Review: Map Studio Cafe, Kentish Town

Did you know it’s now a bar – and they serve Camden Hells on draft too? One more reason to return to Map

As it always was, with a few new twists for the better. Photo: Tom Kihl
As it always was, with a few new twists for the better. Photo: Tom Kihl
Two years ago, a landmark Kentish Town multimedia arts space and cafe unexpectedly shut its doors with the rather chipper message: “Closed until we meet again!”

Earlier this year, that time came. After a rather lengthy refurb – which involved knocking a partition wall down to create a more open interior – Map Studio Cafe is back in business.

What’s new? Well, there’s a useful sharing table in the window, a smart new back bar laden with bottled ales and wine – Camden Hells and Pale Ale are also on draft – a shiny coffee machine and a juicing counter.

“We want smoothies to be a focus, as well as lunchtime daily specials from around the world,” says owner Chris Townsend, brother of Queen’s Crescent antique dealer Matt. And a glance at the menu reveals that food is as unpretentious as before: healthy cooked breakfasts, homemade quiche, soups, salads and sandwiches. Most of these operate within a reasonable £5-7 mark.

Punchy: tuna nicoise. Photo: SE
Punchy: tuna nicoise. Photo: SE
On a rare warm lunchtime the other day, we enjoyed sitting on the pavement terrace. Service is still leisurely, but if that doesn’t bother you, kick back and lap up some people-watching – for there’s plenty to be had on this thoroughfare up to photographer Rankin’s HQ, with Spring Studios just around the corner.

And the food? Well, a free range roast chicken leg salad proved as timeless as ever – fine for £7, with beetroot and new potatoes in tow. Cuter to look at was a nicoise salad (£6.50), with punchy caper berries, dark olives, anchovies and avocado just about rescuing the canned tuna. Shame the eggs were just the wrong side of hard-boiled.

Map Cafe, back in biz. Photo: Tom Kihl
Map Cafe, back in biz. Photo: Tom Kihl

Certain things continue to irk, however. Sparkling water comes in miniature 250ml bottles (£1.50 each), difficult to eke out over a long wait for our mains. Coffee isn’t pricey but neither is it cheap – around £2.30 for an americano – but the good news is it tastes better than the brew of old.

As you’ll know if you attended the Alma Street Fair, where the jazz bands playing upstairs were entirely captivating, Map Studio Cafe is as much about music and culture as food, so we recommend keeping an eye on their lively arts programme, from book clubs to jazz, hip hop and even counter-cultural theatre.

Musicians will be pleased to hear that the recording studio, which has hosted the likes of Ms Dynamite, Omar and Aswad, has also been rewired.

And with that hard-fought alcohol license now fully functioning, it’s another handy place for an after-work pint, especially if the Grafton or Brewery bar are heinously busy. Open till 9pm daily, they operate a beer and tapas deal for £6.50 to keep you well-stocked in all departments.

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Open daily (Closed Mon) 8am until 9pm. Map Studio Cafe, 46 Grafton Road NW5.

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