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So long, Dino’s Restaurant & Grill

August 3, 2011
by the gentle author

Dino’s Restaurant & Grill in Commercial St mysteriously closed “for refurbishment” this Summer never to reopen. This was the last of the traditional cafes that once served the Spitalfields Fruit & Vegetable Market and it was the scene of innumerable Spitalfields Life interviews. I am republishing this feature from March last year as tribute to a beloved Spitalfields institution  - Dino’s boasted the distinction of possessing the widest range of clientele, where builders sat at one table with bankers at the next table, all gathered there as equals to enjoy an honest breakfast.

This swaggering Italian with the Fred Flintstone stubble and the Antonio Banderas hair is Matthew Ribeiro of Dino’s Grill & Restaurant in Commercial St. Often to be seen delivering a bacon sandwich to Jimmy Cuba, the music dealer in the market, and always up for the rough and tumble that is Jimmy’s chosen expression of affection.

If you are weary, and the howling gale is blowing down Commercial St and you need a bolt hole, Dino’s is the cafe to escape to for a quiet cup of tea.The unremarkable frontage and the wholesale clothing stores on either side ensure it is a place where nobody goes to be seen and thank goodness for that. Once you get inside and take your place in one of the snug Formica booths, no-one can see you from the street and you can let the world recede. There is a pleasant geometry and sense of order which is calming, the honey-coloured interior induces repose and posters around the walls introduce sufficient gentle diversion, should you require it.

Quite simply, in Dino’s Grill you can relax because you are not on show, it is an unreconstructed place where everyone is a regular and tourists never stray. The clientele comprises office workers, tradesmen, and builders. Dare I say it? It possesses an exotic quality that only true connoisseurs can fully appreciate, it is not fashionable – in fact, this cafe is almost unique in Spitalfields because it is completely unpretentious.

Opening in 1958 as Nando’s Cafe, it was run by Peggy Bragoli and her husband Nando Bragoli who was the chef. The couple lived upstairs above the cafe where they brought up their son Dino who was also born in 1958. Such was their pride in their boy that in 1972 when he began to work there at the age of fourteen, they renamed it Dino’s in his honour.

Innumerable stories confirm that Peggy was the leading light, even if she never got her name on the front of the cafe. You can see the only picture of her below, taken in 1996 with Matthew, who is the current proprietor. He remembers Peggy fondly, evoking her spirit by raising his eyebrows, waving his hands and deepening his voice for dramatic effect,“She was like the devil, she would do everything, run here, come back – a small woman but a very hard-working person! To begin with, they used to open at four in the morning and shut at seven in the evening. In 1993 once she retired, she would come and work for free. She wouldn’t accept anything from me because it was her life to be here, she’d say ‘No, no please!’ when I tried to pay her. And in 2003 when she returned to Piacenta in Italy, she cried because she didn’t want to go, it was her husband who wanted to leave.”

“I started working here in 1992 and I worked very hard, and they loved me like I was family, I was the only employee and I used to go to them for Christmas.” continued Matthew in an open-hearted spirit, in explanation of how he came to take on the running of the cafe.“Business is steady now,” he confirmed, adopting a professional tone before admitting,” I had a very bad year in 2009. Many of my lunch customers are from RBS and about fifty got the sack last year, now they have other jobs they come back to me. I am lucky because Dino is my landlord and he understands. The rent increases around here are crazy, every year my office customers change because companies move in and out as the rents rise. If you have the freehold you can survive in Spitalfields but otherwise forget it.”

For years, Gilbert & George dined at The Market Cafe in Fournier St. Then, when it closed, they transferred their patronage to Rossi’s Cafe in Hanbury St and now that is also gone they come to Dino’s Grill twice a week.  There was a brief limbo after Rossi’s shut when I spotted them dining at The Luxe but it just did not seem right. Now they can now be reassured that no further accommodations on the catering front will be necessary because the Bragoli family bought the freehold of 76 Commercial St in 1964 for £4,000 which means that the future for Dino’s Grill is secure.

