Listings and reviews (14)
Saint Gabriel Café
Saint Gabriel Café dishes out traditional Ethiopian food from a spotless store-front in Kennington. The star of a meal here is the injera, a spongy savoury-sour pancake that you tear up and use to eat the rest of the food piled on top of it. They first layer an enormous round platter, the size of a manhole cover, with several injera, then dollop each dish on top. Don’t miss the shiro wot, a thick puree of chickpeas that had terrific creeping sneaky heat (though the accompanying salad was a characterless iceberg number with anaemic tomatoes). Succulent lamb riblets still on the bone were also decent. Service was laid-back to the point of being non-existent. My waiter was yelling into his phone for much of the time, then disappeared altogether up the stairs. But the food was cheap, plentiful and gutsy, with lots of choice, too. One final tip: it’s tucked into a tricky-to-find passageway off Newington Butts – so don’t trust your sat-nav.
A tiny pocket of a place with just a handful of tables, Popina is a café-deli from the people behind a roving farmers’ market stall, which deals in with-a-twist baked goods from across the globe (quiches, tarts, falafels and fritters). A pretty display of sweet, colourful bakes and all manner of savoury pastries was spread across the counter, while daily specials, cooked to order, were scrawled on to a board. First, a sturdy pile of coriander-flecked rice, topped with a rich, warming beef coconut curry. The best dish was a nicely bronzed tortilla, its layers of herby spinach and thinly sliced potato cooked to moreish perfection, while a handful of greens on the side had a deliciously gutsy mustard dressing. Sadly, a main-course salad of aubergine and sweet potato turned out to be a weird combination of flavours and textures that was starchy, gluey and fairly unattractive. Still, portions were generous and good value for money. And there was a quite dreamy spiced carrot cake, studded with juicy sultanas and lavishly smothered with creamy vanilla icing, which you should definitely save space for. Don’t panic if you’re already stuffed: you can get it all to go, too.
As good as ever – this Middle Eastern café continues to satisfy with outstanding food and tip-top service. Long tables dominate the airy dining space, and there are seats where you can eat alfresco while puffing on a hookah pipe. The atmosphere suits the menu: a casual mix of mezze, mains and wraps. Everything I tried was marvellous but there were a few must-order items. Get the labne bil thum: a lush dip of strained yogurt flavoured with garlic and topped with colourful greens in a pool of golden olive oil. Swirled on to pitta bread, spread on pastry parcels or smothered on sausages, this velvety mixture complimented just about every other dish on the table. Another favourite was the soujoc, spicy cocktail-sized bullets of lamb bathed in a punchy tomato sauce. Also terrific was a refreshing bowl of mohalabiya, a milk pudding from Damascus with pomegranate seeds and syrup. Something about this dessert was reminiscent of the best sort of childhood comfort pudding: delicate and nourishing without being remotely cloying. Service was as faultless as the food. Funny and perceptibly kind, my waitress knew all about each dish, gave excellent recommendations and brought the plates out at a good pace. Cosy vibes plus terrific food is a winning formula. No wonder Yalla Yalla has remained at the top of its game since opening in 2010.
39 Steps Coffee Haus
At this corner coffee shop in the heart of Soho, fresh roasted beans in a variety of cold and hot forms raise the bar for those in need of a caffeine fix. If it’s coffee-based, you’ll find it here: from standard flat whites and lattes to cortados and mochas, to more offbeat options including ‘coffee tonics’ (espresso with tonic), iced americanos and housemade thick cold coffee freakshakes. Most of it’s great, too. Take the nitro cold brew, a tall glass of rocket juice that looked more like Guinness than coffee. One sip through the frothy head revealed a deep, dark flavour and creamy texture. Another winner was the coffee cherry soda, a quenching infusion using the skin of the fruit mixed with sparkling water. The food was more of a muddle. A plate of sous-vide chicken got the thumbs up: though the meat was a tad dry, the pile of quinoa on the side came studded with juicy mushrooms and roasted red peppers, all topped with a thick, cheesy miso sauce. Each moreish bite smacked of umami. But steer clear of the ‘salad of the earth’, which had been murdered by too much sage. Still, drinks are indisputably excellent and there’s a cosy charm to this coffee shop. 39 Steps is a nice little addition to London’s java scene.
