London restaurant quick hit (project greasy spoon): Square Deal Cafe, Maidenhead

Maidenhead is served well by expensive restaurants, with Heston Blumenthal’s triple-Michelin-starred Fat Duck just down the road in Bray. I’d love to eat there but at this point, only if someone else were paying. And in my opinion there’s an equally interesting culinary establishment just a couple of minutes outside town on the way to Reading on the A4, albeit interesting for different reasons. And only if you’re as big a fan as I am of the best English meal of all: Breakfast.

Greasy spoons are an institution in Britain, but unheard of outside the country.  For the uninitiated, you might wish to start by watching my Flickr slideshow of the Square Deal (click here) to get a flavour of the atmosphere.  A “greasy spoon” is a cafe that specialises in English cooked breakfasts — eggs, thick British-cut slices of bacon (as opposed to the thin, streaky American kind), sausages, baked beans, tomatoes, fried bread, slices of buttered bread and of course, slices of black pudding, which I’ve explained more in a separate recent post. The expression “greasy spoon” dates from the 1920s and was originally used in a derogatory fashion to refer to small, cheap, often working class (the opposite of upper class) and unsanitary (greasy) places. These days though, greasy spoons have been reclaimed amongst forward-thinking Brits as the purveyors of blunt, no-nonsense breakfast cooking that is served with a minimum of fuss and thankfully, a maximum of hygiene. Ingredients aren’t exactly organic, as a rule, but the food is hot and the tea is good so quit moaning.

If considering where to take an aristocrat on a date in Maidenhead—and this is not a question I am currently grappling with in real life, but one never knows—I would rather take them to the Square Deal Cafe than I would to the Fat Duck. It offers a better test of character in the “Mega” breakfast for £7.50, which so nearly beat me, that I took a picture afterwards to serve as a future reminder of my manhood.

The scooter ride from Croydon takes just under two hours during rush hour so I was ready for a big feed. But during my Mega marathon I had to have a five-minute breather in the middle, to be sure of crossing the finish line without metaphorically “collapsing”. In fact it’s possible the only reason I was able to complete the Mega is because I just finished reading Touching The Void, a book about a climber who crawls three days to safety through the Andes on a broken leg. The Mega consists of two bacon, two eggs, two sausages, black pudding, a slice of fried bread, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, bread and butter, served with tea or coffee.

The Square Deal Cafe is renowned amongst truck drivers and BBC sound recording engineers alike as the last decent breakfast stop on this road heading East into London. A Square Deal breakfast is sufficient to sustain one’s resolve for the drive through Slough — the setting of Ricky Gervais’ show The Office — and on into town. New owner Harry Patel took over management 18 months ago and has made a couple of subtle updates since then such as the installation of new blackboards. He also contemplated getting a new sign for the place, but it doesn’t seem to have materialised. There is charm in this kind of English laissez-faire attitude, I think.

Staff are friendly and helpful. Clientele were all very happy with their meals on our visit and I’d come back again, certainly. This is a place to remove one’s fake Burberry tie (which one purchased on eBay from Hong Kong), stuff a paper napkin down one’s shirt-front, Italian-style, and get back in touch with whatever it is one forgot on the way to eating here in the first place. Tell ‘em what they’ve won, Bully…

Square Deal Cafe, Bath Road, Knowl Hill, Maidenhead, Berkshire RG10 9UR

Stars out of five: ****

Nearest tube station:

Reservations? They didn’t answer the phone when I called, so I assume no. It’s a casual come-as-you-are establishment. Perhaps most noticeable on our visit for being almost entirely full with tradesmen.

Veggie catered for? Yes, surprisingly. A veggie breakfast is £5.80, eggs on toast are £2.30.

Bill per person? £7.50 if you get the Mega breakfast, which includes a cup of tea or coffee.

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