Nevio Pellicci At New Spitalfields Market
Nevio Pellicci goes in search of Maris Piper
“This is my dad’s old car,” explained Nevio Pellicci as he drove Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & me through Bethnal Green before dawn on Monday morning, “I just use it now for these market trips” – and he patted the dashboard affectionately in remembrance of Nevio Pellicci senior. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Nevio drives over to the New Spitalfields Market to buy fresh vegetables for his celebrated family-run cafe in the Bethnal Green Rd which has been in business since 1900.
“I’m up at five-fifteen and at the cafe by six,” Nevio explained lightly, revealing that he had been working even before we set out that morning,”When I was a boy, my mum used to wake me at four-fifteen and I’d just roll over, but my dad used to switch the lights on. He was of the old school, he was a grafter. You always had be doing something, that’s how he prepared you for life ahead.”
We sped through the empty East End streets towards Leyton, where the nocturnal wholesale market was just winding down after a night’s trading. Once we drove through the security gates, Nevio’s first port of call was Johnny Bates – known as the Legend – a tall man with a shock of white hair, whose role goes by the arcane name of Cartminder. In other words, Johnny keeps an eye on Nevio’s car and makes sure his market purchases are safe when they are delivered to the car by the Porters. “I bring him a piece of bread pudding sometimes,” Nevio confided to me, “Not too often mind you, I don’t want to spoil him.”
Leaving the dark of the car park, we entered the vast market hall that stretched away into the distance with a bewildering array of stands displaying enough vegetables to feed a city, stacked up in tall metal towers. Nevio knew what he was looking for and went straight for the spring greens at Ernest Hammond, where he is a familiar customer – enough to be welcomed liked a long-lost relative by the fellows behind the desk. The current Mr Hammond informed me he is sixth generation in this family business, the oldest in the market.
When I looked around, Nevio was off searching among the produce, since the greens were merely the overture to his essential quest – for potatoes to make the chips for which Pelliccis are famous throughout the capital.“Mum won’t use anything else but these!” he announced, holding up a sack of Maris Piper in triumph.
“We used to get our veg delivered,” Nevio confessed to me, rubbing his hands in glee as we strode through the cavernous hall together, “But I prefer to come here, you get to see what you are buying and you save a lot of money.” Next stop was Aberdeen Stanton, third generation traders in the market. “This is where I get 95% of my stuff,” Nevio assured me with a proprietorial smile, “If they haven’t got it, they’ll find it for me.”
“I’m in and out in no time, I get everything and I’m back to the cafe,” admitted Nevio, once he had run through his list. But, since Sarah & I were there, he agreed to take a stroll around, and we were drawn by the pungent aroma of Christmas trees, which put Nevio in the seasonal spirit, encouraging him to buy four decorative wreaths – one for his mother Maria, one for his wife Nicola, and one each for his sisters Anna and Bruna.
Our last destination was Dino’s Cafe, that was formerly in Crispin St, Spitalfields, and moved here in 1991. “I used to come in here when I was bunking off school,” Nevio whispered to me. Taking a moment to shake hands with Ernesto Fiori, the proprietor, and greet Jim Olney, the paper bag seller from Donovans, we carried off cups of tea to drink on our way. As we were leaving, I met Keith Edwards, a Porter of forty-eight years standing – “I’ve Porters in my family in the London markets going back over a hundred years,” he told me.
Before I could pursue the conversation with Keith, we were outside in the sunrise as Porter, Terry Holt, arrived with Nevio’s order – delivered at the car where Johnny Bates was waiting. Terry boasted fifty-one years in the job. “I had three uncles down here as Porters in 1963,” he informed me proudly. Johnny Bates, thirty years a Cartminder, was not to be outdone -“My grandfather worked in Spitalfields Markt when he was eight years old and when the Market closed in the morning, he walked up through Quaker St, under the arches, whistling and then his mother came out the house with a piece of toast and his schoolbooks for him, and off he went to school.” After this disclosure, I knew why Johnny is known as ‘the Legend.’
We were chilled to the bone and, lacking the inborn vitality of market traders, Sarah & I were happy to be back in the warm at Pelliccis in Bethnal Green eating a hot breakfast. It had been an adventure, but for Nevio it happens three nights a week, every week, as a prelude to a day’s work in the cafe. The lengths some people will go to for fresh vegetables are astonishing.
Spring greens from Ernest Hammond
Ernest Hammond, six generations in the family business
Nevio with Ernesto Fiori of Dino’s Cafe
Nevio with Keith Edwards, Porter
Jim Olney, right, celebrated paper bag salesman
Nevio with Johnny Bates, legendary Cartminder
Terry Holt senior and Terry Holt junior – both Porters
Nevio’s order for Pelliccis Cafe
Delivering the fresh veg at Pelliccis
Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie
E.Pellicci, 332 Bethnal Green Rd, E2 0AG
You may like to read my other Pellicci stories