The sun’s out, the blossoms are blooming, and it seems we finally may have seen the last of winter. But just because the new season is here doesn’t mean you need to miss out on comfort food in London. With change in the air, now is the time to head out to a cosy café — it’s still a bit risky to venture into picnic territory. Luckily, cafés are hard at work creating innovative, tasty, fresh delights in the capital of creative food. Spring into spring with these delightful London café treats. And the best news? None of these need break the budget — the Michelin-starred restaurants can wait!
Now the days are warming up it’s time for your coffee to cool down. Iced coffees have come a long way from the sugary, whipped cream versions of yesteryear — not that there’s anything wrong with those if it’s your bag! Ask for a cold brew coffee and you’ll likely find yourself pleasantly surprised with a full cup of complex flavour notes designed for low-temperature drinking. Or, if you like it sweet, a granita might be more your thing. A happy medley between a sorbet and an espresso, you’ll be cooled off and pepped up all at once. Connoisseurs tell us that the flavour notes of coffee come through best in a cold brew — the best way to find out is to try for yourself!
This Spring granola has come to the fore in London café breakfasts, with many establishments making their own signature granola on-site. Forget dusty old oats gone soggy in milk; granola is now sophisticated and worldly, and a bowl can feature pecans, pistachios, crystallised ginger, dried fruit such as pear and mango, and sprouted oats crisped in pure maple syrup. With the addition of a high-end yoghurt (coconut kefir with Tahitian vanilla! Buffalo milk yoghurt with freeze-dried blackcurrant! Fermented nut yoghurt!), drizzles of honey, and an exotic goat or coconut milk, granola is the fast-rising star of café breakfasts for 2017. If you’re really on a health buzz, look out for unusual grains such as buckwheat that have been sprouted and then dehydrated for maximum nutritional benefit. But remember: taste comes first!
Best Served Cold
Speaking of being cool, chilled café lunches really come into their own in the changing weather of springtime. You can always go for a salad, of course, but other cold dishes offer the calming nature of comfort food without being heated. For guaranteed deliciousness try ceviche — fresh raw fish cured in lime or lemon juice and served with chilli and coriander. Cold-smoked fish, such as salmon, can also be soothing and refreshing on the palate. Even soup can be dished up cold in the form of gazpacho, a chilled tomato soup from Southern Spain, or vichyssoise, a French leek soup traditionally served froid. There are also exciting things happening in the space of raw food, so look out for experimental treats such as chilled cashew nut alfredo sauce, or avocado-based soups.
A true classic, new lamb never tastes better than in spring. Think gentle flavours such as fragrant mint, washed down with a glass of light red wine (Lambrusco anyone?). Many cultural cuisines honour the new spring season with a lamb dish, including the Middle East, North Africa, the Mediterranean and France. In the United Kingdom the best lamb is always free range and as locally sourced as possible, but can also hail from Scotland, or perhaps even New Zealand. For a high-end London café Saturday lunch, look out for lamb cutlets. Served on the rare side, rosy and pink, this spring treat dish is best eaten around April or May.
Feasts for the eyes as well as the tastebuds, visually appealing dishes are popping up everywhere in London. Rainbow-coloured food is a worldwide trend, encompassing bagels, marbled cakes, cocktails, and even vegetables, such as coloured cauliflowers and carrots (did you know, for example, that carrots were originally purple, and that black, white, purple, yellow, and red cultivars are available?). Or brighten your plate with edible flower garnishes such as pansies, nasturtiums and marigolds — especially right in springtime. Fancy something a little more opulent and less botanical? Eye-catching edible gold is now being scattered across brownies and popcorn and gilting biscuits, creating treats that are fanciful, luxurious, and utterly Instagrammable.
One of best thing about lighter spring lunches is that they leave plenty of room for afters! In springtime, even desserts need not be heavy. Our current fave is a Genoise sponge, which is an airy, low-butter sponge cake made with cream and seasonal fruits such as apricot, rhubarb, and lychee. Treat yourself to a trifle or two.
Okay, so one this isn’t quite culinary, but after a long winter everyone has an appetite for sunshine. One of the best ways to enjoy London cafés in spring is to ditch the office (or bring the laptop if you must!) and find a cafe with a sunny courtyard or corner to get a dose of vitamin D. Sip on your drink (a matcha green tea, if you’ve got your finger on the beverage pulse) and soak up some rays. Many London cafés have quiet outdoor spaces full of green plants and trailing vines, just waiting to be explored. By the way, rooftops and conservatory-style areas work too.
Just when you think you’ve tried it all in terms of teas, juices, coffees, smoothies, and shakes, the spring season of 2017 brings more cold drinks than ever before. London cafés are now offering drinks as varied as turmeric lattes, kombucha (fermented iced tea), and quinoa milkshakes. But the trendiest (and healthiest) unusual drink prize has to go to: you guessed it, matcha. This special variety of green tea is appearing in every possible form, from matcha ice cream, to green noodles, confectionery, lattes, and more.