HIDDEN LONDON: Café Feature
from Tide, Winter 2021
Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium
On a Friday evening, we almost walked past this shopfront on the Bethnal Green Road when two little cats in the window caught our eye. This was no ordinary shop; in fact, it was a cat café. It aims to bring in rescue cats and adopt them - a beautiful concept.
We arrived at a lavishly decorated bar where a lady took our drinks order and led us to a bright pink waiting area filled with mirrors. She asked us to wash our hands and explained how we could keep ourselves and the cats safe. We then discussed the pioneering venue itself, the first cat café in the UK when it opened six years ago. It is currently home to fourteen adopted rescue cats, who are ‘retired’ and re-homed once they reach a certain age.
When we entered, there were clocks on the wall and a huge dangling Mad Hatter's hat (in which some cats had decided to sleep); this is called the "Wonderland" tearoom. It was filled with an array of baskets, scratching trees and high shelves, complete with cats snoozing and playing around. Downstairs, there was what could have been a traditional dining area – except that it was filled with cat-wheels and beds made up inside a fake tree-trunk centerpiece. We sat at our table and watched a lady playing with a cat called Salome, who started running on a cat wheel very quickly before deciding to take a rest on a sheepskin rug. I ordered a melted cheese and pesto sandwich, which a black cat with a white moustache promptly tried to steal a bite from, before being deterred by our hostess.
I would recommend this café if you like cats and enjoy mischief. It seemed that every time I tried to take a photograph a cat photobombed it!
Look Mum No Hands
We were walking along Old Street on a crisp Saturday morning when I noticed a courtyard full of bamboo and the odd bike and decided to take a closer look. We were welcomed at the door by a very enthusiastic man who ushered us to a table. I soon realised that LMNH was both a bike repair station and a café. The colour scheme was bright and cheerful, with lush plants and plenty of merchandise scattered around the walls. On the ceiling were ribbons, baskets, bunting, lanterns and bike wheels, adding to the flamboyant theme of the venue.
The café is COVID-safe, so I scanned a QR code and checked the menu on my phone. After some thought, I decided to opt for a bacon bun and a limonata. The food was brunch-style, with many herbs and spices. A scent of coffee, aloe vera and citrus was accompanied by upbeat instrumental music in the background whilst various customers worked on laptops or met with family. Like Lady Dinah's, LMNH was a pioneer: it's been around since 2010 and was one of the UK's first cycle cafés. This café is not only a good shout for brunch but also contains a bike workshop in the
basement. Whilst having a
lovely meal, you can get
your bike fixed at the
same time so it's two
birds with one stone.
The Crypt is a beautiful cavernous café completely underground, with the intricacies of church architecture which makes sense when you realise it is actually below St Martin's Church! The interior is absolutely massive and contains both the café itself and a gift shop. It is located next to Trafalgar Square, but is easily missed, as the entrance looks just like a small lift set into the pavement.
The café has secret passageways leading to various seating areas with lots of choices of tables from high bar stools to long canteen-style arrangements for larger gatherings. Like all the cafés I have visited, the Crypt's customers were a great blend of people: families, office and home workers and tourists. One of the main things I like about The Crypt is their focus on sustainability, whilst ensuring the food is still delicious. They serve a variety of tasty meals, including sandwiches, soup, salad, cakes, the list is endless! I would describe the overall feel of the Crypt as more of a formal eatery than a place for brunch. I would recommend it for a proper meal, though it can also be a nice place to shelter from the rain and enjoy a good coffee.
While out on a family walk in the West End, we stumbled across what looked like an old-fashioned subway entrance on the pavement, so decorative that it would not be out of place on the streets of Paris. In fact, this was the entrance to a small café called The Attendant. Downstairs, the manager explained to us that it was formerly a Victorian Gentleman's toilet, which surprised us, until we took a closer look. The tables and counter were traditionally styled, with a tiled floor and walls and low lighting. One seating area was moulded from what looked like original (male) toilet fittings, with green velvet stools to go with them. I never imagined that the selling point of a café might be that it used to be a toilet!
The manager then pointed out an information board that showcased a collection of pictures about the Attendant’s history. Before the venue’s restoration in 2013, the steps were litter-strewn, leading down from the street to nowhere. Now, they lead to a hub of colour, coffee and cake.
This café was as unique as a café gets, and the reason I liked it so much was not the concept, nor the design (though that was fantastic!), it was the incredible staff who were both considerate and whipped up a delicious coffee in under 30 seconds. I would recommend this café to students who need a quick coffee and would prefer to take away, as the service is exceptional.
Written by Sarah
Illustrations by Lara