People are overrated. Sometimes you just want the company of your book. And also a large portion of dumplings. Although you can theoretically eat and read in any old restaurant, some just are just too dark, or too loud, or too full of people trying to interact with you. Which is where this guide comes in. So, when you just want somewhere light and peaceful, along with excellent food, you know where to go.
Unless you’re the kind of person who values the company of their work colleagues, then lunch breaks are prime time for a combination of food and words. But you deserve more than a bench, your phone, and a flaccid sandwich. You deserve a sit down with your book at Quality Wines. During the day, this Clerkenwell wine bar is the place to be for some peace and quiet, peerless chicken and aioli sandwiches, plus a slice of freshly made almond cake. In fact, the only thing that betters its tranquil atmosphere is the choice of food (and the lack of work colleagues).
If you think that bibs are for babies then you’ve clearly never tried to eat Xi’an Impression’s cold noodles whilst wearing a white t-shirt and reading a long read on the ethics of filling up branded ketchup bottles with substandard alternatives. It is not elegant. It is not always pretty (for your t-shirt). But it is very enjoyable. This is not a restaurant that will bother you with questions, or water pours, or Powerpoint presentations about dessert. No, this is a superb Chinese restaurant that will make you soft and squidgy pork dumplings and leave you and your words in peace.
The thought of returning to school to do some reading with a bowl of crumble and custard by your side will either fill you with terror or with joy. Thankfully the old school bike shed that Rochelle Canteen is in holds no bad memories, nor any bum-fluffed youths conspicuously sharing half a cigarette. The beauty of this Shoreditch restaurant is its privacy. Not to mention things like poached trout and potato salad. You’ll be hard pushed to find a more pleasant place to get through a couple of chapters than here, though breakfast is likely your best bet if you’re trying to stop by without a booking.
If oily droplets and pomodoro-based smears aren’t something you want on your current reading material, then Theo’s may not be the ideal place for you. Which is ideal. We don’t want this light-filled gallery-like pizza spot getting too popular in the daytime, mostly because this Camberwell restaurant is one of our favourite places to come alone, book in hand, stomach ready for neapolitan pizza and drool-worthy homemade chilli sauce.
London isn’t the greatest city in the world for non-awkward social interactions. In fact it’s bad for it. Bear this is mind when you go to Esters and you’ll realise how special this little Stoke Newington cafe is. Not just because of the outstanding brunches, coffee, and baked goods, but because of the non-awkward sharing of tables that can occur when you’re on your own. Obviously it’s fine, because you have a book, but who knows - you might even end up talking to them.
Thanks to its literary history, The French House has long been the boozer of choice for the type of person who knowingly carries around a battered Penguin Classic in their back pocket. Fear of pretentious pillocks aside, the upstairs dining room does actually make for a peaceful location to have a read with a plate of confit garlic and goats curd on toast by your side. Of course you may well look like something that begins and ends in the letter t, but does it matter when the Paris-Brest tastes this good?
The counter at Peckham spot Levan is good for many things. One is eating comté fries. Another is drinking wine. And another is reading. Our game plan would be to combine all three. This chilled holiday of a wine bar and restaurant has the kind of feel-good indie soundtrack that won’t interrupt your reading. And their seasonal sharing plates are some of the best in London. If you leave without feeling distinctly proud that you managed to eat some miso short rib one handed whilst also tipsy, then you’re doing it wrong.
If someone could bottle the smell of a new book you’d wear it as your personal scent and probably spritz it round your flat like a fairy godmother on speed too. Until that’s a possibility, there’s The Pigeon Hole in Camberwell. This cute café not only has good coffee and excellent baked goods - seriously, try their fresh cakes - it’s also the kind of place you can sit down and start reading, only to look up and find out four hours have passed. The best part is, if you left your book at home, or, more likely, just finished it, there are plenty of books at The Pigeon Hole you can pick up and read.
If Llewelyn’s was a novel, it’d be an Alan Bennett-esque romance about a confused young musician who finds unexpected serenity in Herne Hill. They’d fall in love with a harpist over candlelight and this spot’s excellent two-person lasagne. The last line would be ‘alas, their memories remained as bright and fresh as the feta and mint broad bean risotto that graced their forks in Llewelyn’s, all those years before’. Or something. The point is, whether you come here for a lunchtime caesar salad and sit beneath their fairy light wrapped tree outside or stop by in the evening for some lemon sole and a glass of wine at the counter, you’re pretty much guaranteed a charming backdrop for whatever you’re reading.
You’re not sure why, or how, but you’re determined to finish a Proust volume before you die. Or you know, until you ‘accidentally’ throw your copy on the train tracks whilst screaming ‘temps perdu, f you’. But as long as you’re still trying to turn those pages, head to seriously French all-day brasserie Colbert in Chelsea. The food here won’t change your life, but a rattan seat out on their pavement terrace with some steak tartare and plenty of patisserie for company is always a good shout.
Proud Mary’s in Shepherd’s Bush has a rich and abundant literary history. Well, someone we know once wrote a book here, so not exactly abundant, but still, impressive. This casual brunch spot has some pretty banging blueberry pancakes, spicy Mexican eggs, and fresh juices, plus plenty of coffee in case you spent half of last night convincing yourself you’d just read ‘one more page’. Heads up, it can get busy during peak hours so it’s worth getting here a little bit early and claiming a spot by the window for several hours.
Jolene is basically the hardback version of your average cafe. Partially because it’s more expensive, but mostly because it’s just better. We’ve been known to camp out at this Newington Green spot for a granola breakfast, through a caesar salad lunch, with seven chapters polished off by the time they bring the candles out. So sure, you might be paying eight quid for a ham and cheese toastie, but the pastries, grown-up feel, and views of Newington Green from the outdoor terrace make it completely worth it.
Oh Nandine. Lovely, lovely Nandine. If this Camberwell spot was some glorious pomegranate-wielding protagonist we undoubtedly would have forced our mums to make us Nandine costumes to wear on World Book Day. The super affordable mezze at this family-run Kurdish spot is excellent. Excellent in the kind of way that means you don’t give a shit if you end up with falafel, yoghurt, and tamarind sauce all over the pages of your favourite book. Like those sun cream smears on the cover from eight years ago, it’s just another tell-tale sign of all of your good times together, right?