*This is a long post, but worth it, I promise*
I will start by adding a full disclosure – this was my own experience (and my friend’s) at the establishment I am about to mention, nobody else’s. I’m sure many people have dined here and had a lovely experience, full of pretty pictures and delighted tastebuds, jolly service and absolutely no feelings of being completely ripped off. I’m sure. To all those people – awesome! Seriously, I wish I was you.
What I do wonder, however, is how many people went to this building, ate a mediocre meal, received mediocre service, realised the pictures they got were also, mediocre – but paid an extortionate price, and so unwillingly, but enthusiastically raved about how amazing the place was to make themselves feel better about being so easily deceived. After all, surely you didn’t spend £7.50 on a coffee that was anything less than divine, right?
Anyway, I refuse to be one of those people. I had a bad experience. I wrote to them about the bad experience, wondering if there was some sort of justification made. After many months of non reply, and the discovery that this restaurant apparently blocked bad reviewers on instagram, I am taking a righteous stand and writing an honest post about the place.
Some clues to where I am talking about –
- They have been repeatedly billed as the ‘Most Instagrammable Cafe in London’
- There are two, and I went to the one on Brompton Road.
- The coffee prices range from £3.20 for an espresso, to £7.50 for a number of their drinks such as the Turkish Coffee, the Spanish Latte, a ‘Tea Mojito’ (an earl grey tea with mint and lime, yes you heard that right, earl grey tea for £7.50), and many, many others that are charged at that ridiculous price. Their smoothies are priced £8-£8.50
- The whole establishment is very pink.
Did you guess?
It’s Élan Cafe.
Please now, lifestyle instagrammers, do not shoot me down in anguish as your next ‘must-visit’ cafe is disgraced. Please do go for yourself, explore the menu – if you’ve £30 per head to waste on breakfast, be my guest. As I said, you may have a wonderful experience. This, was mine.
I had been very excited to visit Élan Cafe. I had dragged my poor friend out of South East London, for 40 minutes, to travel to this pretty pink place, excited to try have some brunch, or at least a slice of cake.
I got there, and to my surprise, there wasn’t a queue! Those who know of the cafe should know that there is usually a queue that wraps round the building – we were very lucky to go at a time that the cafe was relatively empty.
My excitement soon simmered down however, as the interior was the first let down. Perhaps a little naive, I had been under the impression that the walls were flourished head to toe with pink roses, in a vibrant celebration of a perpetual summer, perhaps. This was not the case. In fact, I couldn’t see a single wall of flowers. Bit weird. As it turns out (as I explored the cafe whilst trying to find the loo), this huge flower wall, was a very small segment of the cafe right at the back, and round the corner (why so hidden??), of which there were only two tables next to – and if you hoped to sit on those two tables you can expect to wait in a separate queue. The room was also so cramped that any photos had to be taken either with extreme haste, or by simply being very obnoxious and asking everyone in the room to stop moving for a minute.
Not to worry, the other tables, whilst again, cramped, and rather unexciting, were marble and so still satisfactory for food photography.
I gazed at the gorgeous looking cakes on the windowsill. They all were priced around £4-5. Quite reasonable I thought. One red velvet cake looked particularly sumptuous, although there was no label for it. Either way, I went for this one.
Here came the second issue. I waited for my slice of cake to come. And waited. Annnnnnd waited. Bear in mind here, I am sat next to this cake. It is in front of my eyes. And nobody comes to collect the cake. What happens instead, is a second waiter comes to take my order.
‘Sorry, no, I think I’ve already ordered… maybe not? I’m not sure. Um.. I just wanted that slice of cake?’
‘No problem, I’ll go check if someone’s on their way with it’
I wait again. The original waiter comes to our table about to say something, and then starts a little and changes direction. I think perhaps he remembered that he already took my order.
I wait a bit more. A THIRD WAITER comes to the table to take our order. I’m astonished. I tell him we’ve already ordered, twice, fifteen minutes ago, this single slice of cake. To his credit, he tells us he will get it for us himself, and he does, immediately. Thank goodness. I might add that in busy times, Élan Cafe restrict visitors to 45 minutes in the cafe. 15 minutes to wait for a slice of cake therefore, is a third already wasted. I dread to think of the rush to eat food if you order something from the menu, or a fancy drink.
Unfortunately, this is where it all goes wrong.
