The Independent London Newspaper

 

Gino, café legend who served up coffee and kindness, dies aged 80

Gino Miserotti

Above: Gino Miserotti. Below: Mr Miserotti with his brother Tino at Bistro Laz, formerly  the San Siro café

Mr Miserotti with his brother Tino at Bistro Laz, formerly  the San Siro café

Published: 3 February, 2017
by DAN CARRIER

HIS food fuelled everyone from world title-winning boxers to homeless people who knew Gino Miserotti would never turn anyone away. 

The café proprietor, who ran the famous San Siro in Highgate Road with his brother Tino, died last week aged 80.

Gino settled in Freegrove Road, Holloway, in 1960 and went into the catering trade, where he rose to the exulted position of wine waiter at Quaglinos in Soho – a job where he would wear tails and a bow tie to serve royalty and celebrities. 

His life of serving up dishes in welcoming ­surroundings made him legendary in Camden.

Gino was one of seven children born to the Miserotti family in the small northern Italian village of Vicanino. He did national service in the tough “Alpino” regiment in the Italian army when he was 18 and then moved to London in the late 1950s. 

In the early 1970s he joined forces with his brother Tino to buy two adjoining cafés in Highgate Road, and the San Siro was born. 

It was a family affair, with the brothers bringing in their sister Pina, her husband Armando and Gino’s wife Piera, who grew up in the same village as the brothers. 

The San Siro – it’s two eating areas now called Bistro Laz and Al Parco after the brothers sold it a decade ago, though they continued to work there – gained a reputation as a community hub. 

A welcoming place, they made space for generations of school children, and served everyone from MPs to street sweepers, the band Madness to bus drivers and all in between. It was also famous for its links to the boxing world, with celebrated trainer George Francis taking his fighters there. Frank Bruno would end a training run with a San Siro breakfast, while 1970s world champion John Conteh swore by their steak, eggs, fresh tomatoes and lemon tea as part of his regime. 

Mr Francis’s son, Michael, recalled how important Gino’s café was to his father and the fighters he trained.

He said: “I remember sitting in a restaurant in New York with Bunny Sterling, John Conteh and Frank Bruno before Frank’s fight with Mike Tyson, and all the talk around the table was about how the food wasn’t as good as what was served at Gino’s.

“Bunny used to say that after he stopped boxing that he would still go into the café and put a meal on my father’s bill.

“Gino was a big part of the boxing community and a big part of our area, and my father felt he and his brother were a part of our family.”

The brothers never turned anyone away: homeless people would hand over a few coppers – the family accepted them as a way of letting them feel it was not a case of accepting charity – but the change would be placed in a jar and would then find its way back into the pockets of the people who handed them over.

Gino’s legendary kindness even extended to feeding a homeless woman called Edna on a Christmas Eve – and then inviting her back to his home for the holiday, where he bought her a crate of Newcastle Brown Ale as a present.

Gino relaxed by taking his family mushroom picking before dawn broke in the countryside. Armed with a bag full of salami, bread, red wine and a flask of tea, they would return with their haul to be dried.  

Once a year, an Italian import depot in Caledonian Road would bring in a fresh crop of Italian grapes, and the basement of Freegrove Road would become a wine factory, with the family roped into squashing the grapes using their feet. Vats would be left to ferment before being bottled and drunk through the year. A strong vintage, it had an enviable reputation.

Gino retired last year, while Tino is still working at the café that the two brothers made such a landmark in Parliament Hill Fields. 

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