MARIE'S CAFE SERVES RELIABILITY ON A PLATE
Marie’s Cafe is an unpretentious restaurant in Lambeth that serves typical diner fare for breakfast and Thai food later in the day. The unassuming place is often busy – a testament to its reputation and food.
Marie’s Cafe, 90 Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London SE1 7A. Phone: 020 7928 1050
London is a different place by night and, its best eateries acknowledge that. A few eccentric individuals may want to imbibe a fry-up late into the evening, but I suspect that most of us will opt for something a little less heavy either before or after a night on the town. A place for each meal and each meal in its place, as it were.
An establishment in Central London that moves seamlessly from run-of-the-mill English fare to something a little more interesting is Marie’s Cafe near Waterloo station. You can pop in to Marie’s first thing in the morning and leave under the impression that you’ve dined at a fairly typical greasy spoon. Return later in the day, however, and you’ll still find something worth ordering – so long as you like Thai food.
I first visited Marie’s as a penurious student. It is a small and easy-to-miss place nestled in-between some fairly nondescript shops on Lower March, just across from the Cubana bar and restaurant. The fact that the restaurant is frequently bustling with people tells its own story: a place as unobtrusive as Marie’s must gain a certain reputation in order to attract such crowds. And word of mouth was how I first found out about it too: a student friend (“I know this great Thai place”) took me to Marie’s eight years ago, though I’ve been back many times since.
If you were to sum up Marie’s in a word, it would be “unpretentious”. This is not said with the intention of being patronising. The food served up in Marie’s doesn’t disappoint, even if the service could sometimes be a little faster. Rather, Marie’s excels because it eschews the ancillary gimmicks that usually accompany a meal in town. Marie’s doesn’t try too hard to be tackily “authentic”, nor do its table staff bombard you with dreary sales patter or address you in a tone of portentous servility. But where it matters – in what ends up on your plate and, following that, in your stomach – Marie’s reliably delivers.
Indeed, I cannot say that I’ve ever come away from Marie’s disappointed, which is certainly not true of most of the eateries I’ve frequented in London. Even some of my favourite places have, on occasion, sent me away disappointed or underfed. And anyway, if I do ever have a mediocre meal at Marie’s (and it is bound to happen at some point) it is hardly likely to be a source of deep regret: the restaurant is, as I’ve mentioned already, incredibly cheap for both its portion size and convenient central location.
If you were to sum up Marie’s in a word, it would be “unpretentious”.
One reason you usually end up leaving Marie’s with some cash to spare is because it is a “bring your own” restaurant. This isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it is beneficial to the hard-up or frugal diner as there are no overpriced drinks to send the bill skyward. If it’s just a soft drink you’re after, you can buy those for a reasonable price at the café. If you do not want to eat in the venue itself then staff will pack you up a take away.
Myself – I prefer to eat in. I find the unornamented interior of Marie’s welcoming and even cosy. Would you really choose the bland pop music of most chain establishments over the somnolent hum of contented diners, punctuated only by the occasional clatter of crockery?
I wouldn’t, but then I’ve probably made it clear where I stand on such matters by now. And as you are unlikely to stumble on a place as unshowy as Marie’s by accident, if you don’t want to miss out, you will have take my word for it.