Is there anything better than a good book and a slice of cake? I think not. London has some enchanting bookshops where you can practically curl up with your favourite tome and tuck into a delicious slice and a cuppa. Here are 12 of the best bookshop cafes in London.
Bookshop with the best cake
London Review Bookshop
OK, it’s not just the best cake. This takes the prize for being one of the best bookshops in London. If you’ve read Love Nina, you’ll be familiar with the editor and founder of the London Review of Books, Mary Kay Wilmers (and if you haven’t read this London gem of a book, I highly recommend you do). The London Review Bookshop opened in 2003 and is just a stone’s throw away from the British Museum. You can browse and buy children’s, cookery, philosophy, history and politics books as well as fiction and non-fiction. The cakes are baked in-house by the talented Terry Glover, and you can take yours indoors or out on the terrace. If you’re feeling confection separation anxiety, don’t fret. You can order your own take-home bespoke beauties from Terry.
Museum Bookshop Cafe
Tea and Tattle
You’ve marvelled at the British museum mummies, gawked at the Elgin Marbles and gazed at the Rosetta Stone. Now, you can trot over the road to Arthur Probsthain’s, the bookseller specialising in Oriental and African books. Downstairs is the Tea and Tattle tea room with its liquid selection of exotic leaves: Lapsang, Assam, Ceylon, Sencha, Oolong and Kenyan. After you’ve re-energised with sandwiches, scones and cake, make sure you head back upstairs to check out the handwritten Quran.
Bookshop for budding chefs
Books for Cooks
You may not bump into Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts in this bookshop, but you will be inside what’s known as the best smelling bookshop in the world. Lunch is served at noon from Tuesday to Friday for a mere £7 for 3 courses (cake is always on the menu). Check out the Books for Cooks Twitter feed in the morning – the owner announces the menu prior to setting off to buy the ingredients from Portobello Market.
Bookshop for Designers
It’s bold and it’s beautiful, and if books could go to heaven this is where they would want to go. Housed in an Edwin Lutyens 1922, Grade II-listed beauty, Maison Assouline sells the world’s most gorgeous coffee books (one authored by my late friend, Jack de Lashmet). Make sure you check out the cabinet of curiosities, and step into Swan’s Bar for sumptuous Afternoon Tea and cocktails.
For those with a Pressing engagement
Kioskafe in Paddington is a local hub for journalists, business travellers and the globally curious. In a nod to the European news cafes, it’s a place where you can pick up newspaper and magazines from around the world and have some coffee and pastry whilst you digest newsy goings on. It’s the brainchild of Monacle’s Tyler Brûlé, business traveller extraordinaire, and whose Monacle Café most London instagrammers are only too familiar with.
Bookshop for Kids
Pickled Pepper Books (try saying that five times in a row!) is a specialist children’s bookshop and café located in north London’s Crouch End. The shop runs book clubs for kids, and even has a theatre tucked away at the back.
Bookshop for the Intrepid Traveller
Daunts is probably London’s most famous traveller’s bookshop, but sadly, there’s no café in which to sit (although the conservatory in the Marylebone branch is my favourite place in all of London to browse when it rains). If you’re looking for coffee and travel books, you’ll need to head further south to Waterloo’s Lower March and to Travelling Through. There’s a pretty courtyard café serving artisan bites from across the world.
London’s most famous bookshop
Another bookshop now owned by Waterstones, Foyles was once listed in the Guinness Book of Record as the largest bookshop in terms of shelf space. In the 1930s, it became famous for hosting literary luncheons with guests that included most British Prime Ministers, the Duke of Edinburgh and General Charles de Gaulle. Sadly, I don’t think you’ll bump into Her Majesty the Queen in the fifth floor café, but it’s a pleasant place for resting up with a newly-purchased book and a hot cuppa.
Bookshop for Dog lovers
Head over to pretty East Dulwich’s Rye Books for a bookish coffee and cake. The colourful shop stocks children’s, fiction, travel and art and design books. And best of all, Rye Books is co-managed by George, the four-legged star attraction of the Dogs that Match the Floor calendar. Available in-store. Woof.
They’ve been helping travellers around the world since 1853, and now, it’s the booksellers’ turn to be on the move. Stanfords has just relocated a few doors down from its Long Acre premises to 7 Mercer Walk, and we know that cake and tea will be on offer. Pooches are also welcome at the store, provided they’re not camera shy. The bookshop likes to post doggy mug shots on their Instagram page.
For the serious Bibliophile
You can’t buy but you can peruse the world’s most important treasures such as the Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebook, the first edition of The Times in 1788 and listen to Nelson Mandela’s Rivonia trial speech. If you saw 5 items a day at the British Library, it would take 80,000 years to see the whole collection. Thankfully, there are plenty of spaces to re-charge your reading batteries, including The Terrace which serves tea, coffee and most importantly, cake.
Bookshop with a View
I’m mentioning this one because it’s an impressive emporium bookshop, and it has a fantastic view of London from 5th View Bar & Food. I’ve been a few times, and the service has consistently been terrible, so don’t go expecting fireworks on the tea front. Grab a table by the window and if you’re not in the mood for tea leaves, I can recommend the hot negroni.
Bookshop where I wish they would serve cake
A few doors down from Waterstones is the majestic Hatchards, London’s oldest bookshop and holder of three Royal Warrants. I just wish they could squeeze a little corner for tea and cake. But then again, I would never leave. PS. You and your book could pop in next door to Fortnum and Mason for some of the best afternoon tea in London.
This post is an updated version of an article I wrote for Time Out London.
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