Until a few years ago it could be easy to think that Belsize Park was caught, like middle age, between sprightly Camden and hoary old Hampstead. In one of its post-war cafes, for example, you might expect to glimpse a Celia Johnson or Trevor Howard sharing a pot of tea and some unspoken attraction.
Anyway, back in 2010 Lantern, an innovative new “hipster” caff opened on England’s Lane. It served sharing plates, its windows were unblushingly large, interior moodily lit – and 1930s tables rakishly salvaged.
It closed down after six months. And a a year or so later, in walked Ginger and White, on their second store, with a similar concept.Result? Packed at weekends, and also on a sleepy Monday lunchtime, with chain smoking coffee drinkers in big shades. Not many eating, mind. Inside it’s all salvage furniture, chalked-up specials, cakes perched on shelves, hardback books in artful piles.
The cafe is now licensed – so take your pick from English bubbly like Nyetimber (Sussex) or Chapel Down (Kent) – but we settled for a freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice.
The food? Think Caravan, the hit Exmouth Market/King’s Cross restaurant. Simple, rustic, all quality ingredients and no fuss: posh fishfinger sarnies, spicy home-made baked beans with chorizo and feta.
We settled for a deliciously meaty smoked mackerel, its richness cut with a dash of horseradish, tangy sumac and bright orange yolk bursting over hard-to-cut sourdough. Which begged the question: how do you eat such bread daintily? Is its difficulty to cut the fault of bread – or us? Either way, it’s not a dish to share. Pea, broad bean and mint risotto had fire in its belly from a hint of chilli, holding itself well without turning to glue while we photographed the dish. A side of tomatoes had been slow-roasted in rapeseed oil; a sharp-sweet addition to a green salad.
Yet the overriding memory of our lunch – on one of October’s balmy days – was a race against time due to the resilience of Belsize Park’s wasp population. Aggressive, tenacious and not flustered by any attempts to remove them, they sank their fangs into risotto, and bathed joyously in egg yolk, before tucking into rogue strands of smoked fish that lined the plate.Oh well. We cheered ourselves up with a post-prandial espresso: Square Mile Red Brick, all caramel-meets-summer fruits kick. An americano was similarly honeyed.
Ginger and White is faultless in what it does, so we wondered, why don’t more businesses eyeing up Kentish Town realise that this is a concept that works? It’d look mighty fine on the high street.
And as for England’s Lane? Well, it’s quite sexy once again, the success of Ginger and White this year ushering in two more stylish openings: Black Truffle deli over the road, and next door the diminutive Cinnamon, another l’il artisan coffee shop.