The Towpath Cafe – Regent’s canal N1

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.

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