London is a city of contrasts – you know that already. Beautiful Kensington is right next to the world’s most complicated gyratory TM (aka Hammersmith), the pound shops of Peckham are minutes away from the designer shops of Dulwich. And Strata, an “architectural icon” and high watermark in “contemporary urban living” is on the Elephant & Castle roundabout. Laugh out loud. This post has been a while in the making, but what neater way to illustrate London’s contrasts than with the tea-taking opportunities afforded to you by Vauxhall Walk, a small backstreet in South London?
First up, we have Mick Darnalds. It’s a builders’ cafe and burger bar in a railway arch, just behind Peddlar’s Park. I’ve only been there once, on a freezing morning, while Roo was playing on the swings. I needed to warm up, and the pound coin in my pocket was more than enough to secure me a plastic cup of builder’s tea. I had to wait for a while for the kettle to boil, and I felt somewhat out of place, but they were friendly enough. The guy even gave me a free chocolate penguin for Roo (I don’t know why I felt the need to point out that it was chocolate – it’s not like he would have given me a real live penguin). Roo didn’t notice, so I seem to remember I ate it in the end. Anyway, there’s your working-class option – honest, earthy and friendly to kids. I liked the name so much that I wrote into Shortlist about it and got featured on Danny Wallace’s page. True story! Here it is:
Whizz a little way down the street and you’ll find the middle-to-upper-class option; the Tea House Theatre. I believe I first visited it the same week as I visited Mick’s, which is why the contrast was so sharp in my mind.
It’s a charmingly eccentric place. Some people would be put off by the sign near the front door – apologising for their lack of speed over lunchtimes and stating that people looking for a quick sandwich would be best to look elsewhere. “We are not a coffee shop”. Indeed. And when I went there this morning, the service was somewhat eccentric – the credit card machine didn’t work, my friend had to ask for her toast twice and we almost ended up paying for our cakes twice. But these are minor considerations. It’s welcoming to toddlers, the cakes are exciting, the decor is kooky and the people are friendly. And that’s what matters.
The first time I went there, I was alone with Roo and he was asleep in the buggy (these were the pre-Eva days). I ordered a pot of apple tea (there is no ordering by the cup) and sat there for half an hour, reading. I could have stayed longer if I wasn’t on my way somewhere and the selection of books and papers certainly suggests you might want to. I definitely got nowhere near the bottom of my teapot, which was a shame as its teacosy had done a great job of keeping it warm for me. I remember thinking at the time that the place was a little too nice to take my unruly toddler, as he was bound to upset the ambience and break the (deliberately) mismatched crockery.
The next time I went there was for a 3-year-old’s birthday parties, so I had no such qualms really. The photo above is from that same party and is illegally filched from the Tea House Theatre’s own facebook page. I had some beautiful ones of my own, to illustrate this post but they disappeared with the death of the laptop. You don’t need to hear about my laptop troubles, but suffice to say I have many troubles. Hence no photos. So, I pinched this one. That’s Roo’s BFF and future wife there on the right.
(Another update – I found them! So I have scattered them through this post. Enjoy :) )
Faced with the challenge of a party-full of sugared up toddlers, the staff coped admirably. I found out today that the owners have a toddler and baby themselves, so it’s no wonder. There is an abundance of high chairs and baby changing facilities in both the disabled and ladies’ loos And the ladies’ loos are lovely….really lovely. No-one seems to mind the mess or the disruption. Even the group having a business meeting there this morning seemed unperturbed by Reuben shrieking “doggy!” and running round in circles. Oh yes, and Reuben found a doggy there. That also helps. There’s an open fire,which is both lovely and troublesome but it isn’t lit at the moment (this should be obvious, given that it’s July…but not obvious to anyone who’s stepped outside lately). And some slightly sharp broken teapots outside. But apart from that, it’s a nice place to enjoy some cake and tea. Oh, and it’s also a theatre. In case you were wondering….
VERDICT: Eccentric, but friendly. Don’t go if you’re in a hurry