Inspired by her experiences in Poland as a foreign exchange student in the 1980s, Leila McAlister has created one of London’s most original and authentic cafes. Situated just a few metres from our Calvert Avenue studio, on the ground floor of an Edwardian red-brick building, it’s become Nick’s favourite spot for lunch. Intimately proportioned, with an open kitchen, terrazzo flooring and shared tables, the interior décor is deliberately spartan – mirrored by the simplicity of the menu.
Leila has built an extraordinary business, based around sourcing the finest ingredients and stocking only the best seasonal produce. Her skills hark back to the time she spent in Poland, where communism had restricted the variety of foods, without compromising on the quality. It’s a skill she’s used to her advantage, bucking the current trend for excess and extravagance – her dishes are served with a homely, rustic sensibility. Eggs, sage and Serrano ham are delivered to the table still sizzling in the pan; accompanied with fresh bread from the acclaimed St.John Bakery and a hefty slab of chilled butter. Her nearby grocery store stocks a carefully chosen selection of locally grown vegetables, imported jars of horseradish, Polish sausages, and bottles of Ucal shipped from Portugal (arguably the world’s best chocolate milk).
A Studio Nicholson customer, and like-minded soul, she wears our pants with serious aplomb. We admire her pragmatic, no-nonsense approach to food – the confidence that coaxes us to focus on the sensation of taste, as opposed to current culinary trends, are what makes her establishment the natural choice for the discerning customer.