Archive for the ‘Enhanced’ Category

Lydia’s Cafe, Stoke Newington Church Street

April 13, 2013

Visited, Thursday 11th April, 2013


Lydia’s is part-caff, part-cafe. Wooden tables, chairs and floorboards, flyers advertising arts and cultural events. But breakfast and a cup of tea on offer. I found it pleasant to be in, friendly and welcoming, although I have related below Another’s experience which was less good.


The problem with the hybrid model is that one’s expectations are raised. I opted for an avocado, mozzarella and pesto sarnie. It came on olive focaccia with a massive portion of salad and chips. The sandwich itself was fantastic. However, the salad was tasteless leaves from a bag with no onion or dressing and the chips standard ‘no potatoes on the premises’ fries. And although condiments available included peri peri sauce and pomegranate molasses (for heaven’s sake) they didn’t include any balsamic vinegar. Of course it was streets ahead of the iceberg, beetroot and grated carrot combos you get in ‘ordinary’ caffs, but the quality of the ambience and the sarnie made me hope for more. Besides, it was £6.50, partly because of the size of the portion, but if I’d been able to pay less and have no chips, I’d happily have done so. Tea? I ordered an earl grey, which came in a mug, but milk already in it, which is a bit dangerous for an earl grey and it was too milky for me. Teabag was left in though.

NB My experience at Lydia’s was fine. However, I subsequently heard a friend’s story of waiting for 45 minutes for breakfast and being threatened with the police being called when they said they were just going to pay for their drinks and leave. The threat didn’t have much effect since said friend a) worked for the police and b) thought a drive-by shooting on the upper clapton road would probably take priority over slow service in Stoke Newington Church Street, but it doesn’t sound like very good customer service. Friend was told never to come back to the cafe again, which I don’t think she was tempted to do. And, although I *loved* my sandwich, there’s enough choice on Church street that I don’t need to either.


Dalston Emporium, Kingsland High Road

August 13, 2012

First visited: Sunday 12th August 2012

Interior: Sometimes the biggest disappointments come when there’s a mismatch between the food and the decor. Dalston Emporium, one of a number of cafes which have sprung up to serve coffee to Dalston’s new young cool people and their hangovers, is lovely inside: wood, flyers, just enough natural light, sofas, yes, but tables too. The service wasn’t a match for it, alas, with items forgotten (and weirdly, accompanied by a ‘nobody told me you wanted the croissant, wasn’t my fault’ when it finally arrived) and nobody bothering to tell us that if we wanted dressing for our salad it was available next to the counter. And, gosh. It’s expensive.

Food: Although weekdays the Emporium proudly advertises full Englishes, on Sundays the only cooked breakfast they offer is scrambled eggs, with cheese or smoked salmon, on toast. For £4.50, you get exceedingly dry scrambled eggs (microwaved?) dusted with dry parmesan served on supermarket sliced brown, with a few lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes and no dressing (see above). What makes this incomprehensible (apart from the price: remember juice and hot beverages are additional to this, as was 2 extra slices of buttered factory brown at a cost of £1.50) is that Dalston Emporium sell a number of quality food items: olive oil, bottled artichokes – and really good, decent bread. Good enough to sell to take home, but not to serve to customers. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was with this breakfast, in a way I wouldn’t have been if it had been featureless or filthy. And did I mention the price? Not recommended.

Soho Brasserie, Greek street

January 7, 2012

First visited: Sunday 1st January 2011

Interior: Soho Brasserie doesn’t look like a caff. It looks like a neighbourhood Turkish or Italian restaurant, with wooden tables, tiled floor, plants and a mirrored bar reflecting back bottles of spirits in a very un-cafflike way. However, it assuredly was one, offering cuppas and breakfasts as well as an evening menu. And at 3pm on a ridiculously rainy new years’ day, frankly, anything that would sell me tea was welcome. And in fact the waitress, working on her own, was very friendly (even when the owner came in and berated her for the wet floor – what did he expected when every customer in there had wet coats and umbrellas?).

Food: I had scrambled egg on toast which was okay. Nothing worse, nothing better. The scrambled egg was on the dry side for my taste, but I know this isn’t everyone’s and it was certainly made in a pan not a microwave. The toast was cotton wool white bread but was fine under the circumstances. Tea was in a pot with a cup (I’d have expected nothing else given the decor) and was fine, much as I’d have preferred a mug and a teabag. Together they came to less than a fiver, which wouldn’t be much of a boast in many places, but on Greek st, came as a relief.

All in all, there’s nothing special about the Soho Brasserie, but if you need some comfort on a grim wintry day in Soho, you could do (much) worse.

