TPG: A Haven just off Oxford Street

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March 21, 2013 by indiecafes2013

It’s easy to find groovy independent cafés in bohemian parts of town, so there’s nothing Cafés That Are Not Franchises likes more than finding somewhere that’s right in the heart of crazy commercial London.

It doesn’t get crazier or commercialer than Oxford Circus. And if you like your cafés a bit bohemian you will probably love Photographers’ Gallery Cafe, just behind Oxford Street,  at 16-18 Ramillies Street.

Photographers Galley Cafe

Like most gallery cafés it is run by outside caterers, but not one of the big firms. When Photographers’ Gallery moved here from Great Newport Street in 2008 they decided it was important to put down roots in the community. When it re-opened last year after a major refurb, they chose Lina Stores, an Italian deli that’s been in Soho since 1944 (and is well worth a visit too).

So it’s no surprise that the café scores top marks for its coffee (Lavazza) and food.

Photographers Gallery Cafe

The all day lunch menu usually includes soup, a couple of fresh pasta dishes, fritatas and sandwiches on Italian bread. And there’s a good selection of sweet stuff too.

A combination of big tables and the fact that staff at the gallery use the cafe as their meeting room makes it a great place to kill time with a newspaper – or hip creative publication of your choice.

The window seats are great for watching the world (and students from the nearby beauty school) go by.

It’s friendly. It’s relaxed. There’s a gallery upstairs and a fantastic bookshop in the basement. Every Friday at 1pm there’s a lunchtime talk: “My Favourite Photograph“. There really isn’t much not to like about this place … unless, like me, you pine for the old Photographers’ Gallery Café.

Before the move to Ramillies St, the cafe was actually in the gallery and had huge refectory tables, which made it quite unlike any other cafe in London. It was run by a chap called Billy and served the same sandwiches and home made cakes for as long as I can remember.

The coffee was – it has to be said – less than delicious, but the food was always good and nowhere in London could compete for ambience.

I suspect you can’t love independent cafes and not suffer from bouts of irrational nostalgia.  It may have lost a bit of its bohemian charm, but the new gallery is undeniably a Very Good Thing for photography in the UK.

Video: Director Brett Rogers talks about the new gallery – and why not having a cafe amongst the pictures makes it better – with Sean O’Hagan of the Guardian

The cafe is one of the best in London, and rarely a week goes by that I don’t have a long lunch with a big pile of newspapers here (It still has some of the West End’s most generously proportioned tables).

There’s a history of the gallery here by the way. Bonus cafe fact: It was set up in a converted Lyon’s Tea Bar. Note to self: must find out what Billy is up to.


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