and a freshly squeezed orange juice, even with a concluding round of toast with marmalade. I appreciate that the butter and marmalade come already spread on the toast by the chefs, I do not have to appreciate the authenticity of chunky marmalade from a rustic jar, and spread it myself.
At least one day a week the chefs and the woman running things all wear gangster style trilby hats. The first time I noticed, I asked if it was in celebration of a national day, I think because it coincided with Mother’s Day, but she said no, it was just a day to wear hats for fun.
I have never seen anyone complain about the food. In fact usually, compliments abound. The cooks seem to accommodate everyone’s dietary issues: gluten free, vegan, extras, substitutions, more, less: a combination anything you like, if its on the yellow board. Everyone leaves happy, or at least happier than they came in. There is a red faced, slim cross-dresser who wears mini tie-dye beach sarongs and eats vegetarian food; a large, middle aged woman in leggings with a giant mess of jet black hair piled on her head with a big clip who I think lives on my road and is always sat by the counter; a young woman who skips the toast on her order; a queue of police men and women, radios growling as they pick up takeaway orders in brown paper bags; builders on a break from transforming a large red brick Victorian school into luxury flats; the fashionable butcher over the road; young families whose kids get a free lollypop from the proprietress; bleary eyed art students; fragile adults with their grown up children, eating together.
The bacon and egg roll, with the application of three sauces, ketchup, brown sauce and chilli sauce, cheers me up on blue mornings. I hope to try the omelette soon, if I ever make it there on an afternoon.