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.
Books and bakeries are a fantastic pairing. The solace combined with gooey Schlossberger-filled toasties, the almond croissant being the only company your mouth has to engage with, and the fact that Pophams offers all of this plus a changing seasonal soup for lunch as well. The Hackney bakery is a perfectly light and airy space to spend an hour or two and its menu, ranging from sweet to savoury, flaky to molten cheesy, only encourages this.
Unless you’re the kind of person who values the company of their housemates or partner, then a day off is ideal for a combination of food and words. Quality Wines is the place to go when you’ve got some quality time to yourself. 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 ginger cake. In fact, the only thing that betters its tranquil atmosphere is the choice of food.
Nibble of sourdough. Turn the page. Big bite of pork belly bánh mì. Turn the page. Sip of excellent coffee. Turn the page. Another nibble of their signature hash browns. If that doesn’t sound like a bloody lovely way to spend a day then, sorry, we can’t be friends anymore. This cool and casual Tooting café is a great place to pass a couple of hours and we’re not kidding when we say that they make some of the best brunch food in the game. Just be aware that they close at 3pm during the week, and you should also be aware that you need to try their pistachio cake. We repeat. Get the pistachio cake.
London isn’t the greatest city in the world for feeling contented. 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 how friendly and well, happy, everyone seems in here. It’s a lovely place to be with your book or to just be in general.
If you think that bibs are for babies then you’ve clearly never tried to eat Xi’an Impression’s liangpi noodles whilst wearing a white t-shirt and negotiating a long read with one hand. It is not elegant. It is not always pretty (for your t-shirt). But it is 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 before leaving you and your words in peace.
Incidentally the name of a brilliant graphic novel that’s well worth reading, Persepolis is also a friendly Persian-inspired vegetarian deli and restaurant in Peckham. It’s an unashamedly homely and bric-a-brac filled space with plenty of its own literature and cookbooks lining the walls. Food-wise there’s meze or wraps, soups and hot pots, just try and get a cushioned seat near the window. That’s where you can really get comfy.
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.
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 the 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.
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 Llewelyn’s was a novel, it’d be an Alan Bennett-esque romance about a young musician who finds unexpected serenity in Herne Hill. They’d fall in love with a harpist over candlelight and the 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 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 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 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?
N.B. Nandine is currently closed.