Meadows Cafe, Kentish Town Road

December 24, 2011

First visit: Saturday 26th November 2011

Interior:  This hasn’t changed since it was called Sam Widges: a pleasant enough little caff, a step towards cafe-dom from its plastic-seated neighbours, but not particularly pretentious. The front area is dominated by the sandwich counter and there’s a back bit which you might want to use if, as with today, there’s a bit of a draught coming in from the door. Staff were friendly enough.

Food: I had the vegetarian English, but asked them to leave out the veggie sausage. The waitress did offer me the option of having an extra egg, and I should have taken the opportunity to ask if I could have my tea included instead, but I didn’t and in the end, she charged me the full price for the breakfast (understandably, as it’s probably programmed into the till) and extra for the tea. The breakfast was fine: I missed the amazing herby grilled tomatoes they used to serve, but having it made all made fresh made up for it. The toast was at the foldable end of soggy, which was a shame. I somehow forgot to tell them not to leave out the hash browns and, while I’m sure they went straight from freezer to deep fryer, they were extremely nice indeed.

Le Rustique, Fortess Road, Tufnell Park

December 17, 2011

http://www.rustiquecafe.com/

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.

Sun Cafe, Goswell Road

November 7, 2011

First visited Monday 7th November 2011

Interior: seeking breakfast on a chilly November morning, I first paused at the door of an Italian-looking caff on the North East side of the junction. But for some reason, the door was wide open and I could already see myself shivering as I tried to cut up toast with my gloves on. So I crossed the road and went to the Sun Cafe. ‘Cosy’ probably wasn’t the look they were aiming for – canary yellow-walls, pale-veneer tables, shiny metal backed chairs and – even – a mirror on the ceiling above the counter – suggest a bright, modern and thrusting effect. Yet it was friendly rather than cool, the caff was warm enough and the welcome very friendly. The crowd was pleasant too – a real mixture between those with laptops and briefcases and those with reflective jackets.

Food: Although very tempted by several of the 8 (!) set breakfasts, I went for the budget option as set breakfasts are really too big most of the time. 1 egg on toast, which was just right (for me anyway) – toast not soggy, yolk still runny, white crispy on the edges – a slice of bacon, beans and a sausage. The latter tasted a bit synthetic and reminded me of the turkey sausages you get in halal caffs, which would have been rendered a bit pointless by the presence of the definitely porky bacon, but the latter was a decent rasher. The counter held a very tempting selection of sandwich fillings and the tea, while in a non-traditional mug, was a decent quantity and lovely-tasting. I wouldn’t go out of my way to come here, but I’d recommend it if you were in the area.

Sakley’s, Charlotte Street, W1

October 4, 2011

http://www.sakleys.co.uk/

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.

The Wine Cellar, Kentish Town Road

August 16, 2011

First visited Tuesday 16th August 2011

Interior:
It’s not strictly true to say that I first visited the wine cellar on this date, as I’d been in a few times in the past for spicy sausages, vinho verde and the like. However, this was my first visit to sit indoors and have a hot drink. And yes it is a caff, but it’s also a delicatessen! which makes the interior quite fun and a bit tempting. Staff are friendly (although much friendlier to the cute 3 year old on the table next door than to me) and it’s a pleasant place to spend half an hour, although probably a bit small to expect to read a book there for an afternoon.

Food:
The wine cellar does the full range of sandwiches you might expect but I went a bit off course and had a pasteis de bachaulau. Heated up the in the microwave it was yummy! Decaff coffee was really quite nice although I felt a bit embarassed asking for it. The last time I did that in a portugese place (in vauxhall), they let me add the sachet of instant (presumably so I wouldn’t think such foul brown water was anything like their *real* coffee). The two proprietresses had to confer as to whether or not they did it but were quite happy to make it and it did come out of the machine. You can’t get a full breakfast here, but there are some really interesting fishy looking sandwich fillings and they do hot dishes too.

Village Cafe, York Rise, Tufnell Park

July 30, 2011

First visited: Saturday 30th July 2011

Interior:

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.

Food:

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

Interior:
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.

Food:
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.

 

Kent Cafe, Kentish Town Road

June 11, 2011

First visited: Saturday 11th June 2011

Interior: A standard bright, laminated menu, all-day-breakfasts caff. Friendly staff, blokey clientele (on my visit, this produced an immensely detailed exchange about Turkish club football – I think the English customer knew more than the Turkish bloke serving him). My experience was slightly marred by a big screen but they were showing trooping of the colour which is a bit more soothing than many alternatives (I’d had to leave KooKoo across the road without ordering because they had *two* screens showing a Rihanna video and that’s really not breakfast fodder).

Food: I was really impressed with my veg breakfast (although it was more food than I should have had): tasty mushrooms, tomatoes and fried egg, really nice bubble and beans that were firmer and less sweet than you tend to get (because they were a cheap generic brand rather than Heinz?). The tea was overmilked and in one of those dwarf mugs, but that’s better than a cup. But the best thing – the whole thing came to £4.50, including 2 slices of toast and the drink. A bargain!

Pronto a Mangia, Buckingham Palace Road, Victoria

April 26, 2011

First visited: 24/4/2011

Interior:  Pronto is divided into two: a standard sandwich bar in one half, a caff with waitress service in the other. They’re both absolutely standard in an Italian caff kind of way – the odd plant and floor tiles making up for the absence of any period detail. It’s not the kind of place you’d get pictures on the menus. The waitress was very friendly.

Food: I had a very nice pasta all amatriciana, although I had to double check there was any bacon in it at first. The spaghetti could have been a little more al dente, but this is a caff after all. It wasn’t cheap, but then this is the heart of touristland and I could have had a jacket potato or sandwich for somewhat less. And quite frankly, just finding somewhere serving hot food at 4pm on the Saturday of the easter weekend near Victoria seemed like a bit of a bonus to me.

Map Cafe, Grafton Street, Kentish Town

April 20, 2011

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

**UPDATE**

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.