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Why This Hidden Neighborhood Cute Café In London Is So Special

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2 months ago

When you think of East London, you’ll think of grungy, cool and edgy. And you’d be right: it absolutely is! But it’s so much more than that. This is an area of London steeped in hundreds of years of history, and you can see and feel it in the architecture as you walk through the streets.

I’ve lived in Spitalfields for years and I’ve only very recently happened upon this tea and cake house. And it’s no wonder that it’s taken me so long to find it: it’s actually hidden beneath an art gallery and pottery shop that you’d be forgiven for walking by. It truly needs to make the list for cute cafes in London.

The exterior is quite unassuming

And when you enter, it still won’t be clear to you that there’s a café beneath you which serves cakes from the 1720s that you truly cannot find anywhere else, in a setting that is so quintessentially English in style and manner. (Don’t worry, I’ll tell you exactly which cake that is below.)

So where is this special and cute café in London? You won’t find it on Google Maps because they’ve called themselves an art gallery. It’s very, very much on the downlow, so if you are going to go, promise me that you’ll treat it with the respect it deserves. It’s really a place that only locals know exist.

Gail's and Funky Cellar Spitalfields Market
Just across the street is the famous Spitalfields Market

So here it is: Townhouse on Fournier Street, right off Brick Lane. It’s the best place in East London for antiques, paintings, coffee and cake all in one place, and it’s in a beautifully designed 18th-century building in Spitalfields on one of the most famous streets in London (my dream is to live on Fournier Street one day). It’s also directly across from the famous Christ Church in Spitalfields.

Before you rush to get to the café downstairs, walk outside to the courtyard on the ground floor to appreciate the beauty of the exposed brick and the secret garden. You can also check out the art gallery in the back which is always changing.

Townhouse hosts regular exhibitions by contemporary artists in their gallery (including one of my favorites, Eleanor Crow). They also put on special events in the summertime.

Art Gallery at Townhouse Cafe green book and stack of books hanging from a wall
The art gallery at Townhouse is always changing

When you’re ready to treat yourself to some tea and cake, walk right to the back of the shop and then walk down the spiral stairs (sometimes the door to the courtyard is blocking the stairs – don’t be afraid to move it if you need to).

Every step you take down the stairs feels like you’re going further back in time. And watch your head as you’re going down – 18th-century homes were not built for people over 5’10.

As soon as you get downstairs, you won’t be able to miss the beautiful selection of cakes in glass covers. There’s everything from banana cake, lemon drizzle and two very special cakes (one from 1721 that I just love). There’s even vegan florentines available.

Homemade cakes of Townhouse Café in glass lids
The homemade cakes of Townhouse

But king among the cakes in Townhouse is the Queen cake. This is a recipe from a lady named Maisy Stockdale who used to live in Spitalfields in the 1700s. She committed the recipe to writing in 1721 and called it the Queen cake.

It’s like a sponge cake but slightly more dense, and it has maize, orange and carrot. It’s truly perfect as a pairing with tea or coffee.

Queen cakes on a plate with a glass bowl over them, a cute cafe in London
The very special Queen cakes

If you’re up for a second treat (and you should be – they’re great!) then I recommend that you get a slice of the bara brith which has been explained to me as a Welsh fruit loaf that is filled with raisins, carrots and (interestingly) black tea.

I like the way the baker at Townhouse bakes the bara brith because it has a few different types of dried fruit in it. It’s one of the reasons that this makes the cut for cute cafés in London.

When you’re ready to enjoy the serenity of the café, walk into the sitting room on the other side of the staircase and take a seat closer to the roof light so that you can watch people in the courtyard walk through to the art gallery that you were just at. The setting is just perfectly English: green, paneled walls, cozy small spaces, and nothing but the sound of creaks and footsteps overhead.

Townhouse in Spitalfields truly is the perfect place to spend an afternoon in East London. If you have a bit more time, take a good read with you so that you can really soak in the warmth of the atmosphere.

Interior of Townhouse in Spitalfields with green panelled walls and brown tables and chairs, a cute cafe in London
All the cozy vibes of East London can be found here

And if you do get the Queen cake (which you should), ask the friendly baker if you can have a look at the original recipe from 1721. It’ll all make sense to you when you see it – and it’ll make it just that bit more enjoyable when you go to take your first bite of a cake from 1721.

The recipe is as old as the building! And this is what makes this rise from the list of cute cafés in London to a very special café in London.

Manuscript of the recipe of the Queen Cake
The manuscript of the Queen cake recipe is a prized possession of Townhouse

And remember: this is somewhere only locals know, so let’s keep it special.

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