You’ve heard the cliche that everyone has a novel in them : apart from the fact that it reminds me a bit of that joke about the constipated mathmetician (he worked it out with a pencil) I think it’s more that everyone has a bit of a cafe proprietor in them. I know I do : I already have a name for mine, and am conducting meticulous research around my local area on the current competition for my marvellous (but entirely imaginary) establishment.
There is currently a bit of a rash of cafes springing up around Dalston : let’s face it, if it is the hippest place in Europe to be, there’s going to be a lot of demand for sandwiches and that. This has started me thinking about what makes a good cafe : one that you want to return to again and again.
1 Cake : Mouse and de Lotz, fairly recently opened on Shacklewell Lane, does really nice cakes, which, very importantly, they make themselves : so instead of boring old carrot cake, chocolate cake and passion cake, they have rhubarb cake, raspberry cream cake, courgette cake, Bara Brith . There is a downside, however. My friend Italian Maria (to distinguish her from my other friend Greek Maria) has given it the sobriquet ‘The Jam Spoon’ because the first time we went there she saw one of the lovely (but possibly not in possession of an NVQ in Basic Hygiene) proprietresses, licking a spoon with jam on, which she then returned to the jar. But the jam is really nice rhubarb and ginger, so we still go there.
2 Chairs Yes of course chairs, but I mean a good cafe must have chairs that aren’t all the same, so you can tell, even through your bottom, that you aren’t in some awful corporate sellout sh*thole, with identical corporate warehouse chairs, but in a personal space, where the chairs have been collected, or possibly handed down…Coffee Corner on Belgrade Road (also known by me as The Orange Cafe) was the first one of these odd chairs and tables cafes that I spent any time in. The best chicken and pesto rye bread panini I have ever had is sold in here, they have nice music, and the people who run it (coincidentally from Belgrade) are nice, if not overly chatty.
3 Chat. One of the things which would draw me to owning a cafe (or hell, working in one, I get so sick of working from home and having no-one to talk to) would be the random folk that would come in, and you could strike up a hopefully entertaining conversation with them. I went to Bird on Bradbury St in Dalston today for the first time, and had a lovely chat with the lovely Kiwi owner Lothair, who said he had come to cafe ownership via food science and lighting design (look at the lovely lampshades next time you are in).
‘Nuff said, I think. I had a nice coffee, and a cherry and chocolate scone which although a bit dry and healthy-looking was nice, and in fact kicked out the arse end of a hangover that was still lurking from saturday. Unless, of course, it was the George Formby record that he put on the record player for me. I think he should put projections of Norman Wisdom films (Oh, Oh and Jerry Lewis) on the wall : That would be really cool, wouldn’t it? (in my cafe, I’d be tempted to project Doris Day films as well)
4 A USP. I went past another one of these cafes on Allen Road : quirky chairs, menu on a chalk board in the window, and was frankly a bit bored by the concept, by that time. They had muffins, brownies, sour dough (yawn..) they are going to sell bread too : nothing you couldn’t get elsewhere. I wonder sometimes if I am a bit spoilt for choice : there’s one called Betty’s I haven’t been to yet on Kingsland Road, and there’s always Tina, we Salute You, which I gave the rather unkind sobriquet of ‘Tina we Take a Running Kick at your Pretentious Testicles’ after the time I had to leave because it was so nauseatingly full of bloody designers shouting about their stinking projects , that I couldn’t hear myself check my emails on my Macbook.
Anyway, my unpretentious, homely, relaxing cafe (Rachel’s Kitchen) would be painted blue : to recall my calm blue kitchen at home, (yellow kitchens cause arguments apparently) and would have black chairs, like the ones I must get out of the loft now I am no longer Selling my Flat. I would do coffee and home made danish pastries, I would have two different kinds of cake every day, and two kinds of soup (a meat and a non meat) huge salads, local produce (it really gets me that none of the Dalston cafes have halloumi or use turkish bread, when it is so delicious), cakes that children will want to eat (Venetia’s on Chatsworth Road has coloured cup cakes with edible glitter, but their hot food is really poor)
All I need now is a location…