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7 of the prettiest cafes in London

7 of the prettiest cafes in London

London's prettiest cafes : A rose latte from the Palm Vaults, Hackney, London

LONDON’S CAFES ARE….PRETTY FANTASTIC

London’s cafes have got so much more going on than the stereotypical greasy spoon (although I do love a good old fashioned caff fry-up). And there’s NO excuse to head for a Starbucks or Cafe Nero. Although the march of the bland chain cafes relentlessly continues its grubby, tax-dodging way across town, there are a vast number of gorgeous and inherently Instagrammable independent cafes waiting for your business. Here are my pick of the prettiest:

Palm Vaults, Hackney
It’s an obvious choice, but it’s obvious for a good reason. IT’S BLOODY LUSH! Palm Vaults has already graced the Instagram accounts of a thousand Londoners, with its exposed brickwork, its baby pink and pale green colour palette and its overflowing hanging baskets. It has a cool Miami Beach vibe. Even the food and drink gets in on the act with vivid beetroot or lavender lattes, smoothies and an array of colourful cakes. It’s a teeny little place so make sure you book a table or get there early. People were queuing out of the door by the time I left.
411 Mare Street, London, E8 1HY

London's prettiest cafes : The Palm Vaults, Hackney, London

The Ship of Adventures, Dalston
If it sounds like the title of a children’s book then it’s because this cafe is run by the Hackney Pirates; a charity that helps young people develop their reading skills.  It’s a gorgeously cosy little place; higgeldy-piggeldy with bookshelves and assorted nautical accessories – including a boat hanging from the ceiling! Stop off for a coffee and one of their sourdough sandwiches or browse the shelves for kids books, greetings cards and gifts. They also have an events space for hire. Get a warm fuzzy feeling from helping a very worthwhile cause, as well as from the caffeine.
128 Kingsland High Street, London, E8 2NS

London's prettiest cafes : The Ship of Adventures, Dalston, London

Monocle Cafe, Marylebone
The Monocle brand has diversified even further; from a magazine to a radio station and, now, a cafe. Based on elegant Chiltern Street, it hits all the current trends. Avocado? Check. Japanese food? Check. Scandinavian pastries? Check. It’s an achingly cool, weird hipster mash-up but I love the little “living room” at the back of the cafe. This cosy nook has squishy sofas, bookshelves, a transistor radio and even a TV in the corner. It looks like a set piece from the V&A – modernism crossed with IKEA. Get there early, lounge on a sofa with a cardamom bun and a copy of Monocle mag, and soak up all of the stylish vibes.
18 Chiltern Street, London, W1U 7QA

London's prettiest cafes : Monocle Cafe, Marylebone, London

Katsute 100, Islington
Katsute 100 is a gorgeous Japanese tea house located in the equally adorable Camden Passage. I actually stumbled upon this little gem while looking for another cafe, and couldn’t resist the lure of its zen-like interior. You can find a vast range of Japanese teas, including some unusual options like pickled cherry blossom or black bean. Expect beautiful ceramics, dainty cakes and a badass selection of Japanese whiskies. Like Monocle, Katsute also has a stylish little space at the back of the cafe where you can relax over a pot of green tea and escape the madness of the outside world.
Passage Apartments, 100 Islington High Street, London, N1 8EG

London's prettiest cafes : Katsute 100, Islington, London

Wringer + Mangle, London Fields
Wringer + Mangle is so east London. I walked past it several times when I first visited, as it’s housed in a singularly unappealing former office block. Step inside, however, and you get industrial chic crossed with a rainforest. This cafe/bar/restaurant is a lovely, light-filled spot where you can linger over a large glass of wine or grab a healthy breakfast. They also do an incredibly reasonably priced bottomless brunch and their Collins-heavy cocktail menu is ideal for warm summer nights. I’m looking forward to returning for more lazy drinks and their delicious-looking evening menu.
13-18 Sidworth Street, London, E8 3SD

