On paper, it doesn’t sound like a winner. Run exclusively and haphazardly by a collection of hippies, serving only (shh…whisper it) Vegan food and with no license to sell alcohol. You may have to wait an hour for your dinner, suffer the ignominy of the table who came in after you being served first, and the quality when it arrives is admittedly variable. But nevertheless, it’s fast becoming one of my favourite places to eat in London.
For a start, it is brilliantly good value. £13 for 3 courses, all lovingly hand prepared. And if you can forget some things you might traditionally expect of a restaurant, it is incredibly relaxing and friendly. This is definitely slow food, in a good way. Every night a different local resident manages the cafe – takes bookings (via their mobile the day before), prepares the food, ropes in a 15-year old daughter as the waitress and clears it all up at the end. The décor is invitingly informal – cosy with a rather ad hoc selection of furniture. It’s not far off going to their house for dinner – except with rather more guests: a daunting task for the host. So a pinch of tolerance for confusion is a necessary accompaniment to dinner. On arrival there’s normally been a mix-up over the bookings, but no-one complains: here, the laid back hippy attitude is infectious. They’re right of course, it doesn’t really matter, you’ll get your dinner at some point and you’re not going to starve in the mean time.
So jammed in elbow to elbow with complete strangers, you sup on a tumbler of red wine and overhear juicy morsels from other people’s conversation. Strangers can, and have on past occasions, become conversation-mates. However the majority of the patrons are already acquainted, being residents (or friends thereof) of the beautifully cultivated Bonnington Square, a little eden just off South Lambeth Road, with a thriving community. Hence the tolerance for the overloaded cook, bustling backwards and forwards to the kitchen, mopping their brow or with plates stacked high, nodding left and right, concernedly asking how-was-it-would-you-like-dessert?
This is a lively and entertaining dining experience and I would thoroughly recommend it – even better, weather-permitting, take a bottle of wine and glasses for aperitif in the haven that is Bonninton Square Garden. Just don’t be in a hurry.