Like many people, I look forward to lunchtimes not only as a chance to get out of the office and stretch my legs, but also to explore the area and eat in one of Bloomsbury’s numerous cafes. Even in a relatively settled Bloomsbury, things change at an amazing pace. A much loved restaurant, Balfours, which was always packed out with business people and students at lunchtime and with locals and tourists in the evening has become La Bonne Vivant and seems to be rather empty most days I go past.
On the other hand, the Bloomsbury Café in its basement premises at the bottom of a small hotel in Tavistock Place continues to thrive, although sometimes finding a space amongst all the laptops and mobile phone devices in exchange for a very good flat white or cappuccino can prove to be difficult.
As with many other parts of London, the number of places where you can eat seems to grow organically every time I wonder around the area. New coffee places seem to open up with the regularity and speed of the hour hand on the Dent clock at St Pancras station.
When I moved in to the area 22 years ago, I found 50 eating establishments within 10-minutes’ walk of the office – effectively in a half-mile radius of Tavistock Square. It took you to Tottenham Court Road in the West, half-way up Evershed Street towards Mornington Crescent station to the North, Grays Inn Road in the East and as a far South as High Holborn. The result of that methodical slave-ish obsession of trying every single sandwich bar and restaurant, I found my favourites.
Three of them still exist, so I am sharing them with you. In Chalcot Street, just north of the Euston Road is Albertino’s. It was pretty much a sandwich bar originally. Now it is a fully fledged restaurant that serves some of the best pizzas and pasta in the area and where not only the food is first class but the service remains as friendly as the welcome I received the first time I ate there more than 15 years ago. Family run, I take clients and colleagues there regularly to dine. An added bonus during the summer is that there are a dozen tables outside so you can watch the interesting life that Somers Town provides, drift past as you tuck in to your delicious chicken Caesar salad or Albertino’s homemade chicken escalope.
“Wot The Dickens” in Woburn place is one of those places where I can’t quite put my finger on why I go there. Perhaps its familiarity is as comfortable as a soft blanket. As a Spurs man, I shouldn’t go there at all. Dino, a “Gooner” runs the place and can usually be spotted in the summer months in shorts texting somebody on his mobile phone. Partly I go there for the banter and partly for Dino’s half-decent sandwiches. It is the nearest of my favourite places, and whilst I can’t endorse the blackboard outside which says “the best coffee in London” they do make a decent cup of tea.
Whilst I was striding through Bloomsbury a few years ago, I found Onion’s Snack Bar on that exquisite Edwardian shopping mall Sicilian Avenue. Taylor is very much “a front of house man”. If you are walking past and he is outside, he will invariably try and tempt you in. It’s the only sandwich bar I know that serves fresh salmon and some delicious salads that go with it. Again, there is outside seating which I like as well as the invariable warm welcome from everybody at the place.
We all have our favourites, and I try and avoid the chains but I admit that having a Pret on the ground floor of my office does occasionally lend itself to a quick convenient purchase.
Some of my old favourites have stood the test of time which says something about them and the established, mixed with the new, reflects what has been going on in Bloomsbury for the past two decades.