Archive for the ‘London WC1 (Holborn)’ Category

Cafe Cantina, Southampton Row

July 27, 2011

First visited: Saturday 23rd July

I must admit that I chose Cantina because Hummous brothers next door was closed. I realised that my cumin-scented beany desires could not be met, but Cantina lured me in with a very smart, black laquered interior. Film star photos on the walls were not addressed to the proprietor and signed and, all in all, I would not have been surprised if the menu had included sushi and mojitos. In fact, it’s a perfectly standard breakfast and sarnies menu, but nothing wrong with having that in a smart interior. And unlike somewhere offering global tapas, the staff could not have been more friendly.

Frustrated in my desire for garlic and chilli, I chose a halloumi and tomato panini. Surely nobody can produce anything bland with toasted halloumi? Sadly no. I think this panino was in the top five worst sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. It had no flavour and no texture – quite an achievement when you’re battling with the salty rubber band of cheeses. The bread didn’t help, but I can only assume that the ‘halloumi’ was some kind of international mega-cheese with all the flavour taken out so as not to frighten the horses.  I don’t expect haute cuisine from caffs, I really don’t, but it baffles me how they managed to make something so utterly bland. So, sadly, no return visit from me.



Buon Appetito, Sicilian Avenue, Holborn

December 17, 2010

**Appears closed as of December 2011**

First visited: Saturday 11th December 2010

Interior: A real classic this one, totally charming tiled Italian caff of the sort that’s found so rarely in Central London now. In fact, it nearly jumped straight to ‘I like this one’ status, only two things let it down. First, somebody had just used such pungent bleach on the kitchen floor, that the fumes were entering the cafe (one customer getting a take-away coffee said her eyes were watering). It really did make things quite unpleasant and I can cope with a lot in a caff. Secondly, as a mitigating action, the very friendly manager led me to the window table in the attractive annexe room, despite the fact that the cafe was completely empty, and it would be more trouble for him to carry my breakfast in, and offered to open the door for me, little realising that this move would entail my putting all my outdoor clothes back on again. But then most people aren’t as chilly (or ‘nesh’ as Derbyshire people call it) as I am.

Food: I had a toasted granary bap with a bespoke panino filling of roasted veg, fresh tomato and mozza (a sort of off-menu combo which they could only do because they made the panini from scratch). The peppers used had been marinated in balsamic which made the filling a bit sour, but it was nice nevertheless. And the range of fillings and hot dishes was impressive. A plate of goulash or lasagne would have been very tempting had it not been 9.30am on a Saturday morning.

Tito’s Sandwich Bar, Grays Inn Road

January 7, 2010

Visited: Thursday 7th January 2010

Interior: Tito’s is really pleasant, full of light with nice ‘formica’ tables and a smart checked floor, giving it a bit of a deco feel. There’s also a nice upstairs area. I wasn’t very impressed with the welcome I got a couple of years ago, but it was much friendlier this time.

Food: I had a jacket with beans and cheese. The skin of the jacket was semi-edible, for once, and the filling generous without being overpowering. Best of all was a real salad accompaniment of the sort one actually would want to eat rather than a flacid leaf of iceberg lettuce and slice of cucumber. Mint tea was a bargain at £1 and there doesn’t seem to be a surcharge for eating in.

Chez Monique, Little Turnstile, Holborn, WC1

September 19, 2008

Visited: 18.9.2008

Interior: I last visited Chez Monique in about 1996 and I can honestly say it hasn’t changed a bit since then. I could be wrong but the pale lemon walls, formica tables and classic wall menus seemed exactly as they were, which is comforting given how much most places change. Monique’s has a surprising amount of natural light given the single window looking out onto one of London’s narrower and more intriguing alleys. The welcome was smiley and friendly.

Food: I had an absolutely yummy jacket potato with cheese and coleslaw (a combination they were happy to provide although it was not on the menu). The potato had been microwaved rather than baked but was hot enough for the cheese to melt although the coleslaw was direct from the fridge cabinet. The menu has some nice touches – any caff that does breakfast will do you tomato on toast, egg on toast etc – but Monique’s actually had a section called ‘snacks’ which listed all the ‘on toast’ options. Also present were unusual choices like vegetarian casserole. Oh and tea was strong, orange and in a mug.