Location, location, location – it can make or break a restaurant; fortunately, for this swanky brasserie, its position on Sloane Square pretty much guarantees a crowd. On my visit, the elegant, light-filled space was packed and diners had spilled out onto the street outside. A plate of sweet roasted fennel, tender beets and sprigs of dill smothered in creamy, light goat’s cheese wasn’t the most beautifully presented, but the flavours were fantastic. Another winner was golden-crusted skate wing, sautéed to perfection with a crisp exterior and flaky, moist interior. Lemon sauce and garlicky spinach added citrus and mineral notes. I wanted to like the fries with pomegranate yogurt but they seemed like a bland attempt at creating a fashionable veggie option. Desserts were also disappointing – the lime posset felt overly fussy, it just had too much going on. Similarly overwhelming was the service, which was attentive to the point of hovering. Not that the crowds of Sloane Rangers seemed to mind. Stick to the classics, and you’ll get The Botanist at its best.
Butterscotch Tea Room
Sweet things are the speciality at this girlish tea room, a sister to White City’s Butterscotch bakery. There were just four savoury items on my lunchtime visit, but platters of cupcakes and pretty pastries in the window promised a sugar high. The best of these was a strawberry and cream cake, delicately constructed out of feather-light vanilla layers and summer berries. Compared to that velvety dairy cloud, my peanut butter brownie was unremarkable, and almost everything else disappointed: a fat wedge of chicken and sweet potato frittata was solid, but the quinoa and mushroom version proved an odd combination. The salads on offer were lacklustre: a classic beet and feta combo undressed, the pasta with greens very bland. The white paper blooms pasted to the walls and glass baubles hanging from the ceiling mean this is a snug, sweet-looking spot (they also serve tea in cute elephant teapots). But the basement room seemed worn and tatty. Despite the frills – if you’re after a good tea and not just a good photo, you could do a lot better.
The Black Cab Coffee Co.
Black Cab Coffee Company gained a following for their pop up espresso bars in converted taxis, but at this, its new permanent café, there isn’t a cab in sight. The interior is all sleek concrete, glass and dark surfaces, with seating outside and views looking over the river. There’s a coffee roaster in the dining area pumping out beans, but the menu offers much more than java. A glass of spicy iced chai hit the spot; the blend is mixed in-house and can also be served hot or with a shot of vodka. Smoothies, shakes and juices were also terrific. Try the refreshing green goddess: the creamy banana stopped it from tasting unpleasantly healthy. For brunch, the shakshuka packed a fiery punch, the eggs and tomatoes spiked with chilli.Less impressive was the ‘big breakfast’, which came with mediocre beans and blah toast. Still, Black Cab Coffee Company has a lot to offer ever-evolving Vauxhall.
A tiny Swedish café tucked into the corner of the Arket store on Regent Street, this provides a sweet, slim space to nosh some lunch away from the shopping hustle and bustle. According to the website, the menu here is guided by the New Nordic Foods Manifesto, which is a slightly fancy way of saying that the vegetarian sandwiches, pastries and salads on offer come with a dose of Scando ethics and ingredients. One of the best bites was an open sandwich on dark rye smeared with honeyed goat cheese and sparked by crispy radishes, spicy sprouts, crunchy roast almonds and chewy puffed wheat. Another winner: roasted carrot salad cut through with sharp blue cheese, dill and fresh lettuce leaves and arranged in a pool of creamy humous. Pastries are brought in frozen from Sweden and baked fresh in house. Don’t miss the bathed-in-butter sticky bun topped with roasted pumpkin seeds and the moreish spicy cardamom cookie. Eating in the middle of a shop is a little odd, but on the plus side: these Norse nibbles will nourish the inner Viking in all of us.
