Gaby’s Deli has not changed much since it opened in 1965. The Charing Cross Road landmark’s furniture is still the same and the walls are decorated with newspaper clippings and memorabilia signed by the restaurant’s famous customers.
It is that understated charm that has been pulling in the punters, from actor Matt Damon to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, for nearly 50 years.
But the kosher-style deli, which serves falafel and salt beef to West End crowds and was set up by Baghdad-born, Jewish caterer Gaby Elyahou, is set to close.
Mr Elyahou, 83, announced it was time to retire having reached the end of his lease and having been unsuccessful in getting anyone to take the establishment on.
Despite its impending closure, it was business as usual when the JC visited Gaby’s this week.
Customers were coming in for their last falafel at the restaurant they have been coming to for years.
Simon Albury, who works in the media, said he had been coming to Gaby’s for so long he could not remember when he first ate there.
“It has some of the most delicious food in London, particularly the vegetables. If you come to the theatre, it is the place to go and it is going to be a great loss to the area.”
Like many regulars, Mr Albury has fond memories of Gaby and his nephew Menachem, who has been helping to run the place for the last 20 years.
“Gaby is from Israel and has employed all sorts of people from all over the world,” Mr Albury said.
“Once a Rolls Royce pulled up outside. It turned out that one of the people Gaby was employing was the daughter of a member of the Egyptian cabinet.”
Menachem, Gaby’s nephew, said he was “sad” the restaurant was set to close but he and Gaby “can’t do it any more.”
He said his uncle was away on holiday but planned to return next week to prepare for the closure.
“We tried to find someone else to take it on but we couldn’t,” he said.
The restaurant was not only a favourite with customers but became a community hub for their Jewish family and friends over the years.
“It is the place people come in for a coffee and a chat when they are in London,” he said.
As if by magic, in came an Israeli couple. Menachem greeted them in Hebrew and placed their order.
“I don’t know where we will have to go after it closes,” Menachem said.
“We can visit each other at home, but it is not the same as being here.”
Despite the fact he is a vegetarian, Menachem makes the salt beef when Gaby is away.
Lily, Gaby’s niece and waitress on the day we visited, said: “I don’t know how he does it. He doesn’t taste it but he manages to get it just right.”
Tucked away in the back of the restaurant sat another of Gaby’s regulars, former Labour MP and minister Barbara Roche.
She ordered a falafel and lemon tea — her order every time she comes.
“I have been eating here since I was 16,” she said. “My husband comes to eat here, my daughter does. It is an institution.”
Ms Roche heard about the restaurant closing and made a point of coming in.
“I find it really easy especially if I have a meeting in town. It is affordable and the food is great.
“I can’t believe it is closing.”
Ms Roche added: “Gaby has thousands of customers but he is always very friendly and says hello.”
Many responded with sadness to the news that the deli was in danger of closing.
In 2011, when developers threatened the restaurant’s future, a campaign was launched to keep it open.
Actor Henry Goodman and political satirist Alistair Beaton were involved in drumming up support for the Charing Cross Road landmark.
The campaign was successful in warning off redevelopers Gascoyne Holdings who had planning permission to evict Gaby’s to make way for a restaurant chain outlet.
At the time, director Mike Leigh and actresses Vanessa Redgrave and Miriam Margolyes were among its celebrity supporters.