Saturday, 13 October 2012


Get thee to a nunnery. Oh, ok then, and I’ll have a cappuccino and a double chocolate brownie while I’m there. And perhaps one of those bagels, and a Nude Espresso.
The Carmelite Café is a long way from Elsinore, in a part of East London that may have been familiar to Shakespeare but one he would struggle to recognise now. (And no, that's a different Stratford.)
Bow has been the victim of some vicious urbanization; any romantic notions of cockney sparrows, Bow Bells and St Clements are dashed by the heavy tread of regeneration, the need for new housing and Tesco Metros. But do some exploration on foot and you’ll find clues to the past. The original Bow Church is still there, albeit surrounded on all sides by fast moving traffic, and St Clements stands in derelict splendour. The Bryant and May Match Factory, scene of Annie Besant’s matchgirl strike, has been sensitively restored. And the Carmelite Nunnery now houses Art galleries and this great little café. Bow’s history hasn’t vanished – it’s just kind of hiding.

Here we are in NoBow, just north of the Bow Road, in the London Artists Quarter, and a short slings and arrows shot from the Olympic site.  The reek of oilpaint wafts out from the studios that line the narrow alleyway leading to the Café, several advertising their wares by slapping old paint against the walls.
Small, unpretentious and dedicated to good homemade fare, The Carmelite is a quiet haven, and place to contemplate whilst also stocking up on carbs before plunging out into the rough and tumble of London life. Food for body and soul in a modern kind of way. The coffee is excellent and there is a good range of cakes, croissants, etc, to go with it.  High points are the zinging apricot jam (in colour and taste) and the rich, crumbly flapjacks.  The service is warm and friendly, and there's a genuine concern to see that everyone gets exactly what they want.  Nothing is too much trouble.

So Shakespeare obviously knew a thing or two about the best coffee places in London.  A shame Ophelia didn't heed Hamlet's excellent advice, but we will be back again soon.

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