Sama Bankside (Restaurant)
The restaurant at Sama Bankside only has about eight tables, and it’s swirled into the mix of general partying space. Set beneath a Victorian viaduct, the building is cavernous, with high-ceilinged, arched rooms over two floors. There are large bars, upholstered booths seating 15, and tables set up for boisterous games of beer pong. Running the gauntlet of raucous pongers to get to our table was memorable – as was listening to their antics throughout the entire meal – just not in a good way. Sama’s food concept is a mixed bag of standard pub fare with a few Caribbean gems thrown in. Corn fritters had a mildly sweet flavour that was punched up with zippy pineapple salsa, although one fritter was so charred it should never have been sent out. The sauce in a lamb curry was rich and satisfying, the meat itself tender, but it was just slopped on the plate, cafeteria-style. Jerk chicken also had moments of greatness – juicy slices of dark meat were bathed in a fiery sauce redolent of allspice and scotch bonnet peppers, but the mountain of rice and peas that came with it was bland. The concept at Sama Bankside is certainly fun, but the food, sadly, is just an afterthought.
Ivy Café Blackheath
The Blackheath branch of The Ivy Café is a stylish joint, with outstanding service, a buzzy vibe and a menu of classics. Be sure to order the crispy duck salad for the combination of flavours and textures. Spicy, hot, sweet and salty, it also had nuts and seeds for crunch, plus watermelon for succulence. The slow roasted, mustard-and-herb-crusted lamb shoulder was also decent. Crunchy-edged chicken milanese was satisfactory, if a tad boring and bland, like glorified chicken fingers for grown-ups. That is my only complaint about this place: many of the dishes on offer are not as exciting as the atmosphere. Still maybe that’s what Londoners expect when they come to the Ivy Café: good looks, passable food and service that makes you feel at home.
Love your lardo? Then you’re in luck. The cured pork fat was the star of one of the signature charcuterie boards at this snazzy Kensington Italian, which is replete with high ceilings, big windows and comfy seating around generous tables. Fresh pasta is also a big deal here. Black ravioli was as delicate as nonna’s hankie, filled with creamy burrata and topped with pesto and dried tomatoes; each bite brought dreams of summer. Tagliatelle came with saucy lamb and mature raspadura (scraped) cheese: hearty fare for a winter’s night. Slices of rare duck breast, fanned out in a rich berry sauce and served with a velvety potato gratin were also excellent, though double the price of the pasta. The only disappointment was a plate of mushy beetroot gnocchi. If you go for only one dessert, make it the deconstructed tiramisu – handmade shortbread fingers dipped in a shot of espresso and swirled into silky cocoa dusted mascarpone. Delizioso! Don’t save too much room though: this is a place to fill up on pasta and lardo.
With soothing interiors and music to groove to, the Dean Street branch of this bubble tea chain – which also offers a wacky galaxy of desserts from across Asia – is somewhere to come for sugar in all its forms. Liquid or solid, it’s all served up by helpful, enthusiastic staff. Many of the desserts tasted a bit like breakfast, with elements of starchy, milky sweetness. Raindrop cake looked like three clear jellyfish sitting in a puddle of brown sauce; each wiggly spoonful – with a flavour of toasted caramel – dissolved instantly in the mouth, the sweetness bolstered and cut by the accompanying matcha ice cream and fresh fruit. There was also a lot going on in the traditional Korean patbingsu pudding: a sweet chill from shaved ice and ice cream, chewy starch from red beans and agar balls, and toppings of frosted flakes and condensed milk to edge you closer to a diabetic coma. As for the boba drinks, try the classic milk tea, which comes with bursts of marble-sized boba in each sip. For that experience alone, BobaJam is a must.