London's leading neighbourhood cafes09 Oct 2014
From Dalston to Balham, Chloe Callow explores some of London’s best neighbourhood cafes.
The quintessential neighbourhood cafe reminds me of my year spent travelling Australia, where every town in the ‘burbs had a hardworking cafe that was as much a heart of the community as it was somewhere to get brunch and a great coffee. It’s propagation over here is slower to take off; this cafe culture that is a linchpin for local residents, not simply ‘neighbourhood’ by default of being local, but intrinsically part of that community, giving back to it and often working hand in hand with other local businesses or the creative scene as a hub.
They’re places that look after their locals foremost but are also worth travelling for, and are invariably on the extremities of cities. We may not be there quite yet, but the following are great examples of those getting it right.
Tina, We Salute You is the epitome of the neighbourhood cafe genre. Come rain or shine, Tina’s is teaming with locals, their babies, their bikes and dogs, spilling out onto the corner it sits on. The very essence of the cafe is transformed every couple of months when a local artist is invited to repaint the walls under the watchful eye of ‘Tina’, who remains the only static piece of artwork. Danny and Steve periodically hold popular cocktail evenings at the cafe and a second cafe is in the pipeline.
M1lk may be one of the few draws to Balham, in South West London, but it’s a strong one. Lucky locals bring their weekend hangovers to this buzzy and quirky cafe, it’s equally well frequented during the week by freelancers, students and parents. Workshop and Koppi roasters are well brewed and the brunches are arguably the best and most original in London. I’m looking forward to more of the same from their second site, The Fields, when it opens on Clapham Common.
I wouldn’t normally bless anywhere so centrally located with the neighbourhood tag, the customer base too transient for that to be truly possible. However, the original Lantana embodies so much of the neighbourhood spirit it feels wrong to omit. The small alley of Charlotte Place bustles with the sort of energy you’d expect from a well loved local area, chiming with chatter and laughter at all times of the day from breakfast, brunches, cake and coffee through to late lunches and wine.
Embassy East is another brilliant all rounder, located right up at the top end of Hoxton Street. Workshop coffee is faultlessly served as filter or espresso-based drinks, and the infamous meat sandwich and toasties are worth travelling for. From time to time they hold evening pop-ups which are not to be missed.
Located on the charming Hackney street of Wilton Way, the cafe of the same name is also host to a DJ booth and local London Fields radio. The tiny and original cafe serves beans from nearby roaster, Climpson and Son, and its walls are a curated gallery of local artist’s work.
Browns is the South London cafe others can only aspire to. Nestled by Brockley Station, it has become quite the institution. A beautiful and tempting window display and elegant cafe will draw passers by in, the well brewed Square Mile coffee and welcoming atmosphere will win them over. Keep an eye out for the ultimate cafe mascot; Ludd Brown the adorably doleful pug.
I have a good feeling about relative newcomers, Craving Coffee in Tottenham and 161 Tate in Forest Hill, who both look to be establishing themselves as part of a new wave of modern neighbourhood classics.
Photo of 'Tina' by Jeffrey Long.