Le Rustique, Fortess Road, Tufnell Park

December 17, 2011

Last visited: Friday  18th November

Interior: I have fond associations with this place, although I know it’s not everyone’s favourite, largely because I finished reading ‘Lempriere’s Dictionary’ here. It’s all wooden tables, secondhand paperbacks on the shelves, pamphlets advertising literary events on the walls – I’m almost ashamed to say how nice the interior is, because some people really don’t like it here and the staff can sometimes be nice and sometimes be a bit standoffish and useless. But yes, as someone who likes caffs with laminated menus with pictures of baked beans on them A LOT, I also really like the atmosphere in Le Rustique.

Food: I have a bit more sympathy with the detractors here because the food is quite expensive and nothing special. You can pay the same for the same kind of atmosphere and much better food elsewhere –  believe me, I know. In the past I’ve had panini that were the standard tasteless cotton woolly pap. This time I just had a pot of tea, which was lovely, proper strong, three cups out of it, but a fair old price. I had some toast when I got home.

I wouldn’t come here every day but, as a local, it’s worth it for the atmosphere every now and then.

Village Cafe, York Rise, Tufnell Park

July 30, 2011

First visited: Saturday 30th July 2011


Since the repeated failure of the map cafe to be anything other than bitterly disappointing, I’ve decided to venture off my usual beaten track for local caffs. York Rise can’t be that off the beaten track given that it supports a local butcher and continental food shop not much changed since the late 1970s, but I hope it gets enough passing trade to keep this very pleasant cafe open. Wooden floors and tables, plants, irrelevant, or simply strange, nick nacks (a loaf of bread anyone?) add up to the standard middle class local, but it doesn’t feel precious or pretentious and it was being run impressively efficiently by one gentleman on his own (who was also preparing the lunches: of the moussaka and lasagne variety, rather than pie and chips). It wasn’t madly busy, but he managed a fair amount of multi-tasking without seeming hassled and with a smile.


The Village Cafe doesn’t actually do a full English. However, they do various egg, cheese, ham and toast combinations (as well as your standard panini and continental). I had the Croque Madame, which he seemed to have made from scratch and used decent thick-cut ham and two poached eggs. Even the bread seemed to be interestingly seedy and didn’t collapse under the weight of all that protein. The side salad was not a silly garnish, but a nicely dressed portion of tomatoes, leaves and peppers and I didn’t have to ask for fresh ground pepper (only because I didn’t see the peppermill tucked under his arm, I actually did before he had a chance to offer it). My only quibble was the tea. “A large tea” got me a 3/4 filled oversized coffee cup containing hot-ish water and, at least, a decent teabag. I had to have two which bumped up the price a bit. But I suppose that’s what you get with peppermills and wooden tables: for a mug of bright orange liquid of delight, I need to expect laminated menus, plastic chairs and little glass shakers of vaguely peppery powder. It’s a fair swap, and I don’t mind visiting both varieties of caff.

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.


Map Cafe, Grafton Street, Kentish Town

April 20, 2011

First visited Tuesday 19th April 2011. Last visited Saturday 23rd July


Sadly, although the food and interior of the map cafe are both very pleasant, I don’t think I’ll be returning, as I think they have a serious problem with their service. This time, I knew to go straight and order at the back, then sat at the front of the cafe to wait for my hot drink and breakfast. The telly was really quite loud, but I thought I’d wait until they came with my tea before I asked them to turn it down. After 15 minutes’ waiting, I finally got up to ask if I could possibly have my tea now, even if the breakfast wasn’t ready. I also politely asked if they could turn the telly down, which they did, but only to turn the music on. It wasn’t super-super loud – probably fine for a slighly raised-voice conversation over a beer, but not for reading or work (things I’ve seen people doing in the map cafe before). But to be honest, the real problem is that you order, pay, and then feel completely abandoned. Breakfast arrived after 20 minutes and I was the only customer. There isn’t another cafe in Kentish Town where you wouldn’t get your hot beverage within 5 minutes of ordering and at most of them, you’d pay afterwards.

This is actually my third visit to the map cafe. The last time they completely forgot my order. I want to like it – what’s not to dislike about an innovative, arty, independent local venue serving locally-sourced organic food? but I can’t help feeling that the cafe part of the enterprise is an afterthought for the cool music kids who work there, and who would presumably much rather be promoting gigs or exhibitions in the space upstairs.

Interior: The Map Cafe is a genuine caff, but it’s also sort of an art gallery, venue, recording space so there are no tiles or brightly-coloured  menus with pictures to be found. Of its kind, however, it’s lovely – wooden tables and floors,  big window facing onto a quiet street, music not too intrusive and a very relaxed atmosphere. Be warned that despite the presence of the menus on tables, you should walk to the back of the caff to order (there’s a note on the menu, but a sign would help). You then pay when you order which feels odd for some reason – and certainly encourages people to stay for looooong peri0ds working on their essay / funding proposal / Act of Parliament.

