Archive for October, 2013

The Park Theatre café: coffee *****; food *****, atmosphere ****

Best for eavesdropping on hilarious thesps.

The Park Theatre opened earlier this year right by Finsbury Park tube station, and while I have yet to go and see a play there, I have been to the café. In fact I’ve been there three times as part of my new and far more serious attempt to provide accurate  reviews of the coffeebars of London (or wherever; I’ve reviewed places in Paris and NYC, too yo!) As you will see I’m also introducing a rating system – people love numbers. And, if that wasn’t enough, each place will get a “Best for…” tag as well. I fucking spoil you all! At some point I’ll add all this extra stuff to all my earlier reviews, but that may take a while, and I’ve got novels to write.

The Park Theatre café has the Soho loft décor thing inside, a little like Harris and Hoole are doing, with exposed brickwork, wooden benches and little bits of chrome here and there,park cafe 2 overall it’s got a nice feel, although the bench thing means you’ll probably have to sit close to someone else. For me this is not usually a plus, but I guess some people don’t mind that kind of human interaction. I’m pretty sure you could use this to strike up a conversation with some one too, if that was your thing. While I don’t like having to breathe the same air as random strangers I do like to eavesdrop on them, and I caught a lovely little exchange at the Park Theatre café on my most recent visit. Bare in mind, this place is always full of actors.

A group of three people, two mid-thirties men, standing at the counter sipping espresso, one woman drinking an enormous cream topped “coffee” of some kind, being pretty much totally ignored by the two men.

Man 1: Have you been working out? (Seriously, he said this! It was even accompanied by a playful squeeze of man 2’s bicep.)

Man 2: Actually I have. I like your beard. Are you re-imaging yourself or is it for a part?

Man 1: A part. I’m playing the Dane; I’ve always felt Hamlet needed to show his base, animal side somehow.

Man 2: (Trying not to sound impressed/jealous) Good part.

Woman: I’m up for Lady Macbeth. I’m a bit worried I’m still too young. What do you think?

Man 1 and Man 2 : (Absolute indifference).

Anyhow. The macchiato was really good, strangely creamy and smooth. The menu is interesting too with a range of sandwiches that throw in things like onion and chilli chutney and smoked chilli mayo, as well as some nice sharing plates of meats, cheeses and such like.

They have a full bar, and I couldn’t help noticing their cocktails which included the Bank, Buffalo Trace bourbon, fig liqueur and fig jam. I didn’t have one – it was four in the afternoon. But if you do, let me know how it is.

In a recent post I revealed the secret of a great little spot for a coffee and the chance to stare into the living rooms of some upscale north Londoners and today I’m giving up another little gem just a mile further along the canal. I know for a fact that it is exactly a mile as I ran between the two recently being chased but a woman who was throwing things at me I’m pretty sure with the intention of knocking me into the water (more about that later) and as I had the running app on my phone switched on, as I was trying to outrun the crazy woman and dodging whatever it was that she was hurling at me,  a calm voice in my ear kept updating me with ‘time… 5 minutes and 38 seconds, distance…1 mile, calories burned… 400’. When I eventually lost her I was down by Limehouse basin and 2300 calories slimmer.

So anyway, a mile along Regent’s Canal east of Angel Islington, is the stunning little Towpath Café. If you’re not paying attention you could easily miss it, taking up barely a few metres of the narrow walkway and with very little in the way of signage. In fact I totally did miss it on my first pass (mostly because of the crazy-as-a-mudbug lady hot on my heels) and on the days when it isn’t open, you would never know it was there at all. All of which I like, because when you do find it you feel like you’ve discovered something special.

The coffee is a good, rich style with the rounder, biscuity taste that I like. The food is very good if a little random in terms of what you can get. They clearly have a very small kitchen to work with, and the absence of doing a simple bacon sandwich seems like an oversight. What they do have in the way of food I think would best be described as quirky. On my first visit I gave the duck egg and chorizo breakfast a swerve despite it sounding just my kind of thing, as I only had £5 and it came in at £8. My second visit, the duck egg had been dropped but I had a good grilled cheese sandwich which came with a little scoop of home made chutney. All pretty good and with having unexpectedly just shed the 2300 calories, much needed. They do a fine looking porridge/fruit/yoghurt combo too if that’s your thing. The staff there are very friendly, there’s a bit of acceptable table sharing going on (not normally something I go for, but here it felt fine), but the main draw is the setting.

canal cafe

This particular stretch of the canal is quiet and has that  charmingly desolate urban feel you occasionally stumble across in this beautiful city of ours. It reminded me of the just developing parts of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that I was hanging out in not so long back, where all the cats hang who know that today’s abandoned light industrial wasteland is tomorrow’s ultra hip artistic community. What I’m saying is it’s got a little vibe going on.

Which was only added to, the cool vibe, by the crazy chick mentioned earlier with whom I ended up sharing a table and sorting out the problem she seemed to have with me when she was chasing me along the towpath hurling stuff at my head. It all turned out to be a case of mistaken identity and nothing to do with me at all, which I was profoundly relived about as she did not seem like the kind of person you wanted to mess with. It was only once I’d sat down on the funky little café bench and taken the first welcome sip of my macchiato, that I glanced to my left and saw a woman in Jackson Pollock overalls, staring at me with a fierce and unflinching gaze. Whilst I was still frozen, coffee cup hovering in front of my face, wondering how I was going to escape, her expression changed and she gave me a quite beautiful smile. She insisted on buying me a coffee by way of an apology, and when I pointed out that I already had one, bought me a cake instead as she told me her story.

