Nestled below St Margaret’s House in Bethnal Green, The Gallery Café is a local haven for vegan and LGBTQ+ communities offering a faultless menu of plant-based food, writes local food reviewer Gem Stokes.
Named The Gallery Café due to their regularly-altered exhibition of upcoming artists, this not-for-profit café on Old Ford Road run by St Margaret’s House embodies their mission to promote positive social change for the local community, with a focus on arts, inclusivity, and wellbeing.
Certainly, the community feel is represented in both its location and function, the café moonlighting as an events venue that holds drag performances, art exhibitions, live music, comedy open mic nights, and more.
My girlfriend and I visited the café on an overcast Tuesday morning and were instantly overwhelmed by the volume of choice: the infamous Gallery Café avocado toast; fresh cakes, cookies and pastries; an impressive superfood bowl; juice that is pressed freshly right in front of you, and more.
The Gallery Café’s labels their ‘must try’ items to be their ‘signature’ dishes: the Full English Breakfast and the Gallery Café Burger, but their ever-changing specials board also presents itself as a one to watch.
Since we were spoilt for choice, we went for two courses (don’t blame us – not only was it delicious, but it was reasonably priced too). We enjoyed pastries and coffee to begin, inside a well-lit plantasia – wire backed chairs and fairy lights to make even the most hard-core Brutalist designer smile.
I indulged in a tangy latte-rich roast with a good amount of froth, paired with an almond pain-au-chocolat that had me discarding my table manners to run my fingers around the plate for crumbs.
Moist and doughy, enveloping decadent layers of almond and chocolate, this pastry was the star of the show. It should be disappointing that there was a scarcity of almonds both inside and flaked on top with icing sugar, but since I’m not a great lover of almonds, I was in heaven.
My girlfriend, considerably more of a chocoholic, preferred the option of a chocolate chip and hazelnut cookie – brown sugar paradise that was beautifully soft yet crumbly – unusually so for a cold cookie. The melt-able chocolate chips made this biscuit perfect for dunking in coffee, Kata dunking hers in a nutty almond flat white.
For the second course, we migrated outside to the front seating area, which consisted of homely benches and foliage, complementing the forest-green outer of the building. A chic garden shed vibe, if you will.
To our mutual disappointment, we missed the breakfast menu, served until 12noon-1pm, but I can highly recommend both the café’s infamous avocado toast, and Full English Breakfast, taste-tested on previous visits.
Instead, we enjoyed sharing a steaming sausage sandwich, compiled of Linda McCartney-esque bangers laid on a rosemary and sea salt focaccia and embellished with mustard, mayo, lettuce, and tomato.
The different textures and strong flavours unite the dish – Kata’s penchant for mustard and mine for a rosemary-and-sea-salt combo were dutifully appeased.
Washed down with freshly-made house special juice (melon and apple) – an appealing green that proved sweet, crisp and citrusy – we were clutching our full stomachs in contentment. As a foodie and a barista, our expectations were high, but they were more than exceeded.
My expectations were also surpassed when finding out more about the not-for-profit café, learning just how inclusive and supportive Gallery Café actually is.
Inclusivity remains an exigency for Kata and I, as a queer couple living in London, and Gallery Café certainly couldn’t do more to provide a safe and supportive environment. As well as having several queer team members and partnering up with queer charities such as the East London Out Project (ELOP). St Margaret’s House champions safe spaces in various ways: having gender-neutral toilets with available free sanitary products, encourage front of house staff in self-expression and hosting LGBTQIA+ events.
It feels like the Gallery Café really cares, the ultimate aim for the creation of safe spaces. Not only does St Margaret’s House support the LGBQTIA+ community, but also supports issues such as homelessness, mental and physical wellbeing, education for inclusivity, sustainability, and more. For example, the organisation sources food locally and donates leftovers to homeless people under the initiative ‘Tuesday Night Bites’.
A couple of things to note: the space only takes card payments and doesn’t have a lift so you’ll have to negotiated the steep, stone steps down from the pavement to its front door.
It seems that whatever you order from the completely vegan menu, you can’t go wrong. And with its inclusive policy and plans to expand its eclectic arts programme, Gallery Café’s future certainly looks bright.
If you enjoyed this, you may like to read our vegan review of Targa Green Cafe
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