Archive for the ‘Modern’ Category

Cafe Rendezvous, Highbury Park, N4

December 30, 2011

First visited January 2011. Last visited 30th December 2011.

Interior: A proper modern classic this one: shiny plastic tables and chairs with red leatherette trim, fake brickwork on the walls and bright, laminated menus. The welcome was so-so for me but extremely cordial for the many locals, so I’m guessing you have to earn it with regular visits.

Food: I had a really excellent vegetarian breakfast. Loads of mushrooms, a grilled tomato, fried egg, beans and lovely patty of bubble. In some ways it didn’t feel unhealthy enough but was very welcome given the hangover I was treating. Tea was on the milky side but strong enough that it stood up to it. And in a mug. I had two. Given the first one was included in the set breakfast price, a fiver seemed like a bargain.


Sakley’s, Charlotte Street, W1

October 4, 2011

First visited: Tuesday 4th October 2011

Interior: Sakley’s used to be Squat and Gobble of warm memories (but too loud radio) and the inside is very similar. The overall impression is still of wood and the layout is exacty the same. However, some of S&G’s home-made charm has been lost as they’ve replaced the rickety tables and chairs with furniture of the Cafe Nero variety. The welcome was friendly but a bit more polished than under the old management and as such, I’m afraid, came across as a little insincere. When the good-looking young man came over and said ‘can I get you another tea?’, I didn’t think ‘How kind’, I thought ‘Another £1.25 for a half-filled heat-proof glass of twinings english breakfast?… I don’t think so!’. But I did say ‘No thank you’ because, after all, he’s only trying to make a living.

Food: Although there’s a very, very tempting list of breakfast and sarnie options at Sakley’s – something Squat and Gobble themselves did particularly well, albeit with ridiculously fat-cut bread – I had porridge. It was lovely: just the right size portion to be filling but not overwhelming, not too thin or too thick (said Goldilocks) and free toppings including honey, sunflower seeds and toasted hazelnuts (they also do banana, date and sultanas). However, at £4.75 this is going to be a rare treat and does seem a little steep when we’re talking about oats, water and milk (and, I know, premises, salaries etc but I’m sure it wasn’t that expensive at S&G).  So I’d say, good food, but probably slightly out of the usual caff price range, and the interior a little slick for my liking.

Cafe Rio, Grafton Way, Fitzrovia

December 17, 2010

Last visited 7th December 2010

Interior: I have a bit of a soft spot for Cafe Rio because I lived across the road from it when it opened and it just made it into my year of attempting to eat at all the caffs in Fitzrovia. As is the way with caffs, many of its neighbours have closed. It’s still a pleasant place to be in as an obvious effort has been made with the interior, but there’s part of me that doesn’t really feel it’s a caff. Perhaps it’s the details, such as the peep-through tabletops showing glass vitrines filled with, um, pasta. Or perhaps it’s the welcome, which is friendly but on my visit was really not impressed that I wanted a menu rather than just a coffee. I’m sure it would have been different at lunchtime, and perhaps it’s their small Brazilian menu which is the real attraction.

Food: My mushroom and tomato on toast weren’t particularly nice, but they weren’t the worst I’ve ever had either. Needless to say the bread was the usual soggy pap, but you can say the same about most caffs. On the other hand, my order was off-menu and it was nice of them to make it. I may return, because actually there aren’t that many independent cafes open at this end of Tottenham Court Road, but the food will never be a priority. Unless I want to come back for a Brazilian. Dish, that is.

Cafe Milan, Shaftesbury Avenue

December 3, 2010

Visited: Friday 3rd December 2010

Interior: They’ve clearly made an effort here, with shiny tables and funky chairs and a stripped down ‘Italian’ look, but I didn’t like it very much. However, I must say that the counter was very inviting indeed – a genuinely tempting salad bar, bowls of pasta which looked lovely and lots of pastries nicely displayed. So full marks for effort.

Food: I had a jacket potato with cheese and coleslaw and I wasn’t very impressed. The potato wasn’t really hot enough for the (generous portion of) grated cheese to melt and the cold coleslaw on top didn’t help. The side salad was pleasant, but for £3.50 I think I’d expect something a bit more special. On the plus side the tea, similarly pricey at £1.50 per mug, was absolutely lovely. A strong triangular-bag brew,  not too much milk and the bag was left in!

Beani Bar, Torrington Place, Bloomsbury

October 30, 2010

Visited: Saturday 30th October 2010; Last visited: Wednesday 5th January 2011

Interior: Beani bar has been very smartly decorated. While clearly brand new, it has a pleasant ‘Italian coffee bar’ retro feel with stylish red and black vinyl chairs, tiles and formica tables. The red chairs are particularly-comfy looking, but since they are at the big table by the door, and I was on my own, I thought I’d skulk away from the draft. Unfortunately the pleasant interior was not matched by the welcome, which was as grumpy as you like. For some reason I think lemon-sucking service is worse when it comes from young, attractive women than from middle-aged men and women. I’ve never had an unfriendly welcome from a young man.

Food: I just had a  mug of tea today and was pleased that it was a proper mug, a strong teabag and it was left in (although next time I’ll ask for just a dash of milk, and might get slightly less than a half tea : half milk ratio). The menu is sandwich bar rather than caff (including some lovely looking pre-prepared omelettes – very south beach diet!) but you can get a full breakfast and an egg or bacon roll. The eponymous beans are of the coffee kind, but beans on toast also appear on the menu.

This one is open on Saturdays and not far from University, so I’ll give it another try, but it will be the last chance unless the staff crack a few smiles and stop making us feel like we’re ruining their day by trying to buy a cup of tea from them.

