Some say London is paved in gold. That is not quite true. There are ways one can experience it and they are, in truth, golden. They are the walks, in a safe city, at all times of the day or night, revealing architectural marvels, historical corners, oral histories retold, under the bridge communities, housing estates, street art and corporate communes wrapped around a few blocks from each other. They may not always live in harmony with each other, but they certainly demand each others existence to enrich their own. This is not gentrification, or poetics of urban spaces but a slow crawl of inverted commas on concepts undefined, yet golden for their moment in time.
New year new start. Can’t help but look back a little, and yet remain grateful for today. Today I’ve gone back to Bethnal Green where I lived at for thirteen years. Bethnal Green is a strange yet warming place. If you were to look it up online, it looks quite grim. 2 up 2 down level terraced rows of workhouse housing, surrounded by loads of high rise social housing estates built in 1800s to the 80s dotted on every corner, with a through road high street. I must admit, I had some of the funniest and most learning times growing up here in my 20s and that’s purely down to a local and transient mix of people and pre war and post war architecture. Imagine in one day hanging out in a 1900s pub, a high rise tower block built in the 1970s, trekking on cobbled streets and through grafitti glad Victorian alleys. It’s pointless going into any detail on this as this is my story. But perhaps sharing these pics from today, will give the platform from which to imagine a constant of stories intertwined. From the housing flats, to the terraced houses, the odd patches of greenery, the mix of bengali, cockney, underground arty, and now poshy touristy and transient peeps, this is the Bethnal Green in 2022. Many will pass through and many more still remain. Yet, new year’s memories to come may remain similar to past.
With life full back to normal in London, the choice of places to try can be overwhelming.
That’s particularly true for those who tip their toes in the sea of options and perhaps are looking for good tasting treats in not too crowded settings.
The following five cafes show how can you be in the know, eat and drink well at cool spots, not break the bank and leave with the appetite to return for more.
1. CINNAMON CAFE, Wapping:
On Cinamon Street, facing an original crane glad warehouse in the still very much cobblestones Wapping, the Cinammon Cafe offers sweet vegan treats and tasty cold brews amongst other flavours that get regular 5 star ratings.
With old wooden school desks and chairs, on a suntrap of a side street, against yellow bricked walls, Cinammon Cafe is a very special and warm corner of the London world to visit.
Coffee brews and vegan cakes for £5 for the lot.
103 Wapping Ln, London E1W 2RW
2. 21 WEST, Smithfield:
Wall to wall windows give way for views of the Barbican towers from this chilled out disco vibing cafe/kitchen. With a typical clean white and beech furniture and light green plants, 21 West provides a sacred feel like escape from the rich backdrop of Smithfield Market, the Georgian town places and brutalist architecture of the East. Perhaps a bit pricier than your average trendy looking kitchen, and with a good reason for it, the beet oat latte and vegan pistachio cake were out of this world.
Right from the peak of summer through to the deep winter, ARTFIX is a hide out on a side alley from the busyness of Greenwich Market itself. It has revolving art on the wall, and attracts regularly a unusual/ethical/green/political crowd. The chai latte is to die for as much as the super comfy sofas whilst you’re people watching locals and visitors alike strolling through the market. Management is student friendly offering discounts and a quiet study room at the back. I love this place because I’ve personally had many memorable moments here working away, bumbing into and meeting friends. I am a big fan and pleased Greenwich got this uniquely colourful calm addition to its cafe portfolio.
4. DOCK Cafe, Blackwall:
In one of the new developments next to Blackwall Dlr, right by the bus terminal, you’ll find Dock Coffee across the plaza, next to the playground. What’s special about this place is the delicious Vietnamese sandwiches (bah-min), coffees, friendly service and we’ll brewed lattes in addition to the usual sugary snacks you’ll find in other brew serving joints. I love this place because it’s a suntrap, has a cozy upstairs space and can always find savoury food.
Unit 9 Elligood Court, 21 Goddard Way, London E14 0RG
5. GELATO A CASA, Republic, East India
Homemade gelato in all delicious and non traditional, vegan and for doggie flavours, Greek baklava and sweets, tsoureki and mean protein shakes and coffee. Gelato a Casa is known for the 5 star ratings, uber friendly hosts and beautiful surroundings. In the summer you can bask under the sun surrounded by greenery and view of the dock. In the winter, the lit trees and cozy passage offers a cool spot to chill out in the evening. They are open til late which is an extra bonus. Try once and you’ll be hooked.