I just spent a short week in London, working. The rewards of my visit were many: a successful recording experience; a duskily delicious and intriguing dinner with my Dutch publisher, Jacqueline Smit of Orlando, at Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi’s paen to Mediterranean flavors; the best Gloucester pork chop of my life at the Abingdon with another Dutch publisher and friend, Nelleke Geel (Meridien); Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty exhibit at the Victoria and Albert; Sonia Delauney’s marvels, among others, at the Tate Modern.
But my favorite moments were spent sitting in a small chair at the edge of Regent’s Canal, sharing a table with two chatty Turkish women who, like me, were sipping Meantime London Pale Ale. The venu was the Towpath Café, American Lori de Mori’s gastronomic haven where the coffee is rich, the portions generous, the flavors poppingly fresh.
The Towpath café is a series of four cubbyholes that open onto the canal’s towpath. Most of the seating is outdoors, though two of the cubbyholes have been transformed into outward looking dining areas. The spot was filled with people, literally overflowing, all of whom seemed to be friends. There was a birthday party going on in one of the cubby holes and I was immediately invited; Lori’s son Julian, who occasionally takes time out as a data analyst to help his mother, came over to shake my hand, as did several of her staff in the “Anyone who is a friend of Lori’s is a friend of ours” attitude that prevails at the café.
Lori and I had a date for dinner. But it was early afternoon and I was starving. I was about to order broad beans with feta when one of Lori’s staff members presented me with potted shrimp, a delicately and deliciously flavored pâté-like mixture intended to be spread on toast, that was served with the most remarkable zucchini and kohlrabi “sott aceto,” pickled in vinegar. After three and a half days of reading in a studio I felt released, sitting here in the sun among the hip and happy, a crisp wind whipping under Whitmore Bridge, awash in every language on earth, even occasionally English.
Lori happened almost accidentally into her ownership of the Towpath. “I’m a journalist, I write about food,” she said. “But I moved here and this was such a great opportunity that I took it.” That was six years ago.
Lori, a beautiful woman with a thoughtful air (who resists the camera), sat with me for a minute and surveyed the world she’s created. I commented on how kind everyone was, how her clients had welcomed me, how the good food, wine, beer and service created a harmonious whole.
She thought for a minute. “You know, I walked the Camino (de Santiago) many years ago,” she said. “It’s a pilgrim’s route with so many stops along the way where people open their homes and share. I sort of feel that this is what I’m doing here.”
I thought of this the next morning as I sat at a table and sipped a deep, rich macchiato. It was 9 a.m. of a Sunday morning and tables were filling up fast with young families, couples, singles, photographers, an elderly gentleman who rolled up in his motorized wheel chair. “He comes every day,” Lori confided in me before she went to give him a hug and a cup of tea. “I think we’re all family here.”
I recommend the Towpath Café, where you’re likely to find a family in London, too, as well as some of the best food around.
Towpath Café, 42 de Beauvoir Crescent, London N1 5SB Tel: +44 (0)20 7254 7606