Andrew’s Restaurant, Grays Inn Road

June 15, 2007

Visited: Thursday 7th June 2007

Popular large caff frequented by workers and locals alike.

Interior: Andrew’s relatively large size does not detract from its friendly atmosphere. There are few ‘heritage’ features in the caff, yet its overall impression is resoundingly and unselfconsciously traditional.

Food: Pretty much what you expect – I had a perfectly decent 2 granary toast (very soggy), grilled tomatoes, fried egg and mushrooms, nothing exceptional, nothing wrong with it – mushrooms at the higher end of the spectrum although not in Perugino’s territory. Tea in a mug.

City Snacks, Theobalds Road

May 12, 2007

Visited: Thursday 10th May 2007 , last visited Friday 11th February 2011

Update: Today I had a poached egg, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes with two brown toast. The toast came separately, and first, but it was lovely and buttery, so although I had to manipulate the egg, tomato and mushrooms onto it when they arrived, I was grateful for the first slice. Once on the toast the egg was perfect. The mushrooms and tomato were less good – the mushrooms a bit small, wizened and unconvincing as mushrooms, the tomatoes not really tasting of anything, but the whole was satisfying enough and the mug of tea perfect. Staff were friendly as ever and even closed the door on my request (although subsequent customers then kept it open. Groo!)

Lovely friendly Italian-run caff. The people who run it really seem to care and told a couple of female students who’d been whiling away the hours over a single coffee not to rush off but to stay longer if they liked.

Interior: Possibly the most comforting and welcoming caff I’ve ever been in – immaculately clean, jolly red tables, and the counter and shelves filled with inviting food and beverage items.

Food: I didn’t actually eat, but had a very nice mug of earl grey for 70p. Seemed to be a good range of breakfast, pasta and other hot options. Perfect for a rainy day.

The Conduit Coffee House, Lamb’s Conduit Street

May 3, 2007

Visited: Wednesday 2nd May 2007, Last visited: 10th June 2008


I won’t be visiting this caff again. In the absence of the usual manageress, the attitude of staff was rude, money grubbing and thoroughly unpleasant. I ordered a special breakfast, priced at 4.95 but asked for sausages to be replaced by tomato. The waitress accepted my order, but when I went to pay totted up each individual item I’d had and it came to 6.75. When I queried it, she – with the prompting of a silent older man behind the counter – said that any substitutions meant the meal had to be paid for in full. I was so speechless that it didn’t occur to me to piont out that the special breakfast with a side order of tomato was cheaper. I accept that caffs have the right to run discounts which are void if substitutions are made, but the waitress should have pointed this out when I ordered. And it’s a right, but a crap attitude nonetheless.

Here, for historical purposes, is the original posting:

Friendly and welcoming traditional caff.

Interior: Nice comforting leatherette booths, big tables for sharing. Cosy, if something of a squeeze. Very nicely situated on Lamb’s conduit St.

Food: Not brilliant – I had two slices of wholemeal toast (they’d just run out of  granary) which were amazingly big, but not the freshest (or maybe they needed another session in the toaster). The fried egg, while a nice consistency, didn’t really taste of anything. The mushrooms were whole rather than sliced and I suspect from a tin. They were fried firmly on the outside but gushed hot water once cut into. However, the decaff coffee was lovely and the meal was satisfying enough, especially since I’d had lunch 3 hours before. Recommended for the welcome despite the food.

Beck’s Sandwich Bar, Red Lion Street

February 7, 2007

Visited: Tuesday 6th February 2007 

A friendly, traditional-type caff open later than the average

Interior: I really like this one, although it’s not really traditional, I like the obvious effort that’s gone into the plastic, formica-style tables and the fact that walls are stained the same colour as the chairs. It’s sort of traditional meet standard goes Country and Western.

I only had a chamomile tea this time, which was served in large glass, a nice continental touch. On other occasions I’ve had large sandwich tray orders from here and while they were nothing special – horrid bread and standard industrial fillings – they do a very good price for them. I expect the breakfasts are well worth a visit.