Cafe Brassino, Kentish Town Road

February 3, 2010

**Appears closed as of July 2011**

Visited: Tuesday 2nd February 2010, Last visited Saturday 22nd January 2011

Interior: When I was a child, this caff was called ‘Snoopy’s’ and was as blokey as they come (what could be seen from the bus of the smoke-filled interior). Today it is light and airy, green-painted, without being any less of a comfy traditional caff. I may be mistaken, but its occupancy of two shopfronts seems to be an innovation, which adds considerably to the brightness and space – but probably detracts from its original cramped charm.

Food: I had two granary toasts with tomato and mushroom and they were really something special! I whisper it, but they were better than the Double Six. The bread was a really nice seeded loaf, cut thick with just the right amount of butter (ie quite a lot), and both shrooms and toms were crisp, hot and tasty. Tea in a mug, a bit-overmilked but the teabag was left in, which helped.

Cafe Meze, Great Portland Street Station

October 31, 2009

Visited Saturday 31st October 2009

Interior: Cafe Meze has an old-new feel – like it’s been done up recently, but from someone who discovered that tasteful plants and lots of light worked in 1976 so lets keep doing it like that. Not unpleasant at all, although sometimes it feels a bit more like a garfunkels than a caff. The welcome was so-so- one of the waiters was either deaf or didn’t really speak English or my accent is impenetrable. Another one looked right down my top when I ordered.

Food: I had a veggie breakfast number one, that is mushrooms, beans and tomatoes, because it had two toast with it, but with an extra fried egg. Luckily I like my eggs runny, but worth remembering to specify well done if that’s how you like it. It was all okay, but I thought overpriced for £4.95 (with the extra egg, tea, coffee and tip, it came to a tenner). The tea was the biggest disappointment. If that cup was a large tea, heaven only knows how tiny the small tea was. They did leave the teabag in, but otherwise it was like being in continental europe. The decaff coffee was much nicer.

All in all, I wouldn’t go back, although it’s well-located and open on a Saturday. I’d probably have gone further into Fitzrovia in my hunt for egg on toast, but was deeply disappointed that Regent’s Park’s Honest Sausage only does roll-and (sausage or bacon) and no full breakfasts, so my hunger needed speedy resolution.

Chez Coffee, Fortess Road, Tufnell Park

February 7, 2009

Visited: Saturday 7th February 2009

Interior: An obvious effort has been made here – the tables are black vinyl, there are sofas and cushions on the chairs – which is commendable although it didn’t particularly appeal to me or detract much from the basic ‘sandwich bar’ feel. You order at the counter and service was friendly but with one person running the place single-handedly (which I imagine was the reason why menu-at-table was not instituted) wasn’t especially efficient.  Still, the caff was full of young people lingering over a single coffee so nobody seemed to mind.

Food: Chilli with basmati rice was tasty (although I’m sure she said it would be vegetarian and I think it had meat in it – although the fact I’m uncertain says something). It came with a standard ice-cold caff salad on the same plate but which was brightened up by the presence of some sliced onion. Tea was in an oversized cup but she left the teabag in.

Little Portland Cafe, Little Portland St, W1

November 1, 2008

Visited 1st November 2008, Last visited Saturday 5th March 2010


Not impressed at all on my return visit. Why, when eggs, bacon, sausage and beans with toast and a drink is £3.50, should egg (singular), beans, half a grilled tomato and a spoonful of beans be £3.80 *without drink or toast*!!!!? And the tea was too milky – I had to get a second mug and ask them to leave the teabag in and it still wasn’t very nice. As the young folk would say *FAIL*.

Interior: I vaguely remember the old LPC which had a certain classic windowless fluorescent dingy charm, but I think I prefer it now: lots of blonde wood tables and chairs, but retaining the sandwich bar counter and there’s enough in the way of condiments and bustle to prevent it feeling like Ikea. The menu is on a blackboard (or rather two – one over the counter for takeaway, one up on the kitchen wall for sit-in) and the brisk but welcoming waitress made the ordering process clear. The changes, mourned or not, seem to be working. There was a healthy number of customers (young and old) on a Saturday lunchtime in an area where most caffs are closed at the weekend.

Food: I had a jacket potato with beans and cheese that was about standard for the genre: ie filling was okay but skin leathery and musty-tasting. It was absolutely huge though and pretty good value at less than 4 quid. The potato didn’t come out the microwave – they have a few sitting on the hotplate so I’m not quite sure why it wasn’t very nice. Tea was in an undersized mug but lovely and I also had a nice decaff coffee. A small breakfast eaten by another customer looked very tasty indeed and – a bonus – they use free range eggs, so a wiser order may produce different results next time.

Abigails Kitchen, Greville St, EC1

October 4, 2008

Visited Thursday 2nd October, 2008

Interior: My guess is that Abigail’s been done up fairly recently. Such coffee shop features as red walls, plants and wooden tables and chairs have been superimposed over an underlying structure of the classic counter-ordering sandwich bar. One problem with the hybrid is that Abigail’s breaks cafe-ordering etiquette. There is no menu above the counter as you enter the caff, instead there are menus on the table. But no waiting staff will take your order from the table, so you order at the counter, having grabbed your table and consulted the menu. If you want hot food, counter staff will direct you to another counter, which is where all the hot food is displayed. You queue again to pay at the end. There are no signs to advise the uninitiated of these rules.

Food: I had a very plain penne with roasted veg. The sauce, if such it can be described, was meagre, but the pasta very impressively not overcooked, in fact the most al dente of any re-heated pasta I’ve had in a caff. Tea was in a charming floral small mug, of the sort you might get in the only caff in a provincial town (you know, the sort of place where they’d give you a plate if you asked for a chocolate biscuit with your tea) – a really endearing touch.