J+A Cafe, Clerkenwell, London 14/20


THE idea of the café (in French café, where caffe is Italian, cafeteria is USA) has been so overworked in London that it would be hard to split a baked bean between them, so the unsung J+A is both the more amazing, the more vital and the more welcome. J stands for Joanna and A for Aoife, Ledwidge, sisters originally from County Wicklow. The café label says traditional Irish food, so perhaps the change in direction of nationality is what was so badly needed. I have not seen any reviews of J+A although I hear it did host the book launch of Great British Bake off so after eight years it is not completely unknown.

It is furtherly unconventional in the summer in that the main dining area spills out into the alley that connects Clerkenwell Road and Great Sutton Street which bridges the café with the bar on the other side, a slice of old London alleys which used to be clockmakers and printers. Above all, perhaps, it enjoys that sense of hospitality that the Irish sometimes manage to monopolise. It is a very personable venue in a city that is becoming more introverted and anonymous.

There are a number of points on the food side that are convincing. Exhibit A might be the chicken sandwich which is a whole breast inside doorstopper slices of bread (you get a choice) and a mess of saladeria and crisps…IMG_2731 Exhibit B might be the crab salad. I can open three oysters in a minute but it is still takes me half an hour to dress a crab, which is why you don’t see it so often on menus. HereIMG_3075

it is served with proper soda bread and watercress and mayonnaise, and there is Irish Mclevors cider to go with it.

I will list the full ingredients in the superfood salad which is a bit like a trump card in the Delicously Ella and Honestly Healthy debate. The smoked mackerel is topped by a poached egg, and sits on – take a breath – kale, beetroot, alfalfa, brown basmati, red and wild rice, raw carrot, red onion, chia, nigella, linseed, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, parsley, rapeseed, lemon zest…in fact the menu then repeats itself adding a bit more rice in there…it is enough to make you want to run up to the docks and do a triathlon. You can order extras of grain, if needed…IMG_3077Or there is a variation with rare beef and roast tomatoes…IMG_3076

There is always a pie and a soup and even a baked potato which at £9.50 needs and gets a superior Waldorf salad of a topping. The Irishness is underlined with Irish cheeses and Ballymaloe relish. After all the proclamations of “healthy wholesome home cooked…” a sly small note on the menu then asks you to “please see our freshly baked cakes” which are self evident if you are sitting inside as they line up in front of the kitchen. The Guiness cake is bestseller.IMG_3078They are good bakers…

I had not really planned this blog to feature many London venues, but it seems there are interesting places that slip under the radar but are worth attention even so…

J+A Cafe, 1-4 Sutton Place, London EC1M 5PU

0207 490 2992 http://www.jandacafe.com


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