A simple wooden counter runs along the window; behind it is a half-moon banquette, serviced by low coffee tables. The mood is serene, a million miles from crazy Camden Market almost directly over the road.
All winter – well, at least once a week – I’ve taken to having lunch at this blink-and-you-might-miss-it café tucked away just off Chalk Farm Road. And it’s dog-friendly, so the ancient Jack Russell can tag along, too.
As well as teas, chais and coffee, the reason for my regular visits is simple: it specialises in yakuzen curry. Famously a “medicinal anti-ageing dish” made with a range of herbs, spices and ingredients, the silken sauce exudes the slow hit of garlic, ginger, tomato and chilli peppers – and around a dozen spices in all, including cardamom and the woody hit of cinnamon. Chinese medicine insists it’s especially good for your liver (and bowels, no less); it’s even said to help you recover from fatigue. Result.
So far, I’ve tried both the chicken katsu and the meat-free versions: the latter is slightly less impressive, its steamed veg – cauliflower florets, red peppers, courgettes – cooked separately (as is the custom with yakuzen) and grouped shyly in one corner.
Much better is the gloriously tender katsu, the sliced, lightly breadcrumbed breast crying out to be dunked in its rich bath, strewn with caramelized onions.
Completing the bowl is a low mound of purple rice, which collapses admirably into the thick soup at the press of a spoon (the correct utensil to eat it with). Historically nicknamed ‘forbidden rice’, it was once reserved for the Chinese emperor to ensure his health and longevity, and thus prohibited for plebs like me. Medium-grain with a deep hue and a nutty, slightly sweet flavour, it’s a real match for that velvety sauce.
Best of all? The price is just £8 all in (£7 for the vegetarian option). For a sit-down meal in NW1 – it’s licensed too, if you need a beer or wine – that ain’t bad at all.
To your good health, then.