Table for One
I know a lot of people find the idea mortifying, depressing even, but for me the joy of eating lunch alone is very real and very pure, unqualified, pleasure without meaning. I don’t mean shovelling in a soup at Pret and trying to avoid the flying elbows of the grab-and-go set, no. I’m not talking about snatching a bite between commitments, but rather the thrill of sitting down solo for a slap-up sesh, riding out to Hogsville, population: YOU. It’s a little like going to the cinema alone (one of the other things I take true delight in) in that you aren’t beholden to anyone else’s schedule or preferences, you can follow your own whims wherever they take you, and this week mine took me to Cafe Cecilia in Hackney.
Again, this was not a business lunch, not a social catch up, just what you might think of as self-indulgence/self-care depending on how spiritually evolved you are.
I have never really understood what whips up the sort of furore restaurants in London seem endlessly capable of creating (I went to Sexy Fish once in 2017 and am still regretting it) so I did feel a little wary that, with Cafe Cecilia having the rep it does as a snazzy hotspot beloved by what Grazia writers quaintly refer to as fashionistas, I would find the place unwelcoming, and full of people who eat with their sunglasses on and their £3k handbags plonked on the table. However I was spared this indignity as CC is actually incredibly low-key, it is after all East London and the vibe here is very different from the horrors of all things (dare I even write it?) Salt Bae. No body-con cutaway dresses and insta-filter filler faces here, no, no, nothing more on display than a good eyebrow threading and liberal application of Le Labo, at Cafe C.
The look of most diners would be best described as shapeless, lots of layers, really lots of layers, leather pants and chunky sweaters, extremely ugly shoes, big gold hoop earrings, acrylic grandad knits, scrunchies, and what looked like cashmere horse blankets thrown disdainfully over the shoulder. Naturally everyone scrolls IG throughout, though there was surprisingly little selfie taking which I personally found quite disappointing. Very little food photography either, which made the whole affair seem really quite uneventful; hardly seems worth going out if nobody accidentally knees the waiter in the face whilst trying to balance over a bucket of clams to get the perfect shot now does it? The food itself doesn’t really demand a session with Avedon anyway (God rest his soul), it’s all presented very simply with minimal frillery and looks on the plate, well to be honest, a little like mum is back on the Adderall and plating up with a very great precision and a very real hatred of fuss. It is also pretty tasty I should add, I especially enjoyed the sage and anchovy fritti (another reason for lunching alone, who on earth do I know who’d split that with me?) They were wonderfully salty and yet very light, and left a marvellous emerald green oil stain on my serviette. If you’re interested I also had lamb and potatoes which was very enjoyable, if not desperately exciting, served with a mild mint pesto and purple artichokes, all in all very serviceable.
The other diners were extremely entertaining, so full marks to CC for engineering that, and I must say that I am very grateful that they were all such fun because the acoustics of the place are so cacophonous that even with my Flare Calmer (not a sponsor) ear buds in I could still hear the convo from several tables away. One girl was telling her friend that she’d had to let her bf fly free for a while, until he’d had more life experience, she herself apparently having having it in spades already. “Babe,” she said to her semi-aware pal, “You know me, I’ve had so many affairs, come on, so many including the one with Skepta, and you know, he needs time to learn.” On another table a couple occupying a bench for six seemingly ordered one of everything, picking at the best bits as they showed each other TikTok videos in high spirits, nibbling on bitter salad leaves and the carcass of a whole fish, which truth be told, looked pretty fed up with the whole situation.
Rather wonderfully mid-way through lunch Cafe Cecilia played “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc further evidence perhaps that one very cool mom is in fact behind this whole endeavour. I think that it is to my own mother that I owe my love of afternoons like this, the almost immoral delight of languishing over plates and plates of highly unnecessary calories, when there is piles and piles of work waiting on my desk for me. Not because she is a terrible gourmand herself, but rather because as a child she would regularly take me out of school for the afternoon so she and I and the girls could go for pub lunches and festive catch-ups, in cafes with crusty bread, right through from late November to mid-Jan. The girls (almost all of whom were 40+ with at least one divorce a piece) loved me, and I loved them, and have ever since found an afternoon of mid-winter idleness to be the peak of glamour. I often think of those women, when I’m out and about at this time of year. Of course being proud Liverpudlians they would never have dreamed of going out to lunch without putting their face and their best sparkly Christmas jumper on, unlike most of Cafe Cecilia’s clientele who would most definitely have been described as “looking like a bag of rags an’ makin’ a show of themselves an’ all” by my mother’s friends, once the second bottle of pink Zinfandel came around.
For dessert (yes, and???) I tried the deep friend bread and butter pudding with cold custard, which was rather like a churro and served in such a whopper of a portion I could not hack my way through to completion, despite it being really very delicious. I at least had the decency to photograph it (see above), just as the good Lord intended me too, in spite of all the other slackers who were refusing to use their phones for anything other than pulling up hilarious hot-takes on Boris’ latest blunderings.
Also of note, the loos are two unassigned cubicles, which for an extremely anxious person of indeterminate gender is hugely comforting, and none of the staff found it necessary to refer to me (or anyone else in earshot) as “Sir”, “Madame” or “Miss”. It’s almost as if these basic cordialities are possible, and their implementation won’t bring businesses to their knees, or bring about any immediate Zapatista uprising. Interesting. Rather wonderfully the whole thing, three courses, coffee and a quince squash came in under £50 with service, which I thought was a real deal, though I don’t know what the Scouse ladies who lunch would have to say about it all.
Well, I do actually:
“Three quid for bread an’ butter?”
“You’re soft you are! I can do you that at ours la, I’ve got a loaf an’ a tub of Utterly Butterly in the fridge!”
“Yeah, and she’d only charge you two ninety-nine an’ all!”
“Oh you’re an ’ard-face cow you are! Pass me that wine before I brain ya!”
I'd split the sage and anchovy fritti with you, although I'd rather we ran to two portions!!!