Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Museum of Everything Cafe, London

Penelope & Lauren

Who did I take for cake? Lauren, Stylist/Designer (above right) and Penelope Stardust, Pony (above left)

What did we talk about? Leopards, creepers, rings that turn your fingers green, sandwiches, sinuses, girls with willies a la Henry Darger

The damage: £2 donation

I’ve got a bone to pick with Donald Trump who once remarked ‘if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big’. Having visited the Museum of Everything’s café where modesty prevails with super endearing results, I am inclined to disagree. Donny T may be rolling in the mega monies and possess the most mesmorising bouffant since Diana Ross (its like mohair I tell you, MOHAIR) but I’m putting my foot down. Staunchly. Simple pleasures are simply not to be sniffed at.

On the menu at this little café, situated with the museum in an old dairy, there is tea and toast and jam and hot chocolate and juice and biscuits and… that’s it. And that is all that there needs to be. Just as not every ride needs pimping, neither does every afternoon tea.

Free of the trappings of too-much-choice-itis, Lauren and I are equipped with biscuits and tea as quickly as you can say whippersnapper. The two trestle tables are heaving, so having fed our donations to the jar, we head to a row of fold-up chairs and appoint one of the malleable chaps as our table.

To the untrained eye, our spread may not look much. This eye might see five shop-brought biscuits and two cups of tea you wouldn’t get much more of a slurp out of, served on mismatched china that has seen better days. It would consider our ‘table’ shoddy, the peeling paint unforgiveable and the scruffy plastic pony flanking the whole sorry affair, ridonkulous. Look a little closer though, and a microcosm of magic is revealed.

The cups aren’t small, they’re dainty. The china may be mismatched but oh, wouldn’t it be dull if everything matched perfectly ALL of the time? The chipped edges are not shameful but miniscule badges of honour. That chipped plate/dish/bowl/whatever you’ve got sitting in your kitchen cupboard is a SURVIVOR. Yes siree. That’s one hardy little hero you’ve got hanging on in there.

Shop-brought biscuits might not be sophisticated but they are nostalgia in a mouthful, and very few of life’s blows are not softened by them. Heartbreak, homework and hair removal are all infinitely more manageable with a hob nob to hand.

There is no ‘scruffy green pony’ but the great wit and horse about town, Penelope Stardust. This mint coloured minx is supremely well-connected, with hooves in many a pie and is an absolute must for any self-respecting tea party. Yes, particularly when you are 25 years old.

Simple is after all, what you make it and therein kids, lies the beauty. Down with stargazing and complexities, lets marvel in the modest and say hoorah for the humble and (for this week at least) let the bigger picture take care of itself.

Down Penelopes Cakehole


sketch at the Royal Academy, London

Who did I take for cake? Keren, Creative Director and my mum (above right)

What did we talk about? Anniversary presents, Christmas, 1984, portraits

The damage: £18.85

I am in love with a Cardinal. As round as he is tall, the yang to my yin has a complexion of boiled beetroot and a penchant for snazzfabulous headgear. A bona fide Hollywood moment, I recall the intricacies of our first meeting with more clarity than I do my address…

It all begins as these things so often do, in a bid to escape the winter winds. Fed up with them whipping us along Piccadilly, mum and I sensibly decide to seek solace in afternoon tea. With the Royal Academy’s brand new sketch pop-up café just moments away, it feels rude not to.

We greet the towering cake stand like an old friend and set about piling our paper plates with Pecan Chocolate Brownies, Grapefruit Cake and more. It is as we turn to add tea to the equation that Captain Cupid’s arrow strikes. For under the vast, glass tea counter lies the Cardinal. Surrounded by an assortment of equally exquisite bedfellows, the Peacocks of the cake world are within my grasp.

I start to get excited. So far the sketch pop-up has ticked a number of boxes:

smiley staff
hot pink walls
offbeat touches (books sit next to brie in the chiller cabinets)
a chandelier made entirely of old ladies’ specs.

It is the cake that hasn’t made waves. Until now. After hastily liberating my crush from his glassy confines, along with a Valrhona, a chocolate/hazelnut combo that has tiny people printed onto it (oh joyous details!); we take our paper cups of steaming English Breakfast and sit to devour.

At £4, the Cardinal is a pricier affair than the old cake standonians, which range from 65p – £2 but well worth it. Much more than just a pretty blackcurrant macaroon, it has style and substance in equal measure. The violet mousseline filling is a perfect, floaty partner for the chewy macaroon and a tart blackcurrant marmalade balances out the sweetness with aplomb.

The Pecan Chocolate Brownie is another serious contender: dark, velvety and comforting, I prefer it to the more expensive but too-sweet Valrhona. Mum is won over by the Ginger Cake’s subtle smokiness and I, charmed by the Grapefruit. Although I must point out to any die-hard grapefruit groupies currently chomping at the citrusy bit, that I enjoy this precisely because it tastes nothing like grapefruit.

As for the rosy lee? Well. While it isn’t ideal serving the brown stuff in paper take-away cups when we are not taking it away but in fact taking tea (goddammit), it is just not cricket to then leave the bag lurking in the bottom, without so much as a string to suggest its creeping, sodden presence.

Likewise, the disposable cutlery irks. Sheep in wolves clothing, the knives may look like knives but these lambs weren’t made for slicing. More importantly, the prevalence of the disposable seems at odds with the cafe’s stated sustainability bent. Granted, there are recycling points and the cutlery may be biodegradable, but if it is, this isn’t made clear and it is here that the pop-up trips-up.

There until the end of Earth on 31 Jan (the RA exhibition, not the planet), I recommend catching this playful café while you can.

Who knows? You might just fall in love…

Tea & cake