It always makes me happy when I read about a new independent cafe. With so many chains filling every high street in the UK it's good to know that smaller enterprises can make a go of it. One such place I was particularly pleased to hear about was Fleet River Bakery. For those of you that don't know the Fleet River is one of London's old rivers that is now subterranean. It starts in Hampstead and flows down to the River Thames just near Blackfriars. Apparently there are certain spots where you can hear the river flowing beneath your feet as part of London's labyrinthine sewer system.
One place it doesn't flow, perhaps surprisingly, is through Lincoln's Inn Fields, the location of the Fleet River Bakery. I first visited the cafe last summer and have been a couple of times since. Every time I go I seem to forget my camera but on my most recent visit I decided to take some quick snaps with my iPhone for fear I'd never get around to writing about it if I didn't.
Located in a nice old building with large arched windows the cafe has an unusual layout. You queue up to buy your hot drinks and food in the front room. They seem to have a rather strange system where you queue at one counter to get your food and order your drink and then you queue again to pick up your drinks at another counter: it's a bit chaotic but it seems to work. Once you've collected your vittles you can either carry your tray down to a basement room or you can do what I tend to do and go down some stairs and then up some others to get to the light and airy back room. It's a nice room with a few long wooden tables to share or a few smaller ones if you want to be more private. It has something of the air of a canteen about it which may be more to do with the fact it's full of staff and students from the nearby LSE rather than anything intrinsic about the decor which include over sized photos and lovely fresh flowers.
On this recent visit I chose a pot of Assam and a lovely looking Lemon Poppy Seed Cake. I was pleased to see that the tea in the teapot was loose leaves popped into a muslin bag for cleaning convenience. It had the usual good robust flavour I'd expect from an Assam and certainly did the trick in sating my thirst after my cycle ride there. But the teapots in this place give me as much pleasure as the lovely tea inside. Whenever I've visited before I've always been given a proper Brown Betty teapot and on this visit although the shape was the same it was a yellow colour. My BB at home has been serving me faithfully for the last 18 years (!) and despite a few cracks and chips it's still going strong. I'm not saying that I don't like pretty fancy schmancy teapots but the classic style and superior brewing power of the Brown Betty is hard to beat in my book.
With the tea all going swimmingly it was time to concentrate on the lemon poppy seed cake. It had a lovely, and properly potent lemony tang but was just a bit too sweet for me - you know the kind of buttercream that actually makes your teeth hurt because it's so sweet? Well this was it. Still, I managed to force the whole thing down so it can't have been too bad... I should also mention that I have previously enjoyed some pretty delicious carrot and chocolate cakes there so perhaps this particular cake was just not quite to my taste. Next time, I'll just have to go for something else...
And there's sure to be a next time. Although the service has a tendency to be a little erratic and dirty cups and plates often hang around on empty tables for too long, there is a nice relaxed vibe at Fleet River Bakery. Coupled with that is good tea and generally pretty fine cake.
The other brilliant thing is their location. Situated just by the grassy expanse of Lincoln's Inn Fields it's perfect for a take-away on a sunny day (although I don't really approve of tea in paper cups...), and is close enough to Covent Garden to provide a welcome escape from the hordes of shoppers. All in all I'd say that Fleet River Bakery is worth half an hour of your time. (But given the size of their slices of cake it might be better to give yourself a little bit longer. After all, what fun is a rushed afternoon tea?)