London's prettiest cafes : Wringer + Mangle, London Fields, London

Fuckoffee, Bermondsey
Ok, so it may it may seem surprising that a place with a name like Fuckoffee is in my list of “pretty” places but stay with me here. This cafe – one of three by the Jonestown group –  isn’t a classic beauty but I love its chaotic, vibrant, graffiti-covered, neon-signed interior. I also love their DGAF attitude. Fuckoffee has already been at the centre of controversy thanks to its name (which they dealt with by a strategically placed asterisk) and some of their “near to the knuckle” signs. But, judging by the queues out of the door, it’s clearly true that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
163-167 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UW

London's prettiest cafes : F*ckoffee, Bermondsey, London

Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, Shoreditch
This is a strange, strange place but one that’s worth checking out at least once. Unless you hate cats, in which case you need to give it a wide berth. I was slightly disappointed when I first arrived, as my table was in the poky and dated upstairs room. It looked like one of those old fashioned small town caffs – but with cats. Downstairs, however, is a different story. Dimly lit and spangled with fairy lights, this room is decked out like a kitty cat forest playground. Tree trunks twist up from the floor and across the ceiling, the walls are ivy-clad and cute kitties lounge lazily or chase after toys. Book in advance for cream tea, high tea or just a cup of tea with a difference.
152-154 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 6DG

London's prettiest cafes : Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, Shoreditch, London

What are your favourite London cafes? Let me know in the comments.

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Discover London's prettiest cafes

Jackdaw and Star/We Serve Humans

Jackdaw and Star/We Serve Humans

I have a theory regarding burgers which goes a little something like this.  If you need to eat it with a knife and fork then it’s a good burger.  Of course, that theory does fall down from time to time.  I’m sure there are plenty of burgers that are stacked high and stuffed full and still taste rank.  But in general, a good burger is one that you most definitely can’t pick up in your hands.  Case in point: McDonalds and their teeny, shrivelled “burgers”.  I can easily eat a Big Mac one-handed and my hands are positively Donald Trump-esque in their dimensions.  So I don’t care if I look silly or genteel or “posh” with my knife and fork; I want to eat a burger that I can’t pick up.  I want a burger that is so full of meat and cheese and…stuff that it’s in danger of collapsing.  If that’s the sort of burger that you want too, then I recommend checking out the We Serve Humans residency at the Jackdaw and Star.

The Jackdaw and Star in Homerton is one of those hipster pubs that look unedifying from the outside, but turn into something achingly cool as you step through the doors.  It clearly used to be a scruffy old boozer but has been pimped up with a few licks of paint, crazy patterned wallpaper and squishy antique armchairs.  I particularly liked the fact that they’ve kept the beautiful Victorian tiles in situ, as well as the large central bar, retaining some of that lovely old fashioned pub vibe.

Staying very much on trend, the Jackdaw and Star doesn’t have its own in-house chef.  Instead, they invite various street food vendors and pop-up chefs to take up residency for a few months.  I’m a big fan of this approach.  I think it keeps things fresh and gives people a reason to keep coming back, as well as providing a platform for up-and-coming chefs.  Currently, the Jackdaw and Star is playing host to We Serve Humans; burger-flipping purveyors of happiness.  And their food really does make you happy.  Just one look at the menu brought a smile to my face – an “angry” burger named after everyone’s least favourite orange American…  They also do hot dogs, sliders, wings and the dirtiest chips in town.  So yeah, food that will definitely make you feel happy, although probably not healthy.

Image supplied by the Jackdaw and Star

We ordered “The Frank” and the Donald Trump burger, the latter now renamed as “The End of Democracy”.  It’s still “angry” though, heaving with jalapeños and a generous dollop of beef chilli.  The Frank was an altogether classier affair.  This burger came with the addition of blue cheese and truffled aioli for those people who like their rich food to be served extra rich.  Both burgers were made with We Serve Human’s signature brisket and short rib patty.  The meat was just the right side of medium rare and had that gorgeous griddled flavour that denotes a good burger.  “But could you pick it up?”, I hear you yell.  Not a chance in hell.  These were like The Shard in burger form.  Even my friend, with his big man hands, had to use a knife and fork.  There was no skimping on ingredients here.