She told me her name was Blake and she was an artist. The dude she’d thought she was chasing, to whom I bore an uncanny likeness she said, had stolen one of her paintings when he was supposed to be sitting for her in her studio. She had organised what she described as a ‘birthing of visceral ephemera’ which tells you nothing beyond that she was the kind of person who used the words ‘birthing’, ‘visceral’ and ‘ephemera’ in the same breath, but that from her description sounded like a kind of debate of current artistic trends combined with the opportunity for taking a spectacular variety of drugs and then fighting or fucking depending on one’s mood and presumably that of the other participants. Her role, she was quite clear on, was to record the outcome which would become the basis of her current series of paintings. Can’t say I’m sorry I wasn’t involved.

Anyhow, one guy, who’d obviously gone to town a little w/r/t the drugs element of the debate/fuckfest had taken off mid-session with one of Blake’s canvases that he’d pulled down off the wall. She’d given chase but lost him after about a mile, but then thought she’d caught sight of him again, running along the towpath of the canal. He had, at the time he’d fled from her studio, been dressed only in his underwear, which she had mistaken for me in my running gear.

I’m happy to say we were able to laugh about the whole incident and she even invited me to a private showing of her next exhibition. But I tell you this, if you do visit the Towpath Café, and you end up sharing a table with a very attractive, paint-spattered chick with long dark hair and a steely gaze, under no circumstances should you make a move for the communal sugar bowl without asking her first.

I may have mentioned once or twice before that the life of a literary agent is not with out its perks. I get to spend a lot of time reading. The meetings I attend are usually held in upscale restaurants and groovy little cafes. People are willing to offer me all kinds of things¹ to gain access to the power they (mostly totally wrongly) believe I wield. But now and again, I have to pay. And it’s usually because of some dumbass client I’m representing who needs me to do something stupid. And to narrow it down to specifics, it’s usually my premier client, Callum Jacobs asking me to do something really stupid, borderline illegal or just plain hazardous to my health. But when a good client calls, a good agent’s only got one response.

Thus it was that I found myself on the night of the last full moon, dressed in a white satin robe, anointed in oil and chanting to the four quarters of Earth, Air, Water and Fire, deep in Queen’s Wood, N10.

But let me backtrack a little.

Callum had told me that as research for his next novel he needed to go and hang with some wiccans and had managed to track down a local group (coven?) who’d be meeting for a full moon ritual, as luck would have it, virtually in our own back yard. At these early stages I’d suggested, not unreasonably I think, that if he wanted to find out a little about the pagan faith he could just go and read a goddamn book, but apparently this was not what “real writers” do. It turns out that “real writers” are also massive pussies, as he insisted I go along too, in case, he said, they pulled some magic shit on him and he ended up converted or sacrificed or something similar. So he made the call and it was on.

We met the Grand Poobah and his fiendish minions in a local pub and it was immediately apparent that disparate group of oddballs though they undoubtedly were, they were all the sweetest, most charming bunch of oddballs you could hope to get naked in the forest with. After the usual slightly awkward chit-chat, and as the sun sank low behind the trees, we made our way deep into the heart of the ancient woodlands.

By the time we reached our destination it was getting pretty dark, and as too much artificial light was deemed unwelcome, (dampening the spiritual flow or something), there was fair amount of comical bumping into each other, cursing of tree-roots² and twanging branch-in-face moments. Waiting for us at the chosen hallowed spot was one more member of the group who I’m delighted to report, matched every stereotype I had ever had. Gandalf³ was tall, portly, with a thick grey beard⁴ and a huge wooden staff clutched purposefully in his hand. His voice was deep and sonorous and that it had a distinctive West coast US twang  barely detracted from the overall effect. To be honest, by this stage I was fully digging the whole party.

There was a fair bit of prep to be done, robing us all up, laying out the alter and sharing the ritual goblet of Gandalf’s tasty home made apple damson wine, (which some pagans seemed to have a little more of a thirst for than others and which at one point elicited from someone further along the fallen oak upon which we sat, a plaintive cry of “hey, dude, don’t bogart the chalice!”).

And then it was on.

By candlelight we gathered amidst the trees, we called to the spirits, we sang , we danced⁵ and we ate the blessed cakes and wines. Nobody got naked, nothing was rent in twain with a bejewelled athame and no diabolic forms were conjured from the earth. About which I was relieved and disappointed in roughly equal measure.

Can’t wait to see what he turns it into in the next novel. Working title, I’m told, Voodoo Economics.

And on that note, Callums’ first novel is currently free to download at Amazon.

Footnotes

¹ So far in my career I’ve been offered amongst other things, money, clothes, a year’s free coffee (there’s a lot of would-be writers serving up your daily cup of joe), a bicycle, a date (although not with the person who wanted the favour but an allegedly willing friend of theirs!), drugs, and eternal gratitude (yeah, that was really gonna work!).

² Hardly in the right spirit!

³ Obviously not his actual name, but if I call him this you will totally get the picture of what he looked like.

⁴… and his beard may well not have been grey, it was just way too dark to see,  but if I say it was I know I’m painting the right picture here.

⁵ Which amounted to, the singing and dancing, a slightly awkward conga line as it might be performed by old people who were reciting rather cheesy poetry as they wiggled along.