Alexandra Simpson uncovers the best hidden cafés around UCL.
What is a café to a student? Caffeine, cake and sanctuary? If the eerie silence of the UCL library has pushed you to the brink, if you need to satisfy your stomach to engage your brain or if the erratic soundtrack of the Print Room Café has finally gone too far, familiarity with a few local ‘cafs’ is essential. But if your list lacks lustre and you’re weary of commonplace Costas, fear not! Pens and pennies at the ready, here’s a round-up of the best hidden cafés around UCL.
1. Camden Coffee House (Camden Road)
Student value: £££
There’s more to Camden than Proud, piercings and endless leaflets. If you’re in need of a quiet cubbyhole in the heart of town (well, sort of), the Camden Coffee House will soon become your new best friend. It may be miniature but it’s not to be sniffed at; they do a mean cappuccino, an even better cuppa and have a delightful garden cheekily tucked away at the back. Not your everyday student haunt, this Camdenian café will double up as a den of anonymity for when you want to escape the Bloomsbury madness and just be alone.
2. Yumchaa (Tottenham Street)
Student value: ££
It may lie just off a main road, but it is far from main stream. Yumchaa has gone for ‘shabby chic antique’ and triumphed. The décor is a madcap melange of your grandpa’s greenhouse and your aunt’s sitting room. Even Instagram would be hard-pushed to make this place look any cooler. The teas are exceptional, the bagels are in abundance and the cakes demand to be eaten. The prices are not so student friendly but the atmosphere is unparalleled in Central London. Unpretentious, original and frankly beyond compare, this calm corner of a hectic city provides the perfect setting to start that 145,000 word essay…
3. Chaboba (Camden Market East Yard)
Student value: £££
Colourful, quirky and utterly ground-breaking, this mini café offers a taste experience that should be on your ‘List of Things to Taste before You Die’. It specialises in ‘bubble tea’, the Taiwanese phenomenon that incorporates tea and tapioca. Yes, you read correctly. Arguably the Marmite of the tea world, this peculiar combination won’t be for everyone; but for those lucky enough to have their taste buds tickled by this drink it will be a life-changing discovery. Cup + tea + cake-like texture = surely wrong? It’s the stuff that legends are made of. Go and see for yourself (and don’t forget to claim your 10% student discount).
4. Café Presto (Torrington Place)
Student value: ££££
One for the foodies. At some point in the academic year you’re bound to have wandered aimlessly past this microscopic café, your subconscious crying out for a bite of one of their ciabattas. Easy to miss but hard to forget, Café Presto really is the only eatery worth buying a sandwich from in the UCL vicinity. Ignore the icy service, tolerate the queue and wage war if you have to: if a Presto sandwich hasn’t yet passed your lips, your priorities need to be sorted. Crammed with fillings of unimaginable deliciousness, I defy you to find such colossal portions at such colossal value this side of Watford.
5. SOAS Snack Bar (Russell Square)
Student value: £££££
The majority of us may not want to sign the petition being waved in our face or try some of the ‘organic dairy-free gluten-free sugar-free taste-free vegetarian’ pie on offer as we meander through the SOAS campus, but it’s not all free food and free spirits. Just inside the main building lies the SOAS Snack Bar and common room; the hidden hot drink gem of Bloomsbury. Naturally, the SOAS students have taken the decoration of the place into their own hands, but it’s not half bad. Colourful motifs cling to the walls, equality reigns and so do cut-price cuppas.
In short, don’t waste your time sipping from the cup of convention with all the other members of the crowd. Being a ‘poor’ student needn’t hinder your enjoyment of the wealth of originality that encircles UCL. So ditch Prêt, write off Nero and cancel that Starbucks card…