By Sylvie Wilkinson
First opening its doors in 1996, the Gallery Café is an award-winning vegan café, restaurant and coffee bar in the heart of Bethnal Green. Part of St Margaret’s House, a charity and community hub striving to support creativity and wellbeing in Bethnal Green and beyond. The charity describes its mission as “to promote positive social change by creating opportunities for people to come together and play a more active role in their community”. Aside from the Gallery Café, the charity hosts live events and workshops and has its own shop, Ayoka. St Margaret’s House is made up of over 30 different charities and community organisations, all with their own unique style and ethos.
I was one of the lucky guests invited to the Gallery Cafe’s grand reopening on Wednesday 23 June for their vegan summer feast. The weather was certainly on the cafe’s side, and the crisp June sunshine was ideal for eating in the cafe’s garden. The atmosphere was welcoming, and there was a real sense that the staff were delighted to see so many customers back and ready to enjoy their vegan menu.
The food was outstanding from start to finish. For our starter, we were served pide bread and focaccia with a variety of accompanying dips, including baba ghanoush and fresh chimichurri. The menu began as it meant to go on: with a mixture of culinary influences from around the globe, all contributing towards a coherent blend of vegan flavours to create a sense of summer joy.
For our main we had Achari tofu skewers served with rice, pickles, chermoula aubergine and green tomatoes. The food was served in a sharing style, filled with a balance of smoky and fresh flavours – ideal to be eaten in a sunny garden. The meal came to an end with a delicate French apricot pastry served with vegan vanilla ice cream. The food was well balanced and creative; it felt as though there was a story behind each course.
Eating in the back garden of St Margaret’s House was the ideal environment for the food. Behind us, one of their spaces was being used for a voguing class led by Molly’s Masquerade, a community arts project organising creative workshops with a focus on LGBTQ+ culture. In a room above the garden, I caught sight of a small white dog wearing a ruff and some women in what appeared to be Tudor dresses enjoying a life drawing class. Though the scenes and sights I’m describing may sound chaotic, there was an undeniable calm in the air. Not once was the environment chaotic or overwhelming, instead the evening was peaceful throughout. The Gallery Cafe clearly relies on inviting the community to come together, using their space to build creativity and a sense of togetherness we have all been missing.
All profits generated by the Gallery Café go straight back into St Margaret’s House, so guests can enjoy the offering knowing they are also giving back to their local community. The menu provided a clear nod to the diverse, global community we are lucky to experience around us every day in East London. The Gallery Café is, in many ways, the perfect representation of everything that makes East London such a special place – community, creativity and heart were all served in abundance.
The Gallery Café
21 Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PL
020 8980 2092