I followed Matthew as he sprinted up the stairs to the first floor kitchen with a familiar ease that I could not quite match. There I met Enzo, the head chef, who works here with his assistant preparing full English breakfasts, liver and bacon, steak pies and pasta sauces made fresh every day, all ready to be winched down in the dumb-waiter and served piping hot to hungry customers. “Spaghetti Al Dino” is the popular house speciality, spaghetti with Bolognese and a Bechamel sauce with cheeses, topped with ham, eggs and mushrooms, and baked to perfection in a metal dish.

I was touched when Matthew handed over the photograph of him and Peggy behind the counter in 1996. Even here, working three years after her retirement, Peggy doesn’t spare a moment to look up to the camera to show us her full face because the coffee machine is a more crucial object of attention. There is something all-consuming about running these small cafes, providing a loyal service to regular customers, and now Matthew is gripped too, as he confessed to me, “I couldn’t stay at home, even if I chose. I don’t think of myself as coming to work – I love it!”

Matthew Ribeiro in 1996 with Peggy Bragoli.

Jimmy Cuba, Music Dealer,  at Dino’s

Molly the Swagman at Dino’s

“Where builders sat at one table with bankers at the next table, all gathered there as equals to enjoy an honest breakfast…”

Jimmy Cuba and Molly the Swagman with her friend Ellen outside Dino’s

Joanna Moore’s portrait of Dino’s in 2010

You may like to read about these two celebrated long-term customers of Dino’s

Jimmy Cuba, Music Dealer

and Molly the Swagman

16 Responses leave one →
  1. August 3, 2011

    It’s sad when much loved institutions close, is it definitely closed forever then?

    I always find it surprising how much of a gap is left.

    My favourite local neighbourhood restaurant closed down some years ago. The restaurant in it’s place is decent and does a very similar menu and yet, even now I still miss the old favourite, based in large part on the people who ran it, though the current lot are nice folks too. And another place, a more casual cafe diner, closed a few months ago, and I still find it hard not to think, “oh, let’s pop to…” when I’m thinking where to grab a bite.

  2. August 3, 2011

    That is sad news. The regeneration of Spitalfields especially all the restoration of the eighteenth century buildings is of course good but I hope the demise of Dino’s is not yet another indication that the rich fabric of the area is being lost. I fear there will be the loss of other local institutions . .. . . many of which you write about to follow before we know it.

  3. Juliet permalink
    August 3, 2011

    I am very sad to hear that Dino’s has closed.
    I worked in Brick Lane in the 80′s for aseveral years. A group from our office would go down to Dino’s usually on a Friday lunchtime. I would generally have a Spaghetti Dino Napoli, or if feeling particularly hungry, a Cod Marina with big chips.
    The weekly ritual: One of us would ask “What would you recommend today?” and Dino would reply “Well, the real men are having…”
    The recommendation was usually Cod Marina with fat chips, if it was a Friday.

  4. valentine permalink
    August 3, 2011

    So sad! What I loved was that you had the choice between ordering BUTCH CHIPS and BITCH CHIPS.
    And also how Matthew would allow me to order just one onion ring on the side of my fry up.
    And how his sidekick would always speak to me in Portuguese.
    Why are they closing then?

  5. Alan permalink
    August 3, 2011

    What a great and crying shame. The other wonder of Dino’s was the ‘secret’ posher cafe in the basement. which had a wider menu and cost a bit more. Why do I suspect it may now make way for a vintage retro novelty theme cafe with ‘ironic’ bacon butties? They probably called the clearances of the Highlands regeneration too.

  6. Adam Dant permalink
    August 3, 2011

    Oh No! You can find a ukelele in Spitalfields
    but not an egg-banjo!

  7. Joyce permalink
    August 3, 2011

    I think a major clue is in the original article . . . the freeholds of these premises are now worth so much more than the turnover of the businesses they house . . .