Food: I had the English breakfast which was a bit pricier than many, but then the meat’s organic and the eggs are free range and it’s a really good size (too big actually – I didn’t try and order a smaller bespoke breakfast, but it would have been good if it had been option). I’d have preferred it if the waitress had told me that sausages and mushrooms were off and did I mind her replacing them with more bacon and spinach ? (answer is no – and the spinach was lovely) but I can’t fault the quality of the food.

My main objection would be that when I arrived, there was only one member of staff working, which meant that she had to get the breakfast going before she could bring me – gasping – a mug of tea (and the mug wasn’t filled up either!). Some more staff arrived after a bit, but given that there’s nobody there to welcome you when you come in, and that the caff had been open for more than an hour, it really wasn’t fair on the poor waitress/cook. Whom I tipped when I paid, and would still have tipped had I known I was going to have to wait so long for an undersized mug of tea.

Watlings Snack Bar, Watling Street, City of London

April 8, 2011

First visited: 8th April 2011

Interior: Watlings has much charm. Bigger than your average snack bar, what could have been a featureless back room with standard metal tables and chairs, is given warmth and atmosphere by a green and yellow paint scheme and potted flowers. The young women serving managed to be both efficient and friendly and were happy to take orders at the front or from the table (rather than, as some places do, leaving you guessing until you’ve waited for 10 minutes without being served).

Food: This is a proper city sandwich bar with a big range of fillings, as well as hot food. I had a jacket with cheese and coleslaw and it was extremely nice by caff standards – decent skin, no ‘microwave’ taste, loads of melted cheese and coleslaw that was so fresh tasting I had to wonder if they actually made it themselves rather than scooping it out of one of those factory-issued chemical tubs. Tea was in a big mug and so strong I detected the presence of an urn. All in all, a hit.

Only problem is, the chances of my being here again during opening hours (Monday to Friday, breakfast and lunch) are slim indeed. But I hope you can use the recommendation.

Cafe Evin, Kingsland High Street, Dalston

February 7, 2011

**UPDATE Sunday 5th August 2012**

Although this blog aims to highlight traditional caff fayre, I tend to order menemen, the scrumptious Turkish spicy scrambled egg dish for breakfast when I see it on a menu. Alas I cannot recommend that produced by Evin. I found it bland compared to that in Bar Ish or Cafe Z and was disappointed not to get any cucumber, cheese or olives with it. My companion was more disappointed than I was and suspected the tomatoes came from a tin. Far from inedible and a nice enough place, but not one to go to for eggy delights. And they did that lukewarm water / teabag on a saucer thing.


Visited Sunday 6th February 2011

I’ve often passed Evin on my way  to ‘somewhere which means I can’t stop for coffee’. Its promising exterior is matched by a very pleasant interior. The front area feels a bit like a european coffee house with a cabinet of cakes, armchairs and coffee tables. The back is a cut-out-and-keep Stokey Turkish restaurant – wooden tables, wooden floors, plants – and none the worse for that.

Sadly, I didn’t get to eat in Evin and it wasn’t my fault. When I came in at 4.45 on a Sunday, I was handed a dinner menu. This was odd because I was flanked by people eating breakfasts and almost everyone else was just on the tea or coffee. I tried to ask whether they were doing toast but the waitress’s English wasn’t up to it. The menu had the standard hummous, helim, and turkish main courses, but didn’t list cafe type food. It didn’t even mention the cakes. So I just had a mug of tea which I had to assemble myself from hot water, a teabag on a saucer and a jug of milk. Worse, the mug was a very annoying Illy coffee mug with a handle too small to pick up without burning yourself. The tea was nice, but then I made it, so it should have been.

Evin’s next door neighbour seems to have a more cafe-type approach, so perhaps that’s where I’ll satisfy my toast-cravings next time.

Garden Cafe, Goldhurst Terrace, Swiss Cottage

January 5, 2011

Visited: Wednesday 5th January 2011

Interior: Wooden floors and tables give this cafe a cosy feel and a move towards the upmarket end of the caffs scale. Certainly there were no reflective jackets on view, although a fair number of white collar workers when I visited on a Wednesday lunchtime (after a rather harrowing doctor’s appointment). There were also lots of children including some of school age, but perhaps they attend the kinds of schools that are so expensive that you don’t start until the middle of January. Anyway, a pleasant place to be, although a few smiles, or even eye contact, from the waitress would have been nice.

Food: This nearly got a gold star – my jacket with cheddar and spinach (spinach!) came with a huge portion of lovely salad and the cheese and spinach were just the right level of melty. Sadly the potato itself, while it must have seen an oven at some point, had the slightly leathery skin that only a microwave can provide. On the beverage front, I was impressed that my teabag was left in and I was free to add my own milk from a dinky little pot. The fact that there was a saucer on top of the oversized cup, to keep the water hot while brewing, almost made up for it not being a mug. I also had carrot juice. A place like this isn’t selling itself on low prices but it came to eleven pounds with a tip, not bad for the quality, portion size and, dare I say it, location. Don’t know where all the builders were eating though.