Quarantacinque's shop front looks onto Roman Road.

Bethnal Green hidden gem Quarantacinque brings Italy to Tower Hamlets

One cafe has garnered its loyal regulars through simple ingredients, single-origin coffee and Campari spritz, done the Italian way.

Beyond a striped parasol and behind a dark green shop front an older man raises his ceramic espresso cup to his lips and finishes the drink. He raises a hand and offers a ‘ciao’ before taking the three short paces that see him out of the shop.

Francesco, who owns Quarantacinque, deftly spins a coffee filter in one hand and pivots to lean an arm onto the ledge of the hatch facing the street to greet his next customer. People squeeze past each other across the narrow wooden floorboards to perch on a table or place an espresso on a rare spare surface.

At lunchtime two patient queues form, one inside the cafe, and one leading up to the hatch, with most ordering coffees and focaccia. Francesco offers the odd work-from-homer a spritz with most shaking their heads and letting out a nervous laugh.

‘For me, this is just a lunchtime drink’, Francesco says, ‘Back home, the tradition is to leave your office or home for lunch and give yourself enough time to sit down, eat and drink and enjoy a change of scene.’

Walking inside the shop wallpaper covered in vine leaves in three shades of green stretches behind some shelves. Between the worn, warm-toned books, sits a speaker playing Italian classics from the 50s to the 90s. A distinctive 80s synth crackled beneath Franco Battiato’s voice. The Italian filmmaker and composer’s major-key pop bounces soundtracked the lunchtime orders and grinding of coffee beans.

A blackboard listing their drinks sits above a few bottles of Campari and Aperol, all made in Francesco’s home town of Padova in Italy. On the back wall, there is a framed intricate architectural drawing of the Padova Palazzo, a medieval market hall with two uniform levels of arches.

Weaving your way through softly murmured Italian conversation inside you can find two shelves of focaccia. These are filled with simple ingredients sourced from Italian specialist wholesalers in London. Italian cornetti sit on the top shelf, croissants filled with steaming hot apricot jam and chocolate. The pastries are simple but well executed but it is the flavours that really sing.

In the evening, the shop casts just enough light onto the street for an evening of Campari spritz. Aperol takes a back seat with most people opting for its more bitter relative. These are not the watery behemoths you might be used to in English pubs but small, strong efficient cocktails of spirit, wine and soda. Even in the winter regulars put on hats and gloves and huddle together in groups.

You can grab a coffee and a sandwich from Quaranctinque for well under £10, the cafe is just a 5-minute walk down from Bethnal Green station towards Victoria Park. On Thursdays, throughout the year you can try a spritz, at an Aperetivo evening. 

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