Lena’s Cafe in Paddington is the kind of lunchtime spot that will have you emailing your boss office spaces nearby because the food is kind of healthy and tastes great. And because a meal for under a tenner in central London feels like a steal. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to home cooking in W2.
Word of mouth and lunchtime queues are what keep this small, bright red cafe on the corner of Bouverie Place always busy. At peak lunch hours, Lena’s Cafe is a chaotic place. Don’t expect any small talk from the servers and we’d avoid taking a seat inside before 2pm. Not because you won’t find a table but because during the 12pm rush, the door is ajar and people queue half in half out. That’s fine if you like an audience while you shovel green beans in your mouth, not so great if you like to take your puffer jacket off while eating lunch. Ultimately, what you need to know is that Lena’s is best experienced as a takeaway—grab a generously filled £9 box to go and it’s the best weekday lunch in the area.
photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
Our go-to order is a large chicken rice box, which is filled with minced lamb, plenty of shredded chicken, sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, and grilled aubergine, plus a couple of the cold salads. Which by the way are far more than a couple of tomatoes and some limp lettuce—they’ve got couscous, bean salads, a creamy potato number, and plenty more. It’s the kind of food you watch an overachiever meal-prep on FitTok and wish you had the energy, and aesthetically pleasing kitchen, to do the same.
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Rice With Chicken
The rice is perfectly spiced—brown from the black pepper with minced lamb mixed into it—with shredded chicken on top. This is the kind of wholesome food that never gets old.
Crispy around the edges and baby food levels of soft inside, the sweet potato is pretty popular, so just know if you come late afternoon it might be finished.
Let’s get one thing straight. These are not side salads. The salad here tastes as if it’s been given the same amount of attention as the main platters above. In fact we’d probably be as happy with a box of lentil, chickpea, and spiced couscous salad from here as we would a normal box. (Who are we kidding—we love that rice.)