Because we’re greedy and incapable of making a decision, we ordered two different portions of chips: the “standard” chips fried in beef dripping and chips with beer cheese sauce.  You see what I mean when I talked about them being the dirtiest chips in town?  Sure, you find beef dripping chips on lots of menus but the difference here is that you can actually taste the dripping.  The chips with beer cheese sauce were just as epic.  It tasted like Welsh rarebit, only with chips instead of toast.  And if that’s not enough for you, you can also choose from chips with truffle and chips with slow cooked chilli and cheese sauce.  I swear my arteries are furring up just typing this.

Image supplied by the Jackdaw and Star

The Jackdaw and Star do a pretty sophisticated cocktail list, where you can choose from the likes of a fog cutter or a mezcal margarita.  My negroni was one of the best I’ve had in London – and I’ve drunk a LOT of them so it’s safe to say I know my shit here.  The team were also able to recommend some decent soft drinks, such as Square Root sodas, to my tee-total friend, which made a pleasant change from the usual pint of Coke.

We Serve Humans clearly know that naughty food is the way to put a smile on anyone’s face.  What’s even better is that their version of naughty food is a step up from the bog standard burger and chips.  They’ve actually given their menu some thought, come up with fun ideas and then lifted everything by going hell for leather with their ingredients.  There’s no worrying about calories or pandering to the “eat clean” brigade here.  Even their vegetarian options are mega (crispy truffled mac and cheese in a bun, anyone?).  This is the sort of food you eat for a treat, food that cheers you up, food that’s minxy and indulgent.  So roll your sleeves up and get your knife and fork ready.  You’re definitely going to need them for these burgers.

Jackdaw and Star, 224 Homerton High Street, E9 6AS

Many thanks to the team at both the Jackdaw and Star and We Serve Humans for inviting me along to sample their menu.  All views are, as ever, my own.
Due to a technical issue with my phone, I lost all but one of the images from this night.   The last two images are professional photos provided by the Jackdaw and Star and are not necessarily representative of our meal. 

Syrian Supper Club – Part 2

Syrian Supper Club – Part 2

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A little while ago I wrote about the Syrian Supper Club and the Hands Up Foundation; a group of young people who were motivated to start a pop-up event aimed at raising money for those affected by the crisis in Syria.  Well, the sound of all that Middle Eastern food made me really hungry so I decided to put my money where my mouth is and check out one of their supper clubs.

Supper clubs are very much on trend at the moment, but I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I had never been to one before.  There are so many to choose from, where do you even start?  So I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the E5 Bakehouse in London Fields, clutching my bottle of red wine.  The first thing I noticed was the incredible smell coming from the kitchen.  It was the scent of spice, warmth and the exotic.  The second things were the delicious welcome cocktail and the array of mezze dishes dotted around the room.  Waves of these plates were brought out to us and included shwander (beetroot dip), the softest homemade Turkoman flatbreads, little filo pies made with leek and halloumi, and a spiced pistachio soup.

After a short introductory talk about the Hands Up Foundation and the causes that they support, we headed through the kitchen to the candlelit dining area.  Our main course was mehshi halabi – Aleppo-style potatoes stuffed with beef in a tomato and tamarind sauce, with saffron and barberry rice.  This was what had been creating that intoxicating Middle-Eastern scent.  The beef was minced and formed into meatballs, smothered in a sauce so full of flavour you could tell it had been simmering away all day.  The addition of a yoghurt “raita-style” dressing was a lovely touch that cut through the richness of the tomato sauce.

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Just in case we weren’t already as stuffed as the potatoes, we were then presented with two desserts.  The first was halawiyyat – a meringue roulade with rhubarb, MarmalAid, rose petals and pistachios.  This was a delicious Middle-Eastern twist on a classic dish.  The roulade was supplemented with ma’amoul which are shortbread pastries filled, in this case, with rhubarb, walnuts, cinnamon and orange blossom.  I’m glad there were only enough for one each, as I might have found myself engaging in a feeding frenzy worthy of an entire flock of herring gulls.

