This is what Arabian nights are made of: part souk, part bohemian lounge, Cafe Cairo makes the perfect sanctuary from the high street drivel. A cosy den of dim lighting, snug seating and wayward musicians, this spot has all sorts rubbing their eyes in disbelief, but it's not a mirage - it's real, and we're into it. Aladdin, eat your damn heart out. The movement (yeah, it's a movement) started 20 years ago when Cafe Cairo was merely a tent at Glastonbury. It developed a bit of a cult following, and soon found a permanent home in Brixton. Some of the old regulars still come round, alongside shiny new patrons smoking shisha side by side. What else? Banging pizzas, cabaret nights, live music, free film screenings on Sundays, and unlimited free toast, that's what else. This is one of the last true beacons of community in London - get here quick.
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Nipping across the Channel for a French cafe experience is a bit of a schlep, so we'll just stick to Madeleine's in Clapham. You may not see him, but in the kitchen there's a pastry chef from France, firing out the best cakes and pastries all day - including gluten-free goodies. If you give him a couple of days notice, he can even custom bake you cakes for any occasion. Total gent. There's fresh onion soup every day (obviously), and different daily special stews. The coffee here is good, but the teas are the MVP – all lined up on the counter in glass jars. Blackcurrant hibiscus, flowering osmanthus... whatever you fancy.
The Clarendon Cocktail Cellar
This building is no stranger to getting boozy. It was once a Victorian pub wining the ladies and gents of the 19th century. Now it is a lavish underground lair below an arty, boutique hotel serving libations inspired by famous artworks. For example, there's the Andy Warhol “Campbell’s Tomato Soup" (basically a very posh Bloody Mary) and the Edvard Munch “Scream” (Mezcal, Lime, Cassis, Agave, Habanero). Keeping things steady are a bevy of small plates inspired by the great British pub - Crispy Pork Belly with Sauerkraut and Apple Sauce and Soft Shell Crab with Kale & Lime Mayo. Definitely a sweet addition to Pimlico's drinking scene.
A proper Hackney institution, The Dolphin is the night-ender. It’s beer sodden, it’s loud and it’s a little bit smelly - only advisable when you're several drinks down and frantically searching for somewhere to go at 1am and looking to get down to 00's R'n'B hits. Don’t come here looking for high grade craft beer or champagne cocktails, but do expect to have a few tales to tell the next morning. If you can remember them. They also do regular karaoke here and have a free jukebox.
This Whitechapel boozer is just how pubs should be. A little bit battered round the edges but full of friendly faces, live music and drunken shenanigans. They also serve ace pizza which makes it a prime spot for boozing and pizza eating into the wee hours.