  8. Gary permalink
    August 3, 2011

    The possible cause of this demise is the crippling business rates charged for London.
    I have to pay £5605 p.a. for my shop in Roman Road, I have to turn over £22,420 just to pay my rates. a business in Spitalfields will have to pay much more than I do.
    Gary Arber, Printer

  9. Howard permalink
    December 14, 2011

    I don’t think anybody’s mentioned the traditional Thursday chicken curry. Now that was an institution! I understand Dino’s started making his chicken curry every Thursday from, maybe, the 1960s. Also, I think Matthew was actually Portuguese and I hope so too, because I used to enjoy taking him to Arsenal whenever we played a Portuguese team! Let us hope that Matthew is soon running another restaurant. Please post it on here, Matthew! Be good to hear from you anyway. Please tell us what happened.

  10. Dino Bragoli permalink
    January 15, 2013

    Thank you all for the kind comments on the service and concept at Dino’s.
    Howard, you seemed to enjoy the Chicken Curry as much as I used to enjoy serving it. Don’t forget the mango chutney! I poached Matthew from a local Bakery where he was training as a Pastry Chef. He was born in Portugal, his Parents moved to France when he was 3 years old, he speaks fluent English, French, Portugese, Spanish and after working with me for over 20 years excellent Italian as well. He now is a Catering Manager for the Tate Modern.
    My Parents Nando and Peggy have moved back to Italy, I am happily retired in North London.
    I really miss the good old days but we all had to move on.
    Good luck to you all and thank you Gentle Author for this excellent forum.
    Kind regards Dino.

  11. February 7, 2013

    Wow great to see an article about this place! I used to go there nearly every lunch for jacket potato with tuna and cheese from about 2010 onwards. staff were always so friendly and really miss that place. Good memories and quiet lunches eating and reading! Thanks guys for your kindness and good food, hope you are all doing well!

  12. Simon permalink
    November 14, 2013

    Sad news. I’ve only just returned to working in Bishopsgate after a few years in Southwark. This use to be a regularly lunchtime place for us. The pastas were amazing. Will be sadly missed.

  13. Howard Alter permalink
    November 11, 2014

    Hey, Dino, thanks for that comment – I’ve only just picked it up! Mmm..the mango chutney! I’ll try out the Tate Modern to see if Matthew’s still there. So difficult to find other ‘Dino’s’ these days, but I do have maybe one which is close (Ruby, Charlotte Road, Hoxton – but don’t tell anyone!)

  14. Wilson Laidlaw permalink
    February 16, 2015

    Just noticed this thread. Very sad to hear that Dino’s is gone. I used to eat there regularly from the early 80′s until I retired in 2003. What with that being gone and Eat and Drink Chinese Style in Artillery Passage, the two best value for money restaurants in Spitalfields have disappeared. What next – goodbye the Gun?

  15. Alice permalink
    November 4, 2015

    Hello Dino, you probably would not remember me from about 15 years ago when i knew you all…yourself, Mathew, Salvatori & his brother. I came across this page accidently, recognised the photo of Mathew and your retaurant Dino’s Grill. Sorry to hear that your restaurant has closed down, sounds like it was very popular and you had a large amount of customers that thought the world of you and your restaurant and staff, as well loved your food judging by the various positive reviews from previous customers. I hope you and your family (Mom & Dad) are well and the rest of the staff that once worked at Dino’s Grill…sounds like Mathew has done well for himself now working at the Tate Modern. I hope Salvatori & his brother are well too. Take care for now and all the best… Alice~

  16. Rob permalink
    March 12, 2016

    The thing I always remembered, as one of those bankers sitting next to the builders, was teh fantastic beef stracotto, and the lasagna, which was definitely molten hot when it came down in the little lifts. Dino, Mathew, if you read this, do you have a recipe book for the Italian food?

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