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I felt a little apprehensive about attending a supper club alone, but the nature of the event meant that it was easy to chat to people.  And while it all felt very lovely and enjoyable – drinking red wine by candlelight, being served course after course of amazing food – it’s important to remember why we were all there in the first place.  The money raised from the supper clubs goes towards funding medical staff and equipment in Aleppo, as well as projects like a prosthetic limb clinic on the Turkish/Syrian border.  This particular supper club raised a grand total of £1,283.16, every penny of which will go to people who desperately need it.  It’s such an easy way of contributing towards an excellent cause that there’s really no excuse not to go along.

Syrian Supper Clubs are held monthly at E5 Bakehouse and cost £35 (BYOB)
http://www.syriansupperclub.com/

Syrian Supper Club

Syrian Supper Club

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The scent of orange blossom filled the house in the old town of Damascus.  The courtyard garden, complete with its orange tree, offered a relaxing haven from the hustle and bustle of the city that was home to Louisa Barnett and Rose Lukas.  As students of Arabic, they moved to Damascus to learn the language and quickly fell in love with Syria’s intoxicating atmosphere and welcoming people.  However, the spark of revolution had been lit across the Middle East, and this grew into a raging inferno that consumed Syria.  In 2011, as the Arab Spring left chaos in its wake, the girls were forced to leave.

Back in London, Rose and Louisa could not forget the kindness and generosity that had been shown to them by the Syrian people, and so they started coming up with fundraising ideas to help those affected by the civil war.  Taking inspiration from their love of cooking, Syrian food and the increasing popularity of pop-up events in London, they teamed up with two others (George and Johnnie) and decided to host a supper club at their home, inviting friends to join them around their kitchen table.  The Syrian Supper Club was born and quickly grew to become a regular event.

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The supper club team now have their own registered charity, The Hands Up Foundation (Hands Up) which is the channel for all the funds raised at Syrian Suppers to reach Syria.  They work alongside partner organisations such as Syria Relief, a Syrian-run charity whose aim is to provide care to the 7.6 million people who have been internally displaced by the conflict, and to help reduce migration from Syria.  By providing those still within Syria with the means to survive, the team hope to encourage people to remain in the country, preventing the loss of vital knowledge and expertise.  This not only fosters local support, it also means that Syrians can look ahead to rebuilding their country.  Both Rose and Louisa have friends who still live in Syria, so providing in-country assistance is something that is particularly important to them.

With this in mind, the money raised through the Syrian Supper Club goes towards tangible projects which have very clear and demonstrable results.  One example of this is medical care.  The supper club fundraising has paid for hospital equipment, such as X-ray machines, as well as salaries for a team of medical staff in Aleppo.  Once there were over 5000 doctors in Aleppo, now there are only 35.  Can you imagine having access to only 35 doctors in London?  It’s hard to comprehend.   However, the supper clubs can potentially raise enough money to fund four years of medical salaries.  Some of the money also goes towards a prosthetic limb clinic on the Turkish border.  The staff had been making limbs from incredibly limited resources but, thanks to the Syrian Supper Club, they can now create around 60 limbs each month, giving people back their movement and their dignity.

Almost four years on from the very first supper club, the team now cater to 40 people each month at the E5 Bakehouse in Hackney, serving three courses of Middle Eastern-inspired food, plus a cocktail, for £35 a head.  The events are so popular that even overseas visitors make a point of attending.  The supper club team not only want to remind people of all that’s great about Syria – the food, the culture, the people – they also want to encourage others to host their own supper clubs.  As Louisa said, “Most people hold dinner parties for their friends so it’s actually really easy to fundraise; take the initiative, get out there, spread the word”.  Syrian Supper Clubs are now held as far away as Singapore and the USA.

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And if you’re not able to attend a supper club in person or host your own, then there’s still a way to contribute.  That orange tree in Damascus , with its bounty of bitter oranges, inspired Louisa and Rose to make their own marmalade.  They continue to do this in the UK and have even won a bronze award at the Dalemain Marmalade Awards.  Jars can be purchased at the supper clubs and the team are investigating options with retailers too.  So it really doesn’t have to take much money and effort to support the actions of Rose, Louisa and their team, as well as experience a taste of Syrian culture beyond what we read in the news.

Find out more about the Syrian Supper Club here
Photos courtesy of Syrian Supper Club