Lumen Café

Critics' choice
Bloomsbury

To what extent do most of us put our money where our mouth is? Probably not as far as Charlotte Jarman, who after several years working as the Greener Food project manager at London Food Link (part of Sustain, a charity working to create better food and farming policies), put her own policies into practice by joining forces with the Holy Cross Centre Trust to open this new enviro-conscious café.

Much of Jarman’s work revolves around sustainability; in particular, working with London’s restaurants, chefs and caterers to reduce their environmental impact, often by scrutinising their every decision, be it from the suppliers they rely on to their recycling practices and energy consumption. You can assume, then, that there’s no way she would allow Lumen to be a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Jarman works as the café’s development manager, but also cooks – their head chef is Kate De Syllas, previously of L’Eau à la Bouche in Broadway Market.

Our first impressions were great. The café, housed within the building of a working church, is a light and airy design – RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) has applauded the Theis & Khan interior, and so have the locals, a mix of pensioners and fellow earth-conscious thirtysomethings. A small walled garden at the back is a peaceful lunch spot while the corridor leading to it benefits from skylights, tables for two to three, and, currently, some charming yet thought-provoking illustrations dedicated to honey bees.

The approach to food is simple: the best ingredients sourced from independent suppliers, cooked with care, from scratch. ‘Local’ and ‘seasonal’ are the expected buzzwords, as are ‘organic’, ‘Fairtrade’ and thankfully, ‘tap water’. There’s namechecking on the website, too: Marine Conservation Society, Compassion in World Farming, Michael Pollan. It’s an impressive manifesto – one that can be examined more in depth by talking to the keen and friendly staff.

After digesting all that, it’d be a terrible shame if the food was a flop. But visitors need not worry. The menu is reassuringly brief, though varied, taking in salads (such as bright shards of fennel or Tunisian-style lentil), hearty sandwiches (made with good-quality Born & Bread loafs), fat tortillas and a hot dish of the day. It’s clean, vibrant food that tastes all the more virtuous for its commendable provenance.

A salad of roast chicken (sourced from a Suffolk-based producer) comprised tender meat with golden-brown skin, atop dill-speckled new potatoes and spring lettuce; seasonal sprigs of roasted asparagus completed the dish. Our Spanish tortilla was perhaps erring on the rubbery side, but the accompanying aioli was big on garlic, in a good way.

Colourful Le Creuset casseroles are kept hot at the counter, concealing lamb and fig tagine that eventually arrived at our table atop chickpeas and bulgur wheat, served with two dainty teacups of yoghurt and a harissa dressing. We skipped coffee (organic, Fairtrade Climpson & Sons beans), but took a properly gooey chocolate brownie for the road.

There’s no faddishness or hypocrisy to be found here; only good food in good surroundings served by people who believe in good restaurant practices.

Venue name: Lumen Café
Contact:
Address: 88 Tavistock Place
London
WC1H 9RT
Opening hours: 11am-3pm Mon-Fri
Transport: Tube: Russell Square tube
Price: Meal for two with soft drinks: around £20
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