Now that there is no truly traditional English cafe in the vicinity of Clapton Pond - must be an opening there, young entrepreneurs - the Amhurst Café on Amhurst Road opposite Hackney Central station feels even more precious than before. When only a straightforward bacon, egg and chips will do, it's definitely worth the walk or short bus ride to an eating establishment that, amazingly, celebrates its half century anniversary this year.
Prorokobis Charalambous, better known as Peter, had come to London from Cyprus as a carpenter in 1960, intending to travel on to Australia but changed his mind. He first found work making furniture in Hackney Road and then got jobs in building, including the construction of Centre Point. He lived in Kettering for a while before getting a job at a Steakhouse restaurant in Ilford. In 1962 he came to Hackney to work in a cousin's grocery shop, which was across the road from where the café is.
The shop was demolished and the cousin relocated to Mare Street. But Peter didn't follow him. He set up in the Amhurst Café instead. It was opened in 1966 by none other than Bobby Moore, who in July of that year would captain the England football team to World Cup victory at Wembley. Peter knew him from the Steakhouse where he was a customer and sometimes gave him tickets to see West Ham. He remembers Moore also opening what was called until quite recently The Cricketers pub on Downs Road. He and his wife Vaso, with whom he runs the café, have lived above it since the early 1980s.
A lot has changed since 1966. The Amhurst was once the only café along its stretch of the street. Now there is also the Star, the Mess and, most recently, a branch of Costa right across the road, but the Amhurst seems to carry on regardless of the competition. Peter and Vaso have a solid group of regular customers, plus, Peter says, a few more yuppies than they used to.
There are lots of things I like about the Amhurst Café, but, along with the food, I think my favourite is the service. Weeks can pass between my visits, but when I next drop in all I have to say to Peter is "my usual, please," and the cup of tea, the two fried eggs, the bacon, the chips and the bread and butter will be on the table in five minutes. Much that's new about our bit of Hackney is good, but the Amhurst Café's timelessness is to be cherished.