What: Imagine the homeliest of café’s and Abuelo, meaning ‘grandfather’ in Spanish is at the forefront of the mind. The coffee house and kitchen, is a haven of calm and tranquillity in a tourist-trap laden Covent Garden in the height of summer. It’s a café that makes you wish it was winter to nestle up amongst the billowing foliage and wooden interiors with a hot-chocolate and knitted jumper, and it’s a place that makes you thankful for the summer, to lap up the spontaneity of boozy BYOB nights.
Abuelo is the brainchild of two hospitality in-the-knowers, who, after designing other people’s cafés and restaurants thought “why not do it for ourselves?”. Enter a journey of success commencing 1987, and the creation of Abuelo, alongside a series of Sydney and Melbourne based café’s.
The Setting: Covent Garden mid-August is a bit of a nightmare. In fact, propped up against Charlotte Tilbury waiting for my partner I was asked to “move, move” so that a tourist could snap a picture of the shop front I was blocking. Wow. I would have happily obliged, if not exhausted post running up all 173 of Covent Garden tube stations’ stairs. However, the hustle and bustle of it all is quite alluring, especially if you’re a fan of the busy metropolis that is our capital. Which is why I loved the location of Abuelo in Covent Garden, slap bang in the middle of tourist-y London. Yet, simultaneously placed slightly off the beaten track on Southampton Street to make it quite mysterious.
The Look: The look is very outdoors in, with swathes of forest green, wood and an overall earthy interior warming the restaurant. Taking centre-stage is a long room-dominating table, which shouts boozy, food-focused family gatherings overlooking the happenings of the city side streets. By the coffee bar where the magic happens lies a coveted baked goods section perfect for a pic.
We were seated amongst spindle chairs in a cosy corner that was reminiscent of being in a cosy home dining room, with snatches of conversation being caught amongst the wafts of coffee. However, I did find fault with the size of Abuelo, I feel whilst homely, it is also squashed and this atmosphere of sitting very closely to those seated next to you, took away an intimacy that Abuelo could thrive from. The utilisation of space fell short, I felt. However, this takes no toll on the addictive interiors which are unsurprisingly helmed by women with a background in interiors, alongside architecture and design.
On the Menu: The menu hosts a range of share plates, from a pricier market day share board brimming with meats and cheese, to dishes like avocado to cater to the craze, salads, lamb dishes and an alluring watermelon gazpacho. Upon first looks, it’s undoubtedly a flavoursome and creative menu. They also do an all-day brunch menu to fuel you with the favourites.
What We Ate: Whenever I see rice on a menu (and as it’s my favourite food), I have to have it. So, the option of brown rice with chopped herbs, chilli, olive oil, nuts and seeds had me at hello. My partner pushed me to choose another dish however, to abscond from my norm, so I went for the pumpkin ‘half-moons’ too, with coconut oil and pinmenton dulce (also my ideal dish). My habit of associating pumpkin only with Halloween has been dispelled, as now I want pumpkin every day of the week – delicious. The chilli in the rice dish complimented it, and added that extra punch a brown rice dish probably needs, without it being unbearably spicy.
We had four dishes altogether, one of which was chosen by our waitress because, to be quite honest, we both really enjoyed the menu selection and so we found it arduous to choose. My partner opted for the organic slow cooked lamb with garlic, lemon oil, labneh, mint, wild garlic, chives and spring onion. It was a dish that tasted very summery and fresh, and labneh for those who don’t know, is a Middle Eastern yoghurt cheese. The surprise dish was Sloppy Jose, which was all but sloppy in presentation. The dish came with traditional beef empanada filling on a brioche with melted mature cheddar and a quail egg on top. The brioche was the most memorable part of this dish, very tasty. On the whole, food presentation is on point as the dishes used match the interior and the colours involved in the dishes really liven up the plates. I wouldn’t say this is somewhere I would return for an evening meal, and feel it is more suitable for brunch.
What We Drank: Abuelo epitomises BYOB culture – that vibe of rocking up to a homely, family set-up, bottle in hand to have a good old natter over small plates. My partner ran to the nearest shop (through Covent Garden mobs) to grab a bottle of cheap Gavi di Gavi, which has left me with a grand old headache but equally grand memories. BYOB to one side, Abuelo’s coffee is famed for its Aussie authenticity as “Coffee Kings of Sydney” and prevalent pioneers in the Antipodean coffee movement.
Suffice to say, their range of pours from La Laguna Colombian house coffee to Café Femenino pour overs, will have you take the infamous Covent Garden stairs two at a time… (you’ll need a coffee after that anyway!). Further drinks options include green smoothies, fresh ginger or mint teas, prana sticky chais and green velvet matcha lattes.
Go With: Whilst it was idyllic for date-night, I think Abuelo is more suited for a big group. Think 30th birthday bash with the London after-work crew, or grandad’s 70th.
Where: 26 Southampton Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 7RS, www.abuelocafe.co.uk
Final Word: Pumpkin definitely isn’t just for Halloween, especially when it’s done Abuelo style. That’s me catching the next flight out to Aus because I need me some more Antipodean vibes, and when the coffee’s this good, the shrimp on the barbie can wait its turn.
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