Albion Café is within a new Conran Hotel called The Boundary just off Shoreditch High Street. Its potential for pretentiousness is overcome by serving nice, not too pricey food, having a relaxed atmosphere and containing lots of pretty things such as enamel coffee pots and stripy tea-cosies with pom-poms on top.
I went there for afternoon tea one grey Saturday afternoon with two good friends, a sister, a boyfriend and a baby. Getting there felt like a relief after walking down through Broadway market which was filled with people trying too hard to look like they were relaxing while being stuffed into expensive cafes with not enough seats and being sold overpriced vegetables. We had to wait about 5 minutes for a table, which gave us a chance to look at some of the stuff in their shop, including very cheap (60p) massive brownies, very tempting and more expensive (£3 but possibly worth it) loaves of bread and aspirationally displayed vegetables and well-packaged grocery goods.
We sat at a spacious round table with comfortable chairs. The waiter was prompt. My sister and I ordered ‘Cream Tea’ (£6) hoping for a scone and tea. Alice ordered a pot of Earl Grey (£2.75) and a treacle tart (£5.50). Paul chose prune and almond tart (£3) and Earl Grey tea also. Helen modestly ordered a pot of coffee (£2.75). We also asked for some glasses of tap water.
Our order arrived quickly. Jo and I were pleasantly surprised to find that Cream Tea means a big fruit scone with a pot of strawberry jam and a pot of cream, a slice of fruit cake, a chocolate brownie and a flapjack as well as a big pot of tea. I normally find it difficult to leave food on a plate, but after eating the nice scone with jam and cream, I couldn’t face much more than a taste of the other stuff. Luckily the baby (Dennis) helped with the fruitcake, as did Helen, who was eventually tempted out of abstention. Paul enjoyed his tart but managed to also polish off my brownie. Alice exclaimed delight after finishing her treacle tart, and I believe helped Jo with some of her cakes too. So there was a healthy consumption of cakes all round, as there should be at an afternoon tea.
Helen’s pot of coffee was big enough for 5 cups, so Jo and I had a cup each, as well as 4 cups of tea each out of our teapot (after a gracious topping up by the waiter). The red enamel coffee pot really pleased me – it was almost identical to one I bought Helen for her birthday. And the enamel jug that the water came in was a agreeable object too.
The toilets are through the hotel and down the staircase, which is covered in a huge, colourful mural. In the individual unisex toilet rooms (one of which has a nice baby-changing table) there are small folded flannels to dry your hands, and smart hand cream. All very wasteful and unnecessary I’m sure, but again highly pleasing.
On the way out Paul and Helen both bought some bread, and Alice could not resist getting a huge scotch egg to take home to her lucky boyfriend.
The design of the place and the choice of things in it obviously has been meticulously thought through, but somehow it’s not overbearing. Essentially it does what a café should do – provides an environment and refreshments that contribute to a pleasant social experience.
I found it most enjoyable and would like to go for lunch there soon.