caff vs. café

When I first visited London eight years ago the most talked-about Aussie influence on the food and drink scene was the Walkabout pubs. I never actually went inside one since that kind of loud, beer-fuelled yellow-and-green patriotism isn’t really my thing. Each to their own. But here I am, back again, and now when I talk to other Australians no one mentions the Walkabout.

What we do talk about is where the nearest decent café is.

Back home, I’d never considered myself a coffee drinker. Until last year when a daily cup of Dutch vanilla was introduced into my routine (thanks, Anna) I drank coffee rarely and only on social occasions. Tea is still my hot beverage of choice and I’ll probably never make space on the tea shelf for fresh coffee beans, but like red wine and olives I’ve acquired a taste for coffee along with age.

So when I arrived at The Wonky House the housemates who were Australian were quick to give me the lowdown. Blend was a twenty minute walk away in Harringey. Great coffee. Chriskitch was 45 minutes on legs, over in Muswell Hill. Amazing brunch. Away from home base I would have to fend for myself.

This being England, I’m never far from a really solid cup of tea and that makes up for a lot. It’s certainly better than the US, where tea or coffee worth drinking are hidden gems. But most “caffs” here are ordinary affairs, lacking in atmosphere or a smooth foam or both. What I like as much as a good coffee is a good café. And the word on the street is that until the Australians started importing our version of café culture into London the pickings were slim. Often when I’m told about a great café it’s followed closely by, “oh yeah and the owner is Australian”.

I’m gathering a handful of these cafés as I traipse around the city. Some are Australian-owned, some aren’t, but they all have a certain style, one that feels familiar to the urban Antipodean. They’re light and bright. The tables are recycled wood and the chairs are mix-and-match. Fresh flowers in vintage jars. Exposed light bulbs. A great indie playlist. Best of all, they serve excellent food and drink. (If you’re ever in London I absolutely insist you go to Chriskitch, if nothing else for the food porn – you’ll never see such a gorgeous array of mouth-watering salads and pumpkin breads and cakes drenched in icing.)

I’ve gathered a few recommendations along the way from fellow Australians who seem to have a nose for finding the only good café in a neighbourhood. Dalston and Islington. Soho and Covent Garden. Shoreditch and Clerkenwell… They always prove worth the bus ride – and the upside is that seeking them out can take you to parts of the city you might not discover otherwise.

(Ironically, the photo above features a teapot. Tea will always be my first love.)

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