Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Cafes of... London (part 3)

I had to seriously streamline my choice of cafes to include in the London section, the final in my Café Culture series. There are so many which deserve a mention, albeit still representing a very small percentage of the cafes in London worth spending time in. Ones that don’t get a detailed description but should be experienced:

-       The Café in Foyles, Charing Cross Road
-       Towpath Café, Regent’s Canal
-       Inspiral, Camden
-       Peyton and Byrne, British Library
-       Local Hero, Parson’s Green
-       Timberbox, Angel

Yum Chaa, Camden Loch / Brewer Street, Soho / Parkway, Camden

Yum Chaa scores highly on three fronts. Firstly, its principal offering is tea – a rare and appreciated change from the plenitude of coffee houses. As a non-coffee drinker and tea-lover, being welcomed by a choice of over thirty teas never ceases to be novel. One can discerningly choose your tea by sniffing and sifting your way through the samples which are organised on the counter top into black, red, green and white teas. Soho Spice, Chilli Chilli Bang Bang and Notting Hill are my usual choices. All are, of course, prepared using leaf tea in a teapot and can be enjoyed iced, too.

The second winning trait of Yum Chaa is its outstanding selection of baked goods, home made by a third party and delivered daily. The brownies are some of the best I have selfishly devoured (I bore no qualms when unashamedly refusing to share even a crumb with my flabbergasted friend); the banana and Nutella cake is pure indulgence without being overwhelming and the sticky toffee fruit cake is so delectable and gooey that you will want to spend a good half an hour taking your time savouring it. 
Yum Chaa, Camden Loch

Yum Chaa’s atmosphere is what really draws me back time after time. All three locations possess a cool and calming energy, despite being situated in some of the least calming quarters of the capital.  At Camden Loch you can sit and watch the bustle in the Loch below you; on Parkway (which used to be an old pet shop and still bears the antique shop awning) you can either hide yourself at the back of the expansive seating area or sit by the glass front and watch the hotchpotch people of Camden Town pass by; the café in Soho is placed at the intersection of two streets – again, perfect for watching folk – and also has downstairs seating if one wants seclusion.
Yum Chaa sell their teas to take home at various Saturday food markets (Duke of York Square, King’s Road and Broadway Market) for a rather dear £6 per 500g of tea.

Ideal for: Discovering an oasis of calm in a world chaos, irresistible treats, decent tea.

My Village, Chalk Farm Road

If you are having trouble imagining what French farmhouse Moroccan tearoom fusion interior design looks like, then thats another reason to make My Village a regular feature of your life. The best way to reach this wonderful establishment is by Chalk Farm tube station: precluding the need to obstacle course your way through the procession of tourists and angsty-teens between Camden Town tube and the Loch. Its position also means that its clientele is not really composed of said demographics.

My Village is run by two wonderful Kurdish twin brothers – who still remembered me and my little brother despite the fact that 18 months had elapsed since my previous visit. One of the brothers is the creative force behind the sumptuous yet rustic décor. As well as selling organic cakes, home made Kurdish-inspired food and gorgeous made to order smoothies and juices, it is an organic food shop. Very wisely, it serves wine and is open later on a few evenings a week. The hot chocolate gets a very high score from this hot chocolate snob - thick, intense and not too sweet.

It is possible (and has been done) to spend close to a whole, hungover day in its snug and comforting interior: breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner – sorted. Hangover not necessary. The outside tables mean that a rare sunny day need not go to waste, either.

Ideal for: genuine and sincere hospitality and service, escapist surroundings, nutritious indulgence

Konditor & Cook, Soho Curzon

The master bakers Konditor & Cook have around five or six locations in London but its café in the Soho Curzon cinema is by far the best of its bunch and one of my favourite cafes of all time. The cakes have magical and divine qualities of taste and beauty. The Carrot Cake is a total fail-safe; the Lemon Chiffon as delicate as its name suggests; the Curly Wurly the epitome of pleasure. And cakes only make up a portion of their food selection. Not in the mood for cake? How about a meringue, muesli slice, brownie, muffins or cookie instead.
Curly Wurly: 100% of your Recommended Daily Allowance of Feel Good

It is very easy to spend enough time there to warrant the purchase of several rounds of drinks (beer and wine are available) and edibles. Curzon cinemas screen limited release films and also put on a great slew of events such as Q&A sessions with directors, free previews and the National Theatre Live showings. The bar downstairs is always populated with a mix of genuinely interesting looking people, without any of the irksome and contrived airs of the artsy wannabes of Shoreditch.

Being located in the Curzon and in the UK's theatre, film and TV production epicentre, one is extremely likely to strike up conversations with cultured people. I have made three friends who I still keep in contact with from chance meetings in K&C. Due to its seating arrangements, it is not uncommon that you end up sharing a table with a stranger, but don’t be put off: the Curzon does not attract riff raff! This wonderful place is just as suited to a solitary date with your book as it is to chats with new friends or sharing a bottle of wine and a gossip with an old friend. It also bears the recurring hallmark of excellent cafes – the glass fronted façade onto the universe outside and the lone ranger’s best distraction.

Ideal for: talking to strangers, alone time, reading, celebrity spotting (Chris Noth, aka Mr Big From SATC, for example)

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