My slice of cake is despicably thin. I’m not sure if you can tell from the photo but the widest part of cake was barely past an inch thick. And then comes the worst part – the cake was drier than not only the Sahara desert, but the Sahara desert after someone has aggressively sponged over the area in one sheet does plenty kitchen roll. My friend used to work in a bakery, and she vouches for this, shocked they can even sell the thing.
The one pleasant feature of the cake was the little macaroon on top, which was rather splendid. Perhaps Élan Cafe should focus their time perfecting miniature macaroons instead.
I receive the bill next to my half eaten lump of red ‘cake’ and it reads ‘£8.44’. Sorry? Sorry? WHAT? W H A T ? I’m sure my heart palpitated a little. I gave out a small shriek. Actually, not even that small of a shriek. A rather large, shrill one. I grasped the paper, trembling a little. My unlabelled cake was £7.50, and they had added 12.5% service charge.
Now look, I hope you don’t think I’m the kind of person that will swallow down crusty cake without bringing this to attention. Partly because I was in shock, but also partly because I didn’t really want them serving this cake to any other suckers out there. I’ve paid £7.50 for cake before. I’ve got no problem paying up for good cake. Cakes that transport your mind to vast flowing meadows of sunflowers and daisies, immersing you in luscious, fluffy, creamy, aromatic explosions of flavour. This was not even one hundredth of one of those cakes. This cake, was like eating a chunk of charcoal (not the trendy sort). Albeit, with a nice little macaroon on top.
So I spoke to one of the waiters, and hereafter came the most unbelievable conversation I have ever had. I shall attempt to recreate –
‘Hi, I’m really sorry but this slice of cake was ridiculously dry, like really unpleasant’
‘Was that the speciality red velvet?’
‘Yes I believe so’
‘Ah yes. It’s supposed to be like that. If you wanted a moist cake you should have ordered one of our cheesecakes’
‘I’m sorry, you’re saying this cake is meant to be this dry?’
‘Yes that’s right. We get them ordered in every morning from a baker’
‘And the baker delivers it, this £7.50 cake, this dry?????????????’
‘Yes that’s right’
This went on for another round or two. It then became clear that this conversation was going nowhere. I have worked in customer service for almost 4 years. I have eaten cake for almost 20. I may not be a baker, and I may not know the ins and outs of Élan Cafe. But I bloody well know a good slice of cake from a bad one, and also that if a customer is pointing out something wrong with a menu item – why on earth would you want to say its meant to be like that? ‘This pasta is too salty’ ‘Yes, it’s meant to be too salty’. ‘I ordered this steak medium rare and this is well done’ ‘Yes, it’s meant to be well done’. ‘This cake is dry AF’ ‘Yes, it’s meant to be dry’. No, it is not. Red velvet cake is not meant to be dry. Speciality red velvet is not meant to be dry. £7.50 red velvet with service charge added, is also, not meant to be dry.
In retrospect I wished I had pushed it a bit further and refused to pay or asked for a substitute cake when I had my first bite. However I was partly traumatised and partly rushed by my friend who I had forced to endure this whole experience even though she was incredibly skeptical in the first place.
But instead, I paid and walked out, sad and dejected. And I went to the Breakfast Club to have a proper meal that was hella good. And the service was incredible, the waiter kept giving us more rounds of maple syrup, which is really all the support I needed.
If you want to go to Élan Cafe, go for it. But my conclusion of all this is that this cafe was a place hyped up so high that it became impossible to say anything negative about it in case you seem untrendy or whatever. I didn’t post about it for ages in the fear that I would come across too harsh. But at the end of the day, this is the experience I had, and they failed to respond to my message asking for any justification.
Also, I might add that one waiter was very nice, and I’m sure many of the others are too. Perhaps some of the problems we incurred will improve with more training. Perhaps he was having a bad day! I’m not going to have a go at individual people, or the individual cake. Even though that cake made me very sorrowful, one cannot blame their problems on cake. In fact, I only have myself to blame for being a sheep and going somewhere mediocre with the expectation it would be fabulous.
Moral of the story: Don’t believe the hype. Go to cafes that serve good food, good coffee, and have good service. Not because someone with a pretty face posted a pretty picture sat next to a meal they might not have even liked.
In case you need anymore reason to not go, they don’t have English Breakfast Tea on the menu. If you think you’re too good for English Breakfast tea, then you ain’t good enough for me I’m afraid. Also, the toilets smelt really bad. So there.