What constitutes Brixton geographically is one of those perpetual questions people in the area ask. I’m sure there’s a proper technical answer based on population density or electoral wards or something, but for me it’s how far in any direction I can walk from Brixton tube in 25 minutes. And by that reasoning, I’m counting Cafe Van Gogh at the Christ Church on Brixton Road as Brixton rather than Oval. But even if you want to get technical, it is worth the effort to visit.
Being a completely vegan and vegetarian cafe it may take some people out of their comfort zone in more than one way. I admit to being one of them. Having seen that the cafe had reopened after five years under the running of a community interest company called Raw Ingredients, I assumed it would be the kind of high fibre kale smoothie Gwyneth Paltrow style of meat free food.
My judgement was entirely wrong. It’s the welcoming style of meat free food instead that serves big appetites, cake lovers and the health aware in equal measure but without any faddiness. Instead there is simply attention to good enjoyable food, putting plant based food centre stage instead of as a side dish.
I visited on a Saturday afternoon to sample their brunch. Nearly every table was taken showing how pleased people are to have the cafe back and functioning. All the homemade cake had already sold out and there was a good mix of people enjoying coffee or a meal over the weekend papers.
There are specials every day from soup to burgers, featuring traditional British dishes or items from around the world that are less recognisable. There are always several vegan options and the specials all come with fantastic salads on the side making the meals good value.
The brunch menu at the weekends is fantastic. Non vegans are welcome to have eggs, but there’s also some great tofu scramble and omelette versions of dishes too. There’s veggie black pudding, haggis and sausages and homemade baked beans and home fries.
One of us had huevos rancheros (Mexican scrambled ‘eggs’) with tofu instead and I ordered plain and simple fried eggs on sourdough toast. They took great care to talk me though my highly specific and annoying food intolerances and knew every single ingredient in the dishes.
My eggs were organic and the sourdough was from the Old Post Office Bakery on Landor Road and simple didn’t mean dull. The eggs were beautifully cooked and the toast was delicious. I eat a lot of eggs on toast and these stood out.
In fact they reminded of the kind of breakfasts you get in America as did the vast plate of huevos rancheros. I stared enviously as the homemade beans and home fries were dispatched with obvious enjoyment and even the tofu looked pretty good to this egg obsessive.
I really liked the atmosphere as well as the food. The staff are friendly, knowing the regulars by name, the WiFi is good, they’ve kept the fantastic Van Gogh painting inspired upstairs room I loved before and it’s a good place to go on your own or with a group.
There’s even outdoor seating in warmer months and they do a roaring trade in takeaway coffees and lunches during the week too. That upstairs room can be hired for events and working lunches and the cafe is starting to do events catering and were planning a wedding when I was there.
Run by Steve and Marguerite, they set the cafe up as a social enterprise that supports the local community through food. They are independent of the church but interested helping and including people. Marguerite comes from the famed Bonnington Cafe in Vauxhall and Steve has background in support work.
Staff come from a variety of backgrounds and are given opportunities to try new things and gain extra skills on a living wage. Food is provided at a reasonable price to local people and there are plans to incorporate education around food and food poverty in the community as the business grows. The ‘raw ingredients’ of the name are more about possibilities than anything else.
In the meantime, they plan to start opening on Sundays and continue their connection to impossible.com to show how independent businesses are crucial to the area. All they need now is more cake and I’ll definitely be back…