After all of the Instagram hype, including apparently being labelled “the most Instagrammable cafe” I was so excited to visit this place. I went with my friends on a chilled Sunday afternoon after brunching at Andina, discovering the most amazing cookies at Mast Brothers and wandering down the beautiful (but absolutely rammed!) Columbia Road flower market. It’s a bit out of the way so we ended up taking the bus – my first ever London bus experience believe it or not!
It’s in Hackney, on the overground line in North East London. It looks a little run down from the outside though it has a pretty pink and green store front, which is a nice contrast to the grey buildings and bargain stores surrounding it – it’s safe to say it’s a bit of an anomaly in the area! Inside it was pretty though it was smaller and not quite exciting than I was expecting – the whole place looked like a dull, less enticing version of the pictures I’d seen online. I mean who would’ve thought – pictures on social media looking better or different to the real thing.. or only showing the best parts.. that’s not something I’ve rambled about on numerous occasions..!
Immediately on the left as you go in is a display of cakes (again, less exciting than I was hoping!) – some plain looking loaf cakes and brownies, a stand of crosstown donuts and a couple of minimal effort chocolate cakes, though there was one disturbingly multicoloured layer cake bringing some colour to the table (I’ll let you determine whether that’s a good thing or not! I for one didn’t feel inclined to eat a cake so fluorescent that I’m pretty sure I’d would glow in the dark..!). On the right are a few cute plants arranged prettily in paper cups, buckets and goldfish bowls, including bigger versions of the succulents we’d just picked up at the flower market!
Further into the cafe are a mix of pink tables with gold columns and marble tables, surrounded by paler pink leather chairs and sofas running down one wall. A few random lights and a mix of plants hang from the ceiling in an assortment of flowerpots (some pink of course!). Two of the walls are a beautiful exposed brick and there are some pretty flowers arranged in glass bowls on each table. At the back there’s a small kitchen which is separated from the cafe by a beaded curtain. I can’t imagine it’s big as they turn out a minimal amount of fresh food, with the only savoury options being variations of avocado toast and a few toasties.
It was busy and there aren’t many tables so we had to wait for a while. We thought about ordering whilst waiting for a table (there’s no table service – you order at the till) but they advised against it because “the food comes really quickly” (it doesn’t). I can see their point of view though – I’ve been to some cafes where you can’t sit at a table before you’ve ordered (I can also see their perspective in fairness!) but that leaves a nervous and unpleasant wait for a table post-ordering, wondering whether you’ll be paying eat-in prices to eat off your lap.
There are no printed menus, just big boards behind the counter which show their all day breakfast options, toasties and a ridiculous selection of hot drinks! I have to admit that the staff weren’t particularly helpful (and one was dressed incredibly inappropriately for a place serving food.. or just inappropriately full stop!). I asked what a “tonic latte” was and the response I got was “it’s an alternative to a coffee latte.” No kidding.
We eventually went for a matcha latte, a red velvet latte and a pink juice to share. We also wanted (and were very excited about!) the smores French toast, but they’d run out of brioche to make it. Talk about a disappointment! As if it wasn’t bad enough that I missed out on (what I imagined would be) marshmallows, Oreos and chocolate smothered on brioche French toast, their French toast is the only hot sweet item on the menu! 😦 Despite suggesting pretty poor stocktaking, I can kind of understand cafes running out of very specific ingredients as they’re not as big as restaurants and perhaps demand fluctuates slightly more, but to run out of bread at 2pm on a Saturday is a bit grim. As I mentioned earlier they do serve a limited amount of other hot food – they have toasties and a few varieties of avocado toast (which did look very good to be fair) on the menu boards, but I fancied something sweet, so I went for a smoothie bowl and a matcha crosstown doughnut. I have to admit that had the doughnut selection been bigger I’d never have chosen matcha but I’m so glad that I did – it was absolutely delicious! It was a pretty colour with a lovely icing, incredibly soft with a sweet matcha filling – I love that even the ring doughnuts at crosstown have fillings!!
There was an option below the smoothie bowl which said 50p to add “extra” granola. Not knowing what the granola would be like (and knowing how particular I am with my granola) I didn’t bother, but when it came I was surprised to see that there was no granola at all! So “extra granola” in fact means “some granola”. I asked to add some though and they did with minimal fuss 🙂 As it turns out I shouldn’t have bothered though – the stuff I was given was less granola and more a few faintly pink tinged oats – there wasn’t a cluster in sight, or even the slightest suggestion that they even made any effort to serve up anything other than what was essentially a pile of dry muesli. It was bland, tasteless and I’d even go as far as to say it detracted from the bowl. How granola can be that bad is beyond me, but it was awful!
The smoothie bowl was really good though. There were three flavours available – acai, pitaya and cacao. I hadn’t heard of pitaya but I’d had an acai bowl once before in Rome and loved it so I decided to give it a go 🙂 This one was a much duller colour and had a creamier texture – the one I’d had in Rome was bright purple, icy and refreshing, where this one was a deeper purple (almost blueberry coloured), but it was still really good. It wasn’t cold but it was deliciously smooth and topped with blackberries, blueberries, coconut flakes and cute little edible flowers (which ironically I never eat – they’re too cute!).
The drinks were lovely. There were so many on offer that I wanted to try them all, though some more than others – charcoal or medicinal mushroom lattes not so much! They have pretty pink takeaway cups too 🙂
The matcha latte was smooth and sweet with no bitter aftertaste (I’m assuming there must have been a fair amount of added sugar) and no horrible powder clumps at the bottom which I annoyingly find is often the case at other cafes. I much preferred the red velvet latte though. It was sweet and rich with a subtle hint of chocolate, with a pretty pink dusting on top. The juice was beautifully refreshing – apple, ginger and grapefruit would probably be up there with my absolute favourite fruits to have in a juice so it was the perfect combination for me. And it was pretty – bonus! They did also have a green juice on offer though which was quite the opposite – cucumber, kale, spinach, ginger and lime; while I love all of those things as foods I don’t even have the slightest inclination to try them together as a juice! I can’t get over the disgustingly overpowering taste that cucumber brings.. how something so watery and nothing-y can infect and overwhelm so many other flavours is beyond me. Perhaps the ginger and lime redeem it though. I won’t be finding out any time soon!
Overall I thought it was a bit disappointing. In fairness this was largely due to the huge Instagram hype and the misfortune of not being able to order the food I wanted. I do often fall victim to going in with unrealistically high expectations, but I really don’t think it lives up to its reputation. It wasn’t a bad cafe – far from it – but in my opinion it’s definitely nothing to get excited about. Yes it’s quite pretty inside but so are a lot of cafes and with the pretty plants and beautiful multicoloured drinks comes cramped table arrangements, sub-par granola (yes it’s a real crime in my eyes – HOW can you ruin granola!?) and a chaotic ordering system.
I’d have loved to have tried their French toast (and that could possibly have changed my opinion of the place) but the cakes on offer on the day I went were nothing special and for me, not worth the trek out on the Overground – I actually thought the best sweet item on offer was the Crosstown donuts which you can get all over London (and a bigger variety too!). If you want to drink good coffee and eat good cake surrounded by beautiful plants and flowers, head to (the far more central) Columbia road instead where there’s the beautiful flower market and a ton of amazing independent cafes, coffee shops and brunch spots.
Link to their website